George Will Takes On Edmund Burke
The word "populist" is being tossed around a fair amount today, mainly to discredit Donald Trump. The implied idea is that populist politicians are demagogues who appeal to the lowest denominator of the popular imagination — a kind of redneck voter, whom Obama, in all his arrogance, referred to as Midwesterners with their God and their guns.
Obama was speaking to a fundraising party of wealthy True Believers in San Francisco, dope-smoking good time rock-'n'-rollers, who devoutly believe in all the liberal superstitions – like man-made global warming – in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Those folks will probably vote for Bernie Sanders because they are secret totalitarians who believe they have the answer to all of life's problems (except their own) – wealthy liberals who yearn every day for the power to control all the idiots in the country who don't know how to live their own lives.
Today we are being treated to the sight of conservative George Will of the Washington Post, denouncing Donald Trump to the bitter end. Mr. Will is the WaPo's nod to Madisonian democracy, which feels safe enough to the lefties of the WaPo – because who is going to bring James Madison back to life today?
Mr. Will is there like a gold ormulu clock on the mantelpiece, to show the intellectual diversity of the WaPo. He writes and speaks in whole sentences, but secretly, my hero George Will is a member of the Whig Party, the founding elite of the United States.
Now, I admire Mr. Will as one kind of true conservative, believe it or not. But he is not a Burkean conservative, because Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was actually a populist intellectual.
Burke believed in the intuitive wisdom and good sense of ordinary people. I'm afraid that Mr. Will sneers at popular conservatives because they are...well, popular. Like GOP winner Donald Trump, who talks the earthy language of Queens, New York.
Trump is attractive to voters who are sick and tired of being preached at and lied to by our mis-educated elites. Trump is not as intellectual as Ted Cruz. Intellectuals are good for Supreme Court justices, and Cruz knows his constitutional law.
But Trump understands and likes people, which is not the same thing.
Conservatives have long been divided between intuitive people and intellectuals. Thomas Jefferson was an intellectual. Andrew Jackson was an intuitive conservative.
Abe Lincoln was a very rare politician who had a liking and appreciation for everyday people but could still make eloquent speeches that educated Americans could love. Ben Franklin was also able to bridge popularity and intellect. But Alexander Hamilton famously said, "The People? Sir, the People is a Great Beast!"
In some way George Will is more of a Hamiltonian. Nothing wrong with that, but Mr. Will consistently fails to understand the Donald Trumps of this world. Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman had sound intuitions about people. Woodrow Wilson was an intellectual.
In truth, Trump understands sophisticated ideas also, and he can talk in complete sentences. We can see that as he is making his "pivot" to more conventional politics. But Mr. Trump loves to outrage the Hamiltonians in Washington, D.C., who are still freaked out by the prospect of a practical person getting a chance.
Burke was an Irishman who served in the British Parliament, a life history that might explain his hatred for tyranny and his love and respect for human intuition. Ireland in his time was miserably poor, generally uneducated, and badly exploited by English landlords, but still rich in human talent. Burke empathized with the poor and powerless, but he also admired the decency and good sense of most people.
In Burke's time, throngs of impoverished Irish fled to Britain, America, Australia, India and New Zealand, which is why so many American politicians have Irish roots.
Burke supported the American Revolution, because he saw the Constitution as an extension of British rights and freedoms, earned over the centuries in power struggles against tyrants. But the key to Burke was his faith in the good judgment of everyday people.
That's what he wrote about in his most famous paragraph, comparing the grasshoppers of the chattering classes to the mass of ordinary people, "reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak."
His advice was not to pay much attention to screaming headlines, but to put your trust in the intuitive good sense of the people.
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.
Trump is a practical man. George Will is a classic intellectual. They don't need to fight each other, because a viable world needs both kinds of people.
But maybe it's time for conservative intellectuals to stop sulking and get with the program. Worse things than Trump have happened to this country – like the last seven years of Obama, or (heaven forefend!) the next eight years of Hillary.
Today we have a choice, not an echo.
You may not love the choice, but consider the alternative.