George Will: Amash’s independence shows voters they don’t have to settle for binary choice | TribLIVE.com
George F. Will, Columnist

George Will: Amash’s independence shows voters they don’t have to settle for binary choice

George Will
1546220_web1_1373806-7c65d9d67ba041d2b1445e64e7e8c936
FILE - In this June 12, 2019 file photo, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., listens to debate as the House Oversight and Reform Committee considers whether to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents related to the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Amash, the only Republican in Congress to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump, said Thursday, July 3 he is leaving the GOP because he has become disenchanted with partisan politics and "frightened by what I see from it." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File )

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.

It is difficult to discourage and impossible to manage Justin Amash because he, unusual among politicians, does not want much and wants nothing inordinately. He would like to win a sixth term as congressman from this culturally distinctive slice of the Midwest. He does not, however, want it enough to remain in today’s Republican Party, which he has left because that neighborhood has become blighted. Amash, 39, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, also has left that once-admirable faction because he does not define freedom as it now does, as devotion to the 45th president.

He is running as an independent, which might accomplish two admirable things: It might demonstrate that voters need not invariably settle for a sterile binary choice. And it might complicate Donald Trump’s task of again winning Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, which he did in 2016 by just 0.2 percentage points.

With a city named Holland and a college named for John Calvin, West Michigan’s culture reflects its settlement by Dutch Americans, who set about vindicating Max Weber’s connection between the “Protestant ethic” and the “spirit of capitalism,” a spirit incubated in 17th- and 18th-century Amsterdam.

Local Christian schools drummed into Amash and other young sinners fear of a particular moral failing: pride. His one-word description of his constituents — “modest” — suggests an aversion to vanity, vulgarity and ostentation that has an obvious pertinence to the leader of Amash’s former party. Amash compares West Michiganders — culturally, not theologically — to Mormons. Trump carried 16 states by larger margins than he carried Utah, and won only 51.6% in Amash’s district, which traditionally has been the epicenter of Michigan Republicanism. “I think,” Amash says dryly, “the Trump people are confounded by this area,” where Trump held his final 2016 rally.

Amash, the son of a Palestinian refugee who arrived in West Michigan in 1956, is philosophically unlike Grand Rapids’ most famous son, whose philosophic interests were few and did not include Amash’s favorite Austrian economists (Von Mises, Hayek). Amash, however, shares Gerald Ford’s devotion to the idea, if not the actuality, of Congress. Ford’s pipe, loud sport coats, decency and legislative seriousness validate a famous judgment: “The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.”

Presently, Congress is rarely a legislative, let alone a deliberative, body. Two years ago, when Republicans controlled the House, a Republican congressman defended a committee chairman accused of excessive subservience to the president by saying: “You’ve got to keep in mind who he works for. He works for the president. He answers to the president.” Pathetic.

Because congressional leaders live in terror of spontaneity among the led, hearings designed to generate publicity are tightly scripted, which is why, Amash says, such hearings are “an elaborate form of performance art” and members “often look as though they are asking questions they do not understand.” Congressional leaders’ stern message to potentially unmanageable members is to pipe down and “live to fight [for spending restraint, entitlement reform, open House processes, etc.] another day.” Amash’s campaign slogan should be: “Vote for someone who is as disgusted with Congress as you are.”

The Libertarian Party might ask Amash to take his — actually, it’s the Founders’ — message to the nation as the party’s presidential nominee. He does not seek this — he has three young children — but does not summarily spurn the idea of offering temperate voters a choice of something other than a choice between bossy progressivism and populist Caesarism. Or he could become the first non-Republican the Grand Rapids area has sent to Congress since 1974.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.