Present George Will Agrees with Past George Will, For Once

George Will has always been skeptical of technocrats.

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George Will's Sunday column is making the rounds even before the weekend starts.

It's pretty merciless toward former Massachusetts Gov. Romney:

Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable, he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate: Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the tea party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming. Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from "data" ... Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for THIS?

What caught my eye were the scare quotes around "data." I realize Will is a climate-change denier, but I've never known him to be the sort of obscurantist conservative who scoffs at expertise as a rule. I thought, in other words, that I had grist for another requiem for the Old George Will.

[See a collection of political cartoons on climate change.]

Yet on reflection—darn it—I don't think it'd be fair to Will in this case.

Will's take on the idea of technocracy is complicated. It's not that he mistrusts experts. After all, his columns are occasionally full of economic and social-science data. Rather, Will thinks these things shouldn't necessarily be dispositive when it comes to governing.

The technocrat, in his own way, is simpleminded.

[Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.]

Here's Will in June 1976:

[T]here have been changes in the theory and, hence, the practice of American democracy. The changes began with the "Jacksonian revolution" in democratic thinking.

In his first message to Congress, in 1829, President Andrew Jackson said: "The duties of all public offices are, or at least admit of being made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their performance."

The duties of public office are "plain and simple" only if government problems are only problems of administrative technique. But such a simpleminded conception of politics is blind to the political virtues of judgment, prudence and courage.

I hereby call off the dogs.