Weekend Reflection: Where There’s a Will…
George Will, elder statesman of American conservative punditry, is urging readers to vote for Democrats in the 2018 midterms, in effect endorsing Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Naturally, the erudite Will has an elegant rationalization for supporting panderers to leftist activists — so elegant it almost sounds like dispassionate reasoning, until one remembers that hypocrisy masquerading as dispassionate reasoning is Will’s stock-in-trade.
Let us begin with a little refresher for those who believe Will’s current anti-Republican stance is merely a rejection of Donald Trump. That’s what he presumably wants you to think it is, but a quick look at the record proves otherwise.
During the 2012 Republican primaries, Will took pot shots at every plausible GOP contender — in the case of Tea Party favorite and early frontrunner Michele Bachmann, Will even dragged out the old fearmongering nonsense about entrusting “someone like that” with the nuclear button — until there was no one left but the establishment’s chosen sacrificial milquetoast, Mitt Romney, whom Will then proceeded to damn with faint praise. In other words, Will’s unstated but unmistakable position, revealed in the trajectory of his commentary over the course of that entire election cycle, was that a second term of “fundamental transformation” of America by an administration fronted by neo-Marxist fraud Barack Obama was preferable to any of the GOP’s available candidates. (To be fair, his subtle hit job on Romney was milder than the outright anti-endorsement he stamped on John McCain’s forehead on the eve of the 2008 election, while praising Obama’s gentility and only gently chastising his leftward inclinations.)
Does that sound like the position of a sober constitutional conservative?
And then there is this: There is no current elected Republican on whom Will has heaped more praise more consistently — right up to last month — than Mitch McConnell. Will frequently begs his readers to believe that McConnell is a strategic genius who is “winning the long game.” He sure is; just not for the team Will pretends to believe McConnell is playing for. And he is also conspicuously and conveniently quiet about McConnell’s support of Trump, as well as Trump’s very vocal and materially grand support of McConnell during the latter’s 2014 Kentucky primary campaign against a serious Tea Party challenger. (By the way, in the context of praising McConnell, Will cites the usual list of “conservative victories” of the past eighteen months — in other words, during the Trump presidency — but apparently sees in these allegedly brilliant achievements no reason to remain loyal to the party of which he was a registered member for his entire adult life until this year. Curious, that.)
Will’s latest tack is to claim that he is no longer even a Republican — in spite of loving McConnell’s (supposed) recent victories for the long-term conservative position. In furtherance of this new publicity-seeking charade, he has just published a column asking whether Harvard Libertarian Bill Weld (also not a Republican, you see) might be the savior of conservatism. If I were Weld, I would take Will’s apparent support with not merely a grain of salt, but an entire salt mine — Will published a similar column promoting Bachmann in the spring of 2011, before questioning her mental stability with the nuclear button during the primaries just a few months later. Had she undergone any notable changes in the interim? Of course not. In his praise, he was courting a certain type of reader skeptical of the establishment, which is how he makes his money; in his smear, he was playing to his McConnellesque friends in the Washington old boys club, which is how he keeps his seat reserved at the elite parties of the crotchety seeping-progressivism-equals-conservatism crowd.
His newest attack against the Republican Congress, then, is to encourage Republicans and Independents to vote Democrat, on the grounds that “Ryan and many other Republicans have become the president’s poodles, not because James Madison’s system has failed but because today’s abject careerists have failed to be worthy of it.”
Today’s abject careerists have failed to be worthy of the constitutional separation of powers, he claims, because the Republican congress has by and large supported a Republican president — that is, the man who will sign or veto the legislation they pass. Throughout Will’s years as a political observer and insider, has he seen prominent and recurrent examples of congressmen standing en masse in opposition to presidents of the same party? If not, then why the sudden warnings of constitutional crisis over such unanimity now? And don’t answer, “Because Trump’s agenda isn’t conservative.” Will seems to be able to brand the very same legislative agenda “winning the long game” one week, but then define it as being “the president’s poodles” the next, depending on whether his focus is on defending the most effective constitutionalist-repellent the senate GOP has ever had (Mitch “crush the Tea Party” McConnell), or whether it is on looking for new excuses to discourage conservative candidates and rush the Democrats’ neo-Marxist agenda one more step “forward.”
In short, for all his talk of “authentic conservatism” and preserving constitutionality and the separation of powers, Will — like his favorite Republican, McConnell — seems to have no problem actively nudging the United States of America further into the undiscover’d country of democratic totalitarianism, from whose bourn no constitution returns.
Trump is a bad man and a bad president. This Republican congress is part of the longstanding uniparty establishment in Washington, for which progressivism is the default assumption of political life, never to be seriously questioned, let alone resisted. The swamp does indeed need draining, and desperately — and George Will’s favorite part of the swamp, the turtle pond, ought to be drained first. The problem is that the man nominally assigned this task by Republican voters clearly wouldn’t recognize a swamp if it rose up and filled his cabinet.
But to suggest that the solution to the problem of a corrupt and duplicitous Republican Party is to give a congressional majority to the communist and subversive Democratic Party is not merely questionable strategy — it is at least as destructive of constitutionalism as…as the two parties having reduced America to an electoral choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Bill Weld and the Libertarians? That may be Will’s new “big idea” for the future of conservatism, thinking along similar lines to his hero, the senate majority leader: foster enough of a vote-splitting rupture in the quasi-conservative portion of the electorate to ensure that the Democrats continue to be electable, even if they continue to put forward candidates as despicable as Hillary. Will is not seriously advocating an effective third party. He is effectively advocating the Democratic Party.
Do I really believe George Will is that much of a double-dealer and/or self-server? Yes, I do. And this is nothing new; I wrote about his machinations and absurd rationalizations for conceding to the Democrats in the name of conservatism, back in 2012.
Below, for your reading pleasure, is what I had to say then. Enjoy.
Where There’s A Will
Originally published at American Thinker, January, 2012:
George Will greeted 2012 with an upbeat look into the future of American conservatism. The heart of his thesis, namely that if American conservatives would just overcome their obsession with the presidency, they would see plenty of reasons for hopefulness on the horizon, would almost be convincing were the U.S. the constitutional republic its founders intended it to be. Will’s optimism seems to be grounded in a view of America that might be found in a school primer on American Government written in 1907, rather than in any reality faced by conservatives today.
Here is Will’s claim:
Although they have become prone to apocalyptic forebodings about the fragility of the nation’s institutions and traditions under the current president, conservatives should stride confidently into 2012. This is not because they are certain, or even likely, to defeat President Obama this year. Rather, it is because, if they emancipate themselves from their unconservative fixation on the presidency, they will see events unfolding in their favor. And when Congress is controlled by one party, as it might be a year from now, it can stymie an overreaching executive.
Let’s delve into this argument. Is pointing out that a nation that is $16 trillion in debt has a problem that may be insoluble indicative of a weakness for “apocalyptic forebodings about the fragility of the nation’s institutions and traditions”? Which institution is free of risk when the debt could not possibly be repaid without (a) a drastic and sustained increase in tax revenue, which would be impossible, as such levels of taxation would utterly destroy the economy, thus reducing tax revenues in short order; or (b) immediate and monumental cuts in federal programs that could not possibly be undertaken by any Congress likely to be able to stay in office long enough to carry them out?
Next, consider Will’s use of the word “fragility” in his opening sentence. If a man fears that his house will fall down every time the wind blows, he can be accused of a false presumption of “fragility.” Not so, however, if he feels the same fear as an earthquake splits open the ground in his backyard.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” Ronald Reagan famously said. This is one of the starkest expressions of the never-ending vigilance required of a nation that wishes to remain free. Does it reveal an undue concern about “fragility,” or simply a refusal to allow oneself to lose the gradually disappearing forest for the daily buzz of chainsaws? With the U.S. Federal Government currently employing some two million civilian workers, the number of societal trees felled is entirely a matter of managerial preference. And that preference, for a very long time now, has been in favor of buzzing away merrily. That once mighty forest — the American republic — is on the verge of being clear-cut, and an elder statesman of the Republican commentariat is telling everyone to relax and ignore Reagan’s admonition.
Let us look next at Will’s claim that the “fixation on the presidency” is “unconservative.” In theory, of course, part of the genius of the U.S. Constitution is its severe restriction of the scope of presidential powers, which undermines the “Great Leader” notion of national governance, an essential moral principle in a republic of free citizens who are meant to see their elected government as hired contract workers, rather than as rulers.
However, can conservatives afford to look at the presidency this way today? The presidency, in part through the various departments within the executive branch that produce increased concentration of authority in specialized areas, has slipped its constitutional leash, exerting power in areas where its involvement ought to be minimal, at best. Why is there still a Department of Education? As long as it exists, the executive branch has supra-constitutional power over the single most important “institution” in any society. In this particular case, “fragility” does not begin to address the issue. A broken flower pot is no longer merely fragile. It is time to sweep up the pieces and buy a new pot. In the meantime, the flower that had been in that pot — generations of American youth — must be repotted, and it is far from obvious that this can be done well enough to salvage all of this plant that is the source of republican citizenship.
Even the legitimate federal departments, such as Treasury, have clearly run amok, pursuing courses of action that are not only constitutionally questionable, but perhaps directly anti-American. And on the trajectory of the past several decades — namely that of increasing bureaucratization of every federal function — these departments have gradually become unmoored from the elected executive, like robots that begin to see vested interests of their own, and thus seek to protect those interests, even against their owners.
And then, of course, we have the independent agencies, led by presidential appointees, and increasingly usurping the constitutionally-prescribed legislative powers of Congress. Consider everyone’s favorite, the Environmental Protection Agency. Its website features an open letter to employees from the appointed head of this lunatic asylum with regulatory authority, Lisa Jackson. She outlines the seven priorities that constitute the EPA’s core mission. First, naturally, is “Taking Action on Climate Change.” Action, of course, means regulatory action. And lest one imagine that this list of seven priorities implies that, after climate change action, there are six other priorities, Ms. Jackson informs her underlings otherwise:
In all of this, we must also recognize that climate change will affect other parts of our core mission, such as protecting air and water quality, and we must include those considerations in our future plans.
In other words, other priorities, including, but not limited to, air and water quality, must now be subsumed under the climate change umbrella. Saving the best for last, however, Jackson informs her charges that the sixth and seventh priorities are, respectively, “Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice,” and “Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships.”
In case you are wondering what “Environmental Justice” is, Jackson tells us:
We are building strong working relationships with tribes, communities of color, economically distressed cities and towns, young people and others, but this is just a start. We must include environmental justice principles in all of our decisions.
Not surprisingly, environmental justice means community organizing, i.e. class warfare, aka socialist rabble-rousing.
In such a climate, the presidency becomes extraordinarily important. Indeed, contra Will, this importance is especially pronounced for conservatives. This is the time to begin diminishing the executive branch, and reining in the federal agencies and bureaucracy. It is also the moment, as indicated above, to begin — or rather to charge headlong into — the process of drastically reducing federal expenditures, in ways that will be painful for many, and extremely controversial. In this predicament, a real leader is required; a moral leader who can speak to the American people above the heads of the media, and over the din of a rebellious government class that will make Wisconsin’s recent tribulations look like a Fourth of July picnic. Who, among the post-Bachmann primary contenders, embodies the kind of principled, moral constitutionalism that could hope to inspire Americans in this fight for their future as, under present circumstances, only a president can? The answer, sadly, is obvious.
Finally, I draw your attention to Will’s main argument for conservative optimism: “when Congress is controlled by one party, as it might be a year from now, it can stymie an overreaching executive.”
Two words ought to leap out at you: “might” and “can.” It is indeed possible that Republicans will win both houses of Congress in 2012. It “might” happen. And if it doesn’t? How much more debt, aimless foreign policy, and bureaucratic stifling of freedom and economic growth, can America withstand? More importantly, while it is theoretically true that Congress “can” still stymie an overreaching executive in some regards, the only question that matters is: will it? Tea Party conservatives handed the Republicans a huge victory in 2010. And yet who controls the House? The Republican Establishment, the old guard, which remains more concerned with protecting its power and privilege than with saving a republic in ruins. Would the Senate be of much more use, were Mitch McConnell handed the leadership of a majority?
Will’s bright conservative future is the kind of pleasant fantasy that allows one to avoid painful truths. He concludes his article with the philosophical remark that, “America had 43 presidencies before the current one and will have many more than that after the end of this one.” Hopeful, to be sure, but once again Will deftly avoids the salient question: What kind of presidencies? Ones that look anything like the intention of the Founders? Does the current one look anything like that intention? Speculating that the republic will never be lost seems somewhat behind the times at this point, doesn’t it?