10/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The George Will Revolt

The words are startling.

He starts out with a quote, an allusion to John McCain being like the queen in Alice In Wonderland wildly shouting "Off with their heads!" at every perceived tormentor, howling it over our financial crisis. And conservative columnist George Will's critique doesn't get any better from there.

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that "McCain untethered" -- disconnected from knowledge and principle -- had made a "false and deeply unfair" attack on Cox that was "unpresidential" and demonstrated that McCain "doesn't understand what's happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does."

George Will is through with the Straight Talk Express. Especially as it evolves into the Befuddled Talk Express. Will is exasperated with McCain and writes as much in his column Tuesday. It's a vigorous literary battering that never lets up as Will exerts his frustration and disappointment with McMaverick.

McCain's smear -- that Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. McCain's Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law's restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending.

An old school conservative, Will stands on the side of smaller government. Like many fiscal conservatives, he questions the necessity and rectitude of a possible $700 billion-plus bail out of private companies who caused the market meltdown by taking duplicitous mortgages and selling them as investment funds.

On ABC's This Week, Will called the move to buy up the bad debt of wayward companies the dreaded "S" word -- socialism. The prudish pundit doesn't want to reward the bad actors in this drama, but he also doesn't want a potential president of the United States running around half-cocked calling for men to be fired and heads to be chopped. It was a frustration that Will unfurled previously on the show Sunday as the panel discussed with sudden frankness McCain's temper, rages and the "age issue."

As part of the Sunday morning quintet, Will assesses that John McCain has shown his true personality and "it has made some of us fearful." Sam Donaldson knocks McCain around about his gaffe-riddled week, during which he repeated numerous times that the economy was fundamentally sound even as the markets went into free fall. Within the span of a few hours in one day McCain went from being mute on the crisis to suddenly acknowledging the collapse and turning into a populist. The panel called it pandering.

By the end of Will's column he poses a question that he believes every voter must consider:

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

I find Will's doubting of McCain's ability to lead fascinating because he is seeing what other Republicans foretold during the primaries. That McCain had temper issues. That it concerned them that he could be president with his tendencies to go with gut and heart over substance and fact.

It is McCain's love of risk over reward that lead to an "almost" endorsement for Obama from the conservative. A de facto endorsement for a man Will is ideologically opposed to but may be a safer bet as Will argues that voting for a president has to be about more than judicial appointments.

What's the point of electing McCain if his temperament and nature make him unfit for the position? What if the same unpredictable nature that caused him to select a political novice/novelty act, Gov. Sarah Palin, as his running mate, that precociousness that caused him to call for a man to be fired when it was the entire financial regulatory system and private industry who caused his mess, what if that same personality was applied to the world we live in today? What would a McCain presidency wrought?

Would McCain roll the dice on Iraq? Nuclear disarmament? Our relationship with China? Our relationship with Russia? In our adviser and protector role with Israel? In our crises at home with finances, ballooning budgets and deficits, wounded soldiers returning home, unemployment, health care, problems in the Food and Drug Administration and education? Would he go for parlor tricks, gimmicks and pixie dust? Would he go for having Cindy McCain blow a kiss on the dice before McCain shouts "Come on seven, eleven!" on America?

Can McCain control McCain and will others begin to ask this same question if George Will is asking this question? Is McCain's maverick streak merely the side effect of the gambling addict? A sign of mania and lack of impulse control? Does maverick equal reckless?

We already know George Will's answer. But what does the rest of America think?