Remember just over a year ago, when U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer told the crowd at the Oregon Bike Summit that we need to “Hold the weasels accountable” when their partisan bickering holds up good bike policy?
Now, Blumenauer is doing just that in his efforts to take Newsweek’s George Will to task for an anti-Portland screed he penned in a recent column. Will’s story was based on faulty assumptions about America’s relationship with bikes and cars and it directly insults Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for his (gasp!) love of Portland.
Will mocked LaHood’s desire (in rhetoric at least) to change America’s transportation habits and LaHood’s excitement about how Portland is leading the way. That would have been bad enough, but then Will goes on to talk smack about Portland, labeling it as (among other things) a place “liberals hope is a harbinger of America’s future.”
Blumenauer, who does happen to think more of America should look like Portland, swung into action swiftly. First via Twitter, where he challenged Will to a debate. Then, Blumenauer published an official statement on his website where he challenged Will to a debate in Portland wrote that, “Mr. Will proves that he is mired in a one-dimensional past, one that the city of Portland has successfully overcome”.
All of this has of course not gone unnoticed on bike, transportation, and political blogs (it’s also currently the “most recommended” and “most emailed” story on Newsweek.com). It’s already been coined the “Battle of the Bowties” and the “Bowtie Summit” (a nod to their choice in neckwear).
We’ll keep you posted on the time/date/location of the Will vs. Blumenauer Battle of the Bowties.
— George Will’s column in Newsweek, Why LaHood is Wrong
— Blumenauer’s response
[via Willamette Week] — Blumenauer has now taken his criticisms of Will to the House Floor. Check it out:
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Bring it on, Will! I’d pay to see that debate. In an economic crisis, at that.
Great response to an arrogant and backwards rant. I sure hope that the debate happens at some point. I just had a conversation with a coworker today who is a recreational cyclist about those same ideas of car entitlement. The conversation started when I brought up the new cycle track on broadway and the new streetcar/bike/ped bridge as examples of the forward thinking regarding he future of transportation in Portland. A lot of people don’t believe that our government should be trying to discourage driving the way Portland does (is trying). I happen to disagree.
I had previously respected Will as an intellectual. He may not have always been right (who is?), but at least he put some thought into his positions. That rant in Newsweek was totally devoid of any meaningful thinking.
Basically, he just said government should stay out of land use planning without giving any reason. Presumably, the market will solve the problems caused by sprawl. Look how well that’s worked out so far!
He also states that, back in the “good old days,” the government did stay out of land use planning, which is patently false.
How embarrassing for him.
But the important thing for Portlanders to remember is that we only look progressive and forward-thinking in contrast to other American cities. We still have a mayor who wants to build a mega-highway through our town and a poor mass transit system in comparison to other world-class cities.
We still have much work to do. Reading Will’s column is a good reminder that there is literally no good reason not to keep working hard to achieve the goals we’ve set.
Aside from the 100+ years of World Series futility, the hardest part about being a Cubs fan is that George Will is one too.
Actually, the George Will thing is worse.
George Will – isn’t he dead yet?
I would love to see that debate. Having just returned from my first visit to your city, I am firmly in Rep. Blumenauer’s camp on the matter. You have an outstanding city and you should all be very, very proud. I hope I can help pull off even half what Portland has accomplished in my home of Fort Worth.
The first of several posts on my experiences in Portland can be found here – I started with transit. More to come:
That’s all there is to say.
Apparently George Will isn’t dead yet. But his ideas are.
Shows how out-of-touch George has become when he believes a Republican from Peoria is a big-government lefty.
The Newshour with Jim Lehrer – where these types of debate are a regular feature – would be the perfect format and reach the widest audience.
That said, I’d love to see Earl give George Will a verbal smackdown here in Portland. It’s obvious Mr. Will has difficulty seeing the political reality outside the beltway, so it’s hard for me to imagine him willingly entering the lion’s den like that. But good for Earl to call him out anyway. Hope he man’s up.
Newsweek is a crappy magazine. Will wishes he was David Brooks and the article is disingenuous are best. I suspect his editor was leaning on him to write something to sitr up emotions ala Limbaugh which would explain the swipe at EISA legislation and the pending extinction of incandescents. Lame.
He has fodder for his next piece – lightbulbs, but in his case they are not too bright.
Actually, he’s right. Portland is a place liberals hope is a harbinger of Americas future. But what’s wrong with that?
Once you get over the irritation, it’s interesting to pick apart Will’s rant:
I have to take issue with the picture he paints of liberals. Only speaking for myself, and I’m basically a liberal: I really don’t want to control other people’s lives, honest. After all, the root of the word liberal is “liber,” which means “free.”
A bike means freedom to me. So does transit, if it’s within a good system.
But a car, especially in the midst of an area with good bike and transit options available, can often feel like an anchor by comparison. You can never go too far from where you parked it; it’s like a leash. And if you’re in it, and you’re stuck in traffic, that’s it, you’re stuck.
However, in the midst of a good transit system, you can just go and go and go. Like following a network of trails in the woods, only this network bears you along.
Even out in the boonies, with a pair of knobbies on your bike, it takes little more than a dirt trail to carry you along, for as long as the trail lasts.
Compare that to the freedom of the automobile, a freedom subsidized by massive spending on massive infrastructure, all built and regulated by… wait for it… the government! The very same government Will seems to think should do no more than, “defend the shores, deliver the mail and let people get on with their lives.”
He bashes the government on one hand, then on the other hand praises the freedom of the automobile, a freedom that is made possible only through massive government intervention.
It’s a reflection of an outlook that is so common that it goes almost unnoticed: the view that this massive automobile infrastructure around us just *happened*, almost spontaneously, as if through force of nature. There seems to be no comprehension that, for instance, the Interstate Highway System is the biggest public works project ever. Or more generally, that it’s only through massive spending and effort that the world is kept accessible to cars.
You hardly notice the pervasiveness of this view until you find yourself in a place like Portland that offers other options. In certain of our neighborhoods you can get around on bike so effortlessly that you can almost forget you have a car.
Then, once you see the possibilities bikes and transit offer, if you ask for the sliver of infrastructure necessary to let bikes provide a level of freedom comparable to that promised by cars – or more specifically, the system of roads and highways built around cars – you’re told you’re asking for “special treatment.”
It’s a long fight ahead. Good to know what the other side is thinking.
Most thoughtful response award goes to Spencer.
What’s notably lacking mention in Will’s narrow-minded screed is quality of life. I’ve lived in Denver (poster child for sprawl) and in Colorado Springs (home of strip malls and Fast Food Nation‘s negative example) and the quality of life is simply better in Portland. I’m perfectly happy to trade some “liberties” and yard space for the sense of community, easy of livability, and proximity to natural beauty that Portland offers.
Yes, let’s continue to let companies like General Motors dictate our transportation choices (and fund the pundits as well).
It always frustrates me when I read something that’s 100% editorial. Why do these journalists insist upon trying to tell the rest of the world what/how to think?
He talks about Democrats like they are a bunch of control freaks while he himself is attempting to manipulate/control the thoughts of his readers by drawing a correlation between our government trying to cut down on driving and totalitarianism. So, he thinks it’s better to use his fear tactics in an attempt to control people than it is to use a (in his own words) “Yes we can!” attitude to sway people’s thinking? I think the word “weasel” is very descriptive.
“But the important thing for Portlanders to remember is that we only look progressive and forward-thinking in contrast to other American cities. We still have a mayor who wants to build a mega-highway through our town and a poor mass transit system in comparison to other world-class cities.”
This is 100% true. I sometimes get perplexed by the people touting Portland as some sort of “green” (a word that I am learning to hate since it’s more of a marketing heyday than anything it seems) blueprint that should be used as a model for the rest of the US to follow. We’re somewhat progressive, but hop on I5 around 5:00 PM on a weekday and take in a big lung-full of air and I think you’ll find that we have some room for improvement.
However, I’ve been trying not to focus too much on the negative and focus on the fact that at least we’re TRYING to head in the right direction (and succeeding in a lot of areas).
What an idiot. But let’s be clear, Portland has done some good but it’s far from a model city when it comes to transportation. Mass transit still sucks here.
I meant public transportation! For other forms of transportation, like bikes, Portland is definitely a model IMO.
Great analysis, Spencer #15. You should get yourself a bowtie and join the battle 🙂
Iraq lacks a Washington, a Madison, a Marshall—and it lacks the astonishingly rich social and cultural soil from which such people sprout. From America’s social soil in the eighteenth century grew all the members of the Constitutional Convention and of all the state legislatures that created all the conventions that ratified the Constitution. So, Iraq in its quest for democracy lacks what America then had: an existing democratic culture.
I often wonder if George Will and all the other neocon shills like Cal Thomas and David Brooks ever get tired of being CONSTANTLY oblivious to irony.
Wow, Earl really brought down the house with applause. Maybe the crowd mic was turned down? Just kidding I really like earl.
Will has really slipped in the past few years. I used to read his column upon occasion, but lately he has taken to distorting the facts to such an extent that he has become irrelevant. If this is how conservatives think they will return to power, they are mistaken. Will has become a clown.
#16 aljee: Thanks. Wordiest, anyway :). I always think I’m going to make some quick little comment, but then it ends up being like pulling a thread on a sweater…
#22 Kris: Thanks a ton. Not sure about the tie :).
George Will has got smarts, but he’s also got some very entrenched, very conservative viewpoints. Is he under an impression that the planet is growing at the same rate the population is growing?
His view seem to be, ‘Cities and counties must convert more and more open land to single family dwelling suburbs farther and farther away from urban centers because Americans are content only when they can pursue the joy of taking refuge in the fenced backyard of a suburban tract house’, even when that requires a personal car and increasing time on the road in it. ‘That’s The Way It Is and The Way It Shall Always Be!!’ .
So in world of his kind of conservative, if you aren’t prepared to get a car to drive back and forth from your job to one of those out in the boondocks suburb houses, you’re nothing, or at least not a free-thinking American.
I still enjoy reading his column regardless of the extremity of some of his social and political views. The guys got a way with words and logic that’s good for provoking stimulating discussion.
Hey, I’m dying to know what the gentleman from Texas had to say following that speech!
“Request permission to…”
I see where this came from.
When George Will was a kid, he looked like Milhouse from the Simpsons.
Some kids beat him up and took his bike.
Then Nelson Muntz rolled up on his banana seat Schwinn and proclaimed “HA HA”.
Don’t blame the bicycle Mr. Will.
Wish I had a pet bird–so’s I could line the cage with George Will’s columns.
He keeps proving to me that, when it comes to transportation and energy use, conservatives are developmentally disabled. The dumb MF should stick to writing about baseball.
What really gets me is not the slight against Portland, but rather Will’s penchant for haphazard and snarky comments that completely distort reality (and, in some instances, actually make things that are good policy sound like the big-bad government wants to regulate everything about your life, from morality to lightbulbs).
Will asks if Ray LaHood really thinks Americans weren’t avid drivers before the government-sponsored and funded highway program developed. Well, they weren’t. Sorry Will, but that’s the truth. How ubiquitous was the automobile, and how frequent was the average person’s driving habits, before Eisenhower helped develop the interstate highway system?
Will makes it sound like Americans have been “commuting” from suburbs to cities for daily employment since the 1860s (“For many generations—before automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of towns—Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living.”) Ummm, well, most people lived and worked in rural communities during the eras before suburbs sprawled, and actually lived on or near the land where they worked.
And while I’ll avoid the slight against LBJ’s call to service (you know, that whole silly “giving of yourself for the betterment of others” thing?), which FDR, JFK, and Eisenhower all shared, I’ll just say one thing about his incandescent lightbulb comment: getting rid of those bulbs is good policy. They cost more energy than other bulbs. Japan has already banned them, and the switch to other less wasteful bulbs cuts CO2 emissions. Jeez, Will, it’s a lightbulb, not your constitutional rights (though I guess he’s more concerned with the former…)
Spencer (#15) – Amen, and it’s also interesting to note (from your quote) “Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision?” – um, what is Mr. Will smoking?
– cars are licensed, which is government supervision
– motorists are licensed, which is government supervision
– cars must be insured, which is government-mandated private supervision
– auto repair shops must be certified, which is government supervision
– cars must meet mileage and emission standards set by the government
By contrast, human-powered vehicles and pedestrians require no licensing, are generally capable of repairing their own equipment, and are in most jurisdictions almost completely unregulated.
I suppose Mr. Will would have us believe that liberals are entirely responsible for this, but the truth is that “automobile culture” is highly regulated, controlled and supervised, and “bike culture” generally is not. We seem to be doing pretty well despite this.
Diogo (#20/21) – I’ll assume you haven’t lived anywhere with a truly abyssmal transit system. Compared to most US cities, Portland has an *awesome* public transportation system. Detroit’s is barely worthy of the name, and the standard I use for “bad”. Granted, Portland’s system isn’t as good as some other cities – NYC comes to mind. Then again, NYC doesn’t have a choice – you can’t have that kind of density and not have a comprehensive transportation system. Portland can have a system like NYC or Chicago if we’re willing to accept that level of density.
I’d rather take the transit hit, and keep our density where it is now, if we have a choice in the matter.
Bryan (#31) – Incandescents are a big problem, but so are the current CF bulbs – studies indicate they may contain more mercury than what is put into the air from the coal plants powering the incandescents. Hopefully, someone will figure out a way to reduce of eliminate the Hg in CFs.
I probably didn’t live where transit is abysmal – but being better than the worst doesn’t make it good. San Francisco is another US city that comes to mind.
But then pretty much every other foreign city where I lived or spent time has better transit than Portland – both in the developed and underdeveloped world. They may not be fancy, but they actually take you anywhere you want. Whereas here in Portland it’s very limited in terms of time and areas served. And if the third world can do better that should be a sign that things are not that good.
All I have to say to Wills is “(***Deleted for inappropriate content by Jonathan***)”. You are the old guard, your ideas are outmoded and have been proven false.
Constraints are required for innovation to occur, and innovation is indeed happening. Use your brain more than your mouth and add value to the system, instead of working to more rapidly drain its resources.
“Hurry up and die” is worse than “Isn’t he dead yet”?
“Hurry up and die” is worse than “Isn’t he dead yet”?
It always amazes me how guys like George Will manages to push people’s buttons. He’s not passing law. He’s only representing a very conservative viewpoint, and though his ideas might not be the current, predominate mode, they’re still likely upheld by a very significant percentage of the american population.
Do people with contrasting ideas not want to be kept current on the level of public support those of Will and like minded people carry? Will’s viewpoint may seem outmoded today, but he seems to do a lot better job than others of keeping the discussion on at least the middle, as opposed to the low road.
George Will LIED about data he used to in a column denying global warming, and, in the face of that lie, stands by that article. The Washington Post and Newsweek, owned by the same company, enabled this lie, and refused to issue a correction over it. They give valuable space to this prevaricator, because why? So we can read a whole column about Mr Will’s disdain for blue jeans? (Yes, that really happened.) To all those who say they don’t agree with George Will’s politics, but he’s worth reading, please read a little more closely: he’s utterly dishonest in support of his positions, and uses effete “highbrow” words to pretty up his absurd arguments. Any time spent on a George Will column is time badly wasted.
My mom grew up in a tiny town in eastern Washington you’ve probably never heard of. She’d always speak with terror of going to Seattle, because of driving on the freeways. On a recent visit to Portland, she remarked on how pleasant it was to drive here, with all the signaling and letting people in. I told her I think it’s because a lot of drivers here also bike, so we’re careful.
When Republicans like George Will talk about the heartland and what “the American people” want, they are full of crap. They have no idea. The only people speaking for the Republican party these days are rich, self-indulgent ingrates like George Will and Rush Limbaugh. How dare they talk about the heartland and average Americans? They always assume the worst about average Americans (like that they are too stupid to appreciate beautiful, livable cities like Portland), and they are always wrong.
peejay, you apparently read George Will a whole lot more than I ever have. Occasionally, I read his column in the O, occasionally see him on tv. I’d never heard that he bothered to to write about blue jeans. I can just imagine what that article must have been about besides blue jeans.
Global warming is a hot-button issue. Did he really lie about data he used in his article or was it an instance of widely varying interpretation of data on global warming that seems to be common amongst people on that issue? At any rate, do the Post or Newsweek owe the readership a retraction by way of lies Will may have made as a staffwriter for those publications? Isn’t he an independent columnist? If so, they most likely have a standing disclaimer addressing the work of all independent columnists under contract with them.
Will is a paper tiger, yet people get so irate that he’s got a viewpoint different than theirs. And I suppose that’s the idea, even though compared to Limbaugh and some of the others I hear about, he’s a gentleman.
It’s one thing to have a different viewpoint, but Will is presenting untruths as facts to back up his arguments. Arguments which, in this case, hurt the cause of bikes as transportation.
Fair.org has a good story on Will’s claims on climate change:
My guess is that he’s playing to an audience that wants to believe certain things. They look to him, with his air of authority, for confirmation of these beliefs, and he gives it to them.
Confirmation bias is a tempting thing. Scientists avoid that temptation by subjecting themselves to peer review. That his .01% claim made it into print suggests that he subjects himself to nothing of the sort – not even fact-checking, apparently.
The really important thing is that Keith Olbamann pointed out Will was lying about the number of cycle commuters on Monday night. That’s the kind of exposure the cycling revolution needs.
Spencer, that was a good story, so thanks for posting the link. I guess this is another one of those examples that raises the question of why a guy with smarts like George Will has…and he really does seem to have them…a very high profile national columnist would allow those kinds of conspicuous errors to damage the integrity of his writing. It’s fine to have controversial views, but at the very least, basic check-able facts should be correct.
Despite everything that human contributed global warming deniers go on about, I wonder whether very many people, wherever they are on the political-conservative spectrum, really buy any suggestion that 6.6 billion people on the planet, many of whom want to emulate the U.S. model of owning and driving private IC powered motor vehicles, are not contributing to global warming.
In my mind, it’s self evident on a basic level, and I think it is so in the minds of many others too. Will can pitch his opinion, but nothing he’s said so far has persuaded me to share his viewpoint on global warming.
I’d be surprised if George Will has a lifestyle or if there was even anything in his upbringing that would equip him with a sensitivity to the conditions many people endure as they find the need to rely on a meager income that will not allow the expense represented by owning and driving a personal car.
It would be interesting to hear whether or not he has ever at any time ridden a bike in traffic for transportation. Seriously, I doubt that he has, or that he’s ever had occasion to live in a modest house in a neighborhood such as Cully, commuting back and forth from house to work on mass transit or a bike. Still, he has that exclusive comfort that a person in his position can take from holding onto a very conservative viewpoint.
this is another one of those examples that raises the question of why a guy with smarts like George Will has…and he really does seem to have them…
To the casual observer some of the comments here seem to be coming from terrified people. What are you afraid of? It’s just words. Will doesn’t even make an appeal for action. Just talking, criticizing really.
If you think life on the bus is so awesome then I suggest that it may be you who is out of touch. If you think poor people should make sacrifices that you are not willing to make yourself, then how are you any different from the, ‘Will’ -s of the world?
It would be different if the abolition of car-culture was being demanded by people without cars but it’s not. Many of the most ardent proponents of the Church of Green also have cute little imported cars (Or minivans in some instances.) in their garage at home. What are you if you can afford a car but feel that those who can’t shouldn’t even be allowed access?
Will may be out of touch, but he articulated the frustration a majority of the nation feels with short-sighted environmental advocates. Regardless of his methodology Will hit the nail on the head for most of his readers. Stands to reason too, else how would he have a job?
Funny how that works, huh? This was an editorial. An opinion piece. What’s with all the clip-board hippies and their Church of Green dogma? We’ve seen the stats. We’ve seen them debunked, rebunked, and debunked again. Since the eggheads can’t get consensus maybe it’s time for alternative viewpoints. Like slow, incremental change might be better for everybody.
As an atheist I’ve had a lot of negative interaction with churches and the devout. As usual there will be a non-believer like me, or Will, calling B.S. on your little books. Why all the fear? Seems to me you’all are doing better than your opposition.
An attack on car-culture is the same kind of thing like a war on drugs. It’s an objectification process. An, “Automobile owner”, isn’t a human being with feelings and hope, and becomes instead an enemy combatant. The converse is true too, I’m sure you’re aware. So, having attacked actual people, why are you all so surprised to see them angry, indignant, and speaking rashly? I mean, you are dictating to people how they will, and won’t live their lives.
I think the best approach is to ignore Will.. I think it’s universally understood that the guy is nuts, outdated and out of touch with reality..
Matt P, good point–cycling and in fact the bike industry exist in a much more “free market” (cough, gag) state than the automotive realm. Of course, a distracted bicyclist on a cell phone can’t mow 15 people down at a bus stop when they fuck up……………….
For all the lovefest action everyone has for Mr. Blumenauer, are you all forgetting HE screwed over the mountainbicycling community? Politicians must think we have short memories, we don’t. They ALL say one thing and do another. It was him and the other idiotic Congressmen and Senators from our state that CLOSED 110+ miles of singetrack that MTB’ers have been riding and maintaining for over 2 decades.
Yes, the recent Mt Hood Wilderness Act CLOSED 57% of the trails we legally were allowed to ride. 5 short years ago he LOVED mountainbiking, now he has changed his tune. A flip-flopper if I ever saw one.
Read the following quotes:
Speech of HON. EARL BLUMENAUER of Oregon in the House of Representatives.
From the Congressional Record: October 7, 2004:
“Mountain biking is a growing activity around the United States. In my State of Oregon, over 400,000 people participated in mountain biking last year. Bike Magazine identified the area around Hood River, Oregon, just to the east of my district, as some of the finest singletrack in the mountain bike universe, lying within an 80-mile radius of Hood River, incorporating all of the area that I represent.
It is important not just to fitness and recreation. It is also important to the economy. Overall, bicycling and mountain bike tourism is important to local and State economies. We are finding across the country cycling activities are gathering tourists for organized rides, for touring and for mountain biking. In our State, tourism is a $6.1 billion industry, and we are watching as bicycling is becoming an ever-increasing part of that effort, programs like Cycle Oregon that bring together 2,000 people from around the country every year.
It also is the source of a growing industry just in terms of cycle manufacturing and sales. There are thousands of small businesses across America that are part of the bicycling industry and specifically mountain biking. We just found this last year in Oregon the Chris King Precision Components relocated from California to Oregon because of the local support for mountain biking.
And they join one of dozens of companies that are a part of that effort, creating a critical mass in terms of the component, manufacturing, sales and service.
For all of these reasons, in terms of celebrating the spirit of mountain biking, the importance of promoting fitness, particularly among our youth, because it is so important in areas like tourism and small businesses, I rise in support of this resolution and urge my colleagues not just to support it, but find ways that they can translate this back home to their communities to make a difference.”
Hart #45, Will is a smart guy, and well read too, I’ve no doubt. He’s been writing for many years. I haven’t gone out of my way to do research on his career, but checking the wiki article about him, amongst his accomplishments, is that at one time, he edited the National Review. That’s the late William F. Buckley’s magazine. He’s got a lot more interesting stuff on his resume establishing that he’s got plenty of smarts. Check out the Wiki article.
None of this means that everyone has to agree or swear allegiance to his views. He’s a high profile figure, so he’s fair game for criticism by anyone that doesn’t agree with him. I realize that on this weblog and other places, people are inclined to blow off steam and so on, but wishing people’s death upon them, etc., etc., is not a healthy thing for anyone.
The least that people disagreeing with him and others they disagree with, might try to do is keep the presentation of their remarks on a level of civility at least as high as that of the person they disagree with.
And to those that would rather just ignore people like George Will…well go ahead, at your own peril. Don’t expect others that want to know what’s going on in this world to follow your inclination.
Vance #45, you made some good points in your comment.
George Will has shilled for the Bush Crime Family for the last decade. He’s supported the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. This is not an intelligent person.
Buckley was racist, homophobic, and an anti-Semite. Three things that also denote a lack of intelligence.
Just because a person is articulate does not make them smart.
RWL1776 #48, your allegation implies that Blumenauer and others supporting the recent wilderness expansion bill deliberately sought to cut MBkrs out of trails they had access to. Editor Maus, as expressed in articles he’s written about the bill as it progressed through congress, has also made that same assumption.
Nobody has ever provided any kind of statement from Blumenauer or any other supporter of the bill that would suggest they had that intention. To secure this new section of forest land around Mt Hood as wilderness yet make an exclusion would have required a rewriting of the original…70’s era, I think…wilderness bill. Whether or not he has been asked to make efforts to do this is what MBkrs should be asking themselves.