George Will on Graham’s ‘fun factor’

I enjoyed George Will’s column about Lindsey Graham’s presidential bid over the weekend.

Others had written in recent days stories that made Graham’s motive for running more and more clear — to have someone vocally rebutting Rand Paul’s quirky (for a Republican) views on foreign affairs.

But Will summed it up nicely:

He has the normal senatorial tendency to see a president in the mirror and an ebullient enjoyment of campaigning’s rhetorical calisthenics. Another reason for him to run resembles one of Dwight Eisenhower’s reasons. Graham detects a revival of the Republicans’ isolationist temptation that has waned since Eisenhower defeated Ohio’s Sen. Robert Taft for the 1952 nomination.

Graham insists he is not running to stop a colleague: “The Republican Party will stop Rand Paul.” But Graham relishes disputation and brims with confidence. “I’m a lawyer. He’s a doctor. I argue for a living.” If Paul is nominated and elected, Graham will support him and then pester President Paul to wield a big stick.

Graham believes that events abroad are buttressing the case for his own candidacy. He says national security is the foremost concern of Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He sees the 17,000 members of the Iowa National Guard who were deployed overseas as the foundation of a Graham plurality among the 120,000 Iowans expected to participate in the caucuses.

He wants voters to ask each candidate: Are you ready to be commander in chief? Do you think America is merely “one nation among many”? Are you committed to putting radical Islam “back in the box” (whatever that means)? Do you understand that any Iranian nuclear capability “ will be shared with terrorists”? Do you realize that, if that had happened before 9/11, millions, not thousands, might have died?…

Will then went on to imply that Graham’s style of conservatism is “the no-country-left-unbombed style,” something of which Will, of course, would not approve. (When Will calls himself a conservative, there’s no “neo” in front of it.)

That admonition dutifully voiced, Will acknowledged that, at the least, a Graham candidacy should be fun:

“I’m somewhere between a policy geek and Shecky Greene,” the comedian. Campaigning, he says, “brings out the entertainer in you,” so his town hall meetings involve “15 minutes of standup, 15 minutes of how to save the world from doom, and then some questions.” He at least will enlarge the public stock of fun, which few, if any, of the other candidates will do.

37 thoughts on “George Will on Graham’s ‘fun factor’

  1. Doug Ross

    “He says national security is the foremost concern of Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”

    No, it’s not. The #1 concern of Republicans (and Democrats) is the economy. Jobs and access to education that provides those jobs is #1 by a wide margin. Only neo-con war mongers believe national security is the #1 concern. People like Lindsey Graham live in a fear-based dream world that is detached from reality…. probably because he doesn’t have to worry about a paycheck or a family to raise. The ivory tower he lives in isn’t the one most of us live in.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Speaking as a voter here in South Carolina…

      The No. 1 job of the president of the United States is handling our dealings with other nations, whether as our chief diplomat or commander in chief.

      I’m sure Elizabeth Warren, and indeed, most Democrats, agree with you, however. Democrats usually do. (Which is why, as the Soviet Union was breaking up along with the world’s defining paradigm, leaving the U.S. to figure out its role as the world’s only superpower, Bill Clinton ran on “It’s the economy, stupid.” Which appalls me as much today as it did then.)

      And while I’m sure it’s right up there for some Republicans — it makes sense for the party out of power to stress the economy — I doubt that it’s accurate to say that that the economy is No. 1 for most of that persuasion.

      Not that it’s foreign affairs, either. For too many, the overriding issue is that awful Obama person and everything he’s ever tried to do. (As was the case for too many Democrats after two terms of Bush.) Just your basic unfocused partisan hostility.

      But the party used to reflexively stand for a strong national defense. That’s less the case now, and I completely understand why Graham would see it as important for there to be a candidate who will call Rand Paul on his idiosyncratic platform.

      To the extent that I’m a conservative, I’m a McCain-Graham conservative (as opposed to a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or George Will kind). So I’m glad to see him out there…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Now, all of that said, let me walk it back a bit…

        I think having a stronger economy, both here and abroad, is of critical importance — not least because we need it for a strong defense, and because countries where the economy is booming are less likely to churn out terrorists and such.

        Also, since my life hasn’t been a bed of roses since the economy went south, and I know there are millions like me, I can see the advantages of an expanding economy more clearly than someone who’s had an easier time of it.


        I simply don’t believe that the president has all that much control over the economy. And I’m utterly unconvinced by either the Republican or Democratic prescriptions for fixing things. I think the Republican faith that the only ingredient needed for a healthy economy is for “the government to get out of the way” is absurd. And I’m equally unpersuaded by the Democrats’ simplistic belief that what we need is to raise the minimum wage, or to whittle billionaires down to size…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Not that there’s nothing presidents can do.

          I think FDR did a lot to help us get through the Depression. No, I’m not saying that the WPA and all that did it. I’m thinking more in terms of leadership intangibles. I think his ebullient, can-do, nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself attitude did more to help than any of his alphabet-soup policies.

          And as much as it hurts me to say it, because I found it irritating in the extreme at the time, but Reagan’s “Morning in America” approach was probably more helpful to the country than Carter’s “malaise” thing…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Not that I’m equating FDR and Reagan.

            I think FDR’s policies WERE helpful — but again, largely psychologically. FDR’s approach was, we’re going to try EVERYTHING until something works. And I think it was encouraging to Americans to have a president who WAS willing to keep trying things, in that unprecedented national crisis, until something worked.

            The Reagan attitude that government is the problem would not have been helpful under those circumstances. Which is why the voters dumped Herbert Hoover….

            1. Bob Amundson

              Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics stating that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Both of these brief defintions are paraphrased from Wikipedia

              I strive to practice enlightened self-interest and to be a servant leader.

          2. M.Prince

            The vapidity and saccharine sentimentality of ”Morning In America“ may have been annoying. But it was the other Reagan line that posed a real substantive problem: “Are YOU better off now than YOU were four years ago?” The focus on individual interests (i.e. me me me) may have been the perfect rhetorical bridge from the left-wing self-indulgence of the 60s and 70s to the right-wing self-centeredness of the 80s and beyond, but it set the stage for policies that took us straight to increasing inequality and the disruptions of 2008.
            “Are WE better off than WE were four years ago” is the proper measure of a country’s communal interests.

            1. Doug Ross

              WE is a collection of YOU’s. As much as WE like to think WE are interested in everyone doing better, WE all act in our own self-interest. Unless YOU are donating 51% of YOUR salary to charity, YOU are no different than the rest of US.

              What sacrifice have YOU made to the collective today?

            2. M.Prince

              I wouldn’t have expected to hear anything different from you. And if we lived in that alternate paradise ruled over by benevolent Ayn Randians, you might even be correct.

              a just and equitable society recognizes something beyond individual self-interest. That something is called alternatively “the common good” or “the public interest” or, as it’s termed in the Constitution, “the general welfare.” And those weren’t just flowery words; the Framers appreciated the necessity of acting on behalf of a commonweal, with government serving as an instrument in its promotion.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                “the Framers appreciated the necessity of acting on behalf of a commonweal, with government serving as an instrument in its promotion.”

                Yeah, but in a really limited way.

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, I like the way Jefferson, THE champion of keeping government limited, practiced that in office. You know, the undeclared war on the Barbary Pirates, the Louisiana Purchase…

              And when I say I LIKE those things, I do. I’m not being ironic. I like that, once in office, he set aside that minimal-government thing and acted as circumstances warranted…

            4. Brad Warthen Post author

              M., you are right that the most ethically objectionable thing I heard from the Reagan camp was that deeply offensive, “Are YOU better off now than YOU were four years ago?”

              I also hated that he said “There you go again” whenever Carter pointed out an inconvenient and unpopular truth.

              One of the most maddening things in this world is when foolishness presumes to regard itself as wisdom…

        2. Doug Ross

          The best way for the government to “get out of the way” would be to simplify the tax code. How much productivity is lost at an aggregate level due to compliance, enforcement, and interpretation of our complex tax code? Imagine if a large percentage of the resources expended to quantify or avoid taxes was instead devoted to R&D?

          Your view of priorities is contradicted by numerous recent polls… here’s a bunch of different ones collected on one page:

          Most recent one:

          BS News Poll. Feb. 13-17, 2015. N=1,006 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

          “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Open-ended

          The economy, jobs 18%
          Islamic extremists, Al Qaeda, ISIS 6 %
          Terrorism (general) 5
          Health care, health insurance 5
          Education, school loans 4
          Income gap/disparity 4

          That’s about what I would expect.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “Your view of priorities is contradicted by numerous recent polls.”

            They may technically contradict me, in the sense of speaking against. Doesn’t mean they refute me. The polls show that most people DISAGREE with me. But I knew that. It doesn’t make “most people” RIGHT.

            Or, as Malcolm Reynolds said when an Alliance officer pointed out he’d been on the wrong side in the civil war, it “may have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              And yes, I know the Brownshirts’ libertarian view of how things should be in the ‘verse is closer to Rand Paul’s than my own… but you’re overthinking this. Just enjoy it…

            2. Doug Ross

              You said:

              “And while I’m sure it’s right up there for some Republicans — it makes sense for the party out of power to stress the economy — I doubt that it’s accurate to say that that the economy is No. 1 for most of that persuasion.”

              The polls say you are wrong. All of them. You said you doubt it is No. 1. It is #1. It’s okay to admit when you are wrong.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Having Lindsey Graham running this time is a good thing in the same way it was good to have Scoop Jackson running in 1972 and ’76. It’s good to have someone saying these things…

  3. bud

    I have no problem with a presidential candidate running on the proposition that national security is the number one issue for a president. What I find objectionable, offensive really, is the way imperialists like Graham equate American involvement in never ending wars thousands of miles away with national security. Our safety is mostly related to how productive and equitable our economy performs. To a lessor extent our security depends on how free, fair and prosperous other people of the world are. If large numbers of people view us as invaders then their natural inclination is to defend their territory and way of life with whatever means they have at their disposal. The never-ending cycle of bombing by the American military, followed by terrorist acts by highly motivated people who bear the brunt of our imperialistic actions can only impair our security. Until we completely get out of the region we will never move in the direction of improved security.

    Graham and the other imperialists are incapable of learning this obvious lesson. History is replete with examples of how this approach fails. Vietnam, Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the UK’s incursion into Iraq in the 20s. All ultimately failed in the same predictable way. In our system the Graham’s of the world are entitled to make their case but any reasoned reading of the facts shows their non stop rantings nothing more than the screeching ravings of the lunatic fringe. They cannot be trusted and should never be allowed near the White House. Only when this war-monger attitude is completely exposed for the wild-eyed, maniacal fantasies that it is can we move forward as a peaceful, benevolent nation. The a blood lust approach to national security should be discarded on the scrapheap of history.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      It was before my time, but I’m pretty sure I saw an old re-run of the Ed Sullivan show where Graham and the Imperialists opened up for Gerry and the Pacemakers. Old British Invasion bands, you know….

  4. Phillip

    Brad, you equate Lindsey possibly running to the Scoop Jackson candidacies of the 70s, saying “it’s good to have someone saying these things…”

    But Scoop Jackson was the outlier in his party in the 1970s for the most part, so if you’re saying it was good for someone in his party to voice a different point of view, then the Scoop Jackson of today in the GOP is definitely Rand Paul, not Lindsey Graham. All Graham is doing is spouting the lame, tired orthodoxy of mainstream GOP thinking. It is Paul who is challenging that orthodoxy within the party, who is the rare “someone saying those things” that others are not within the party.

    Maybe I missed one somewhere, but it seems to me that all the current GOP prez hopefuls except Rand Paul are falling all over themselves to proclaim their “toughness” on foreign policy and all sound more or less like Lindsey Graham on that issue.

    1. Doug Ross

      But Phillip, Lindsey is saying those things LOUDER and with a Southern accent. That matters.

      Lindsey is running for the sake of Lindsey. Build the brand, carry the water for defense contractors who contribute to his “campaign”, get his mug on TV even more.

      “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Murdoch!”

      I found it interesting that a post on Facebook from Yahoo News about Lindsey running yesterday had 324 comments when I checked and every single comment was a negative… not a single comment across the spectrum of Facebook supporting him. He’s a joke anywhere except some pockets of South Carolina.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I have to disagree, Phillip. McCarthy was an outlier who signaled a huge sea change in the Democratic Party, one that came to seize control of the party in 1972 behind McGovern. Scoop Jackson was more in the tradition of LBJ, JFK, Truman and FDR in the area of national defense. Just because Democrats have been the antiwar party our whole adult lives doesn’t change the fact that before 1968, Democrats were if anything more hawkish than Republicans.

      Rand Paul is on the forefront of a shift in the GOP, from a willingness to spend on defense and foreign aid, to a more purely libertarian approach on the role of government, including on defense. Graham is the guy standing up for the more traditional views of his party, as Jackson did.

  5. M.Prince

    “…Democrats have been the antiwar party our whole adult lives….”

    By my count, Democratic presidents have in recent times applied US military assets in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Haiti, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Sudan. Just where do you consider they missed an opportunity on account of their alleged “anti-war” tick?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      So you’re giving Democrats the credit — or blame — for actions initiated by Republicans? Just to cite your first example, Bush 41 got us into Somalia. Clinton pulled us out….

      Beyond that, though, do you really not see whatever antiwar energy that exists as being on the Democratic side for the past four decades? You really think that generalization doesn’t work?

      Some of our disagreement here, and on the points Phillip raises, are matters of degree. Democratic presidents, once elected, usually act somewhat more hawkishly than a lot of their base wants them to. In practice (and I consider this to be a GOOD thing), there is more general consensus about the U.S. role in the world than partisans would like there to be.

      So you have Obama constantly boasting about pulling our troops out of Iraq, when his predecessor was on his way to doing the same thing. There IS a difference — it’s generally believed that Bush wouldn’t have pulled out so completely. But we don’t know that for sure; political reality may have tied his hands in leaving a residual force to prevent the rise of something like ISIL.

      There are other dramatic differences. Most DEMOCRATS, much less Republicans, would have acted more decisively than Obama to back up a “red line” statement in Syria — a place that I’m surprised makes your list.

      But in general, there’s continuity. Bush fought a “war on terror,” and Democrats scoffed at the very term itself. But what is Obama doing but fighting a “war on terror” — in some ways more aggressively than Bush did?

      It’s a complicated world, and tends to resist black and white characterizations…

      1. M.Prince

        Just a couple of footnotes to start:

        The battle of Mogadishu (Somalia), the largest military operation after the first Iraq war, took place under Clinton.

        And as for: “Syria — a place that I’m surprised makes your list”
        There’s no reason for you to be surprised. The US began launching airstrikes in that country, together with other regional partners, in September of last year.

        But with regard to your larger point, no, I don’t see the generalization as very useful – if it’s actions rather than words we’re talking about. Save for Bush II’s two major wars, all we’ve seen from the Republican side, post-Vietnam, have been two minor incursions (Grenada and Panama) and one large but limited operation (Iraq I). The uses of US military assets by Democratic presidents during the same period, while generally smaller in scale, have been comparatively frequent, as my previous list showed.

  6. Phillip

    Brad, I agree that Scoop was a continuation of the cold-warrrior Dems of the 60s, but you were talking about Scoop’s singularity within the Democratic party of the 70s, saying the stuff nobody was saying in the party. Graham is not some guy saying things that nobody else is talking about. He’s pushing the same stuff that Walker, Rubio, Romney, Jeb Bush, Perry, Cruz et al are peddling. The parallel doesn’t hold, because while Scoop was an unrepentant Cold Warrior in the midst of a party that had transformed completely by 1972 (Muskie, McGovern, the “reformed” Hubert Humphrey) and thus a “voice in the wilderness” whether you agreed with him or not, Graham is no such thing within his party.

    On immigration, that’s an entirely different matter. If you want to say LIndsey is courageously standing out from much of his party on the issue, that’s legitimate. But not on foreign policy and “national security.” No “Profile in Courage” there.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I didn’t say profile in courage. I said he’s running to defend the traditional GOP position on defense and foreign affairs.

      If you ask those other Republicans to address foreign affairs, they’ll dutifully mouth the old party line. But one gets the sense they’re not that interested. Every journo in Washington knows that if you want a hawkish quote, you go to Graham or McCain (or maybe Ayotte). They stand out in that regard. As did Lieberman on the Democratic side, only more so.

      So if you’re Graham, and you see Rand Paul representing a disturbing new trend in your party, you don’t sit back and depend on Cruz, Rubio et al. to make the case for your position. You step up and start swinging yourself. Because McCain has already had his at-bats…

      The other candidates, who really want to win, don’t want to alienate the libertarians who admire Paul. Graham doesn’t care about that, so he’s free to swing away…

      1. Doug Ross

        “You step up and start swinging yourself. Because McCain has already had his at-bats…”

        Yeah, McCain’s batting average on that was below the Mendoza line (look it up).

        I’ll put my money on Paul coming off as the sane Senator on the topic of national security. Lindsey will be laughed off the stage in the primaries. He’ll be Pat Robertson without a cult following.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, if you’d like to see more of the phenomenon that Graham is trying to stand up against, beyond Rand Paul, take a look at Will Folks’ blog sometime. Or listen to Thomas Ravenel. Yes, they may be fringe voices, but they’ve held pretty mainstream positions in the recent past. And they do everything they can to redefine what it is to be a Republican, labeling the real, tradition GOP as RINOs.

      And some in the party go for that stuff…

  7. bud

    To continue the baseball analogy. McCain had three strikes against him and the Umpire (American voters) wrung him up:

    1. The economy tanked badly. A big strike against the incumbent party.
    2. Iraq. He was fer it. The voters agin it.
    3. Sarah Palin.

    Yerr OUT!!


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