George Will left ABC’s Sunday show “This Week,” after it left Washington to accommodate George Stephanopoulos’s schedule. ABC says it will not be hiring any replacement, but that hasn’t stopped some from measuring the drapes for the next Will-ian figure to anchor the conservative chair.
Ross Douthat would be a strong choice, already well-trained in engaging liberal audiences in good faith thanks to his post at the New York Times. Jamie Weinstein over at the Daily Caller notes that “the young New York Times columnist is like Will in some ways: Unemotional and erudite. You won’t get a lot of flash with Douthat, but you would get a lot of smart analysis.” Peter Lawler picks up the conversation over at “Postmodern Conservative” and continues that “it goes without saying that if you want a multifaceted and somewhat unpredictable young guy on the rise, you’d go with Ross Douthat over the other folks on the list.
Pete Spiliakos sets the credentials for a successor thusly:
I think that whoever ABC picks should be a journalist or wonk who is a policy generalist that takes policy seriously. That means someone who can talk monetary policy, tax policy, health care policy, etc. and has been doing their homework for a while. It should be a conservative who pitches their arguments to the persuadables in ABC’s audience, but is willing to throw some sharp elbows at the liberal panelists (both their presumptions and – if they deserve it – their persons). The Will replacement should be someone who is willing to constructively criticize the conservative side, but who has the sense to not let that criticism of fellow conservatives get in the way of presenting a conservative worldview.
Lawler ponders that “the argument for Ross and Yuval is, of course, they have the mixture of “public philosophy,” laidback but serious theology, instinctive and calculated prudence, and expertise in public policy that our side needs to look smarter than it often does and be smarter than it often is. Plus they both have that kind of nerdy charisma that might grow on America.”
To fill Professor Will’s scholarly shoes, however, takes more than just policy familiarity and a thoughtful disposition, though both are important. No, at the risk of rampant credentialism, his successor should pair a Ph.D. with his conservative bona fides and deep wells of insight, so that regrettably knocks Ross and Ramesh out of the running, though their families may appreciate having them home on Sundays without the makeup.
Senator Cruz represents no new thinking on the part of the GOP—quite the contrary, his whole public persona is based on amplifying the existing Republican stereotype. He’s the perfect movement conservative: articulate, combative, dramatic, but not particularly effective. He frames the conflicts he rides into as showdowns between freedom and socialism—Obama “is moving us day-by-day to being closer to a European socialist nation,” he once said—or, as in the Hagel confirmation hearings, between muscular patriotism and un-American subversion.
He’s avoided taking a clear stand on foreign policy, signaling at times that he thinks Obama isn’t aggressive enough in places like Syria—”We need to be developing a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the [chemical] weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right,” he said in June—at other times saying that America should not act as “al-Qaeda’s air force.” He’s a hawk who will strike a dovish pose if a particular intervention, proposed by a Democratic president, isn’t popular.
This buys him some credit with young Ron/Rand Paul supporters who want to think the best of him because they like his posturing on domestic issues, but in an important sense he’s more dangerous to noninterventionists than an open enemy like John McCain or Lindsey Graham is, since Cruz encourages the antiwar right to be complacent and overlook the differences between someone who’s willing to stick his neck out on foreign policy—as both the former congressman and the present senator Paul have been willing to do—and someone whose foreign policy is basically defined by his Republican partisanship. Cruz deserves credit for the good things he’s done, including joining Senator Paul’s drone filibuster, but that credit should not extend to making any mistake about the man’s fundamental character.
Paul’s filibuster was also symbolic, but there’s a tremendous difference between the educational effect of what Paul did—his message was not just aimed at the Republican base—and Cruz’s pitch to the true believers. Cruz’s position is that the Republican Party only needs to be more Republican, as “Republican” has been defined by the talk-radio right in the past 20 years. Read More…
First of all, I’m jealous that Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch got to confront, personally and at considerable length, George Will about his evolution from strong-government Tory conservative to the more libertarian-inclined one we’ve become accustomed to of late. This topic has been a hobbyhorse of mine; earlier this year I proffered a few of my own theories as to why Will had shifted, gradually but markedly, over the course of the last 20 years. The hourlong conversation, embedded above, is fascinating, revealing, and well worth your time.
Will’s explanation is at once reassuring and underwhelming. He either hasn’t changed as much as you or I might think—or he’s just terribly, terribly conflicted.
Almost immediately, Gillespie broaches the startling-sounding claim of Will’s that government can’t help but be in the “soulcraft” business; even a self-styled libertarian government that constitutionally limits itself so as to interfere as little as possible with the voluntary transactions and interactions between its citizens, he asserts, is going to end up cultivating and reinforcing certain norms and patterns of behavior. Will insists he still believes this to be the case—and bluntly tells Gillespie that “I think you do too.”
So, even after all this “libertarian evolution” business, Will hasn’t retreated from the central thesis of Statecraft as Soulcraft—the 1983 evisceration of Manchester liberalism that got Will tagged as a big-government conservative in the first place.
Later, Will sounds not a little like David Brooks, Michael Lind, Jim Pinkerton and others from the Hamiltonian wing of the right. He laments the decrepit state of our public infrastructure. He wants more funding for basic science and research. He says he’d like to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health. He misses the old days of Americans’ can-do optimism, of the rigorous pursuit of the public good, as opposed to today’s “sagging” spirit and collective malaise. He rejects the idea of a “severe” nightwatchman state and says, anyway, we’re “never going back” to small government. During this riff, and not for the last time, Will quotes his old pal, the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, the neoconservative turned conventional liberal Democrat.
If this is “libertarian evolution,” well, I guess I’m evolving into a libertarian too.
Speaking of state interference into consensual transactions between citizens, Will proposes a commonsense standard to measure whether it’s advisable: is there a “defensible reason” for doing so, or is it being done at the behest of a persistent faction at the expense of the general good of the public?
This sounds like a conservative pragmatist talking—and quite unlike the George Will who, later in the interview, defends conservative judicial activism in striking down laws that go beyond the enumerated powers of the federal government. Which is it, then: do lawmakers need merely a “defensible reason” to interfere (say, to curb pollution or some other externality)—or do those defensible reasons melt under the exacting heat of the constitutional text?
Will also appears to suffer from the very malady he often attributes to the public: cognitive dissonance. On one hand, Americans are rhetorical Jeffersonians and operational Hamiltonians; they adore abstract talk of balanced budgets and limited government, but in reality they jealously guard our low-tax/high-service big-government-on-the-cheap regime. At one point, Will says, “Everyone is on the take.” (These are assertions I happen to agree with in full.)
But then he lapses into the vulgar libertarian populism of the moment: big government is the handmaiden of the strong; ordinary people feel like the system is stacked against them—and they’re right!
Nope, sorry; the system can’t be stacked against the little guy if “everyone is on the take” and transfer payments, as Will notes despairingly, comprise such an outsize portion of the federal budget.
What clearly bugs Will is a gut-level disdain for the officious pointy-headed technocrats, bureaucrats, and academics who desire to micromanage our lives and, in their social broadmindedness and studied virtues of tolerance, feel good about themselves while doing so. Barack Obama, squire of the other Hyde Park, is Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University, where Will earned his Ph.D., reborn. This is the most deeply felt sentiment of late Will. He was reared in academia and, if not for a chance job opportunity in the U.S. Senate, probably would have continued working in it himself.
Will is a pointy head who loathes pointy heads.
If you substitute “pointy heads” for big government, Will’s intellectual evolution begins to make perfect sense. His newfound libertarianism isn’t theoretical so much as it’s personal. He’s basically the same George Will—just older and crankier.
Several critics of Kevin Williamson’s 2012 piece celebrating the Republican party’s record on civil rights charged that Williamson had conflated “Republican” and “conservative”: sure, the GOP of the ’50s and ’60s looks kosher on race if you ignore that fact that, back then, there used to be lots of liberal northeastern Republicans and conservative southern Democrats.
[A] lot of those so-called liberals from the northeast who supported civil rights look pretty good by today’s Republican standards: sober, free-enterprise, small-government guys. Not ideological flamethrowers, to be sure, but not as bad as we remember them.
It would appear that Williamson is up to something similar in his reappraisal of President Dwight Eisenhower in the current print edition of National Review:
Eisenhower may have sometimes called himself a progressive, but his bedrock priorities—a strong military, balanced budgets, and limited government—are classical conservativism.
Williamson never specified who “a lot of those so-called[!] liberals from the northeast” were. I’ll try to fill in the blanks (and extend the category to states like California and Maryland and Illinois): Jacob Javits. Ken Keating. Irving Ives. Clifford Case. Thomas Kuchel. Hugh Scott. Edward Brooke. Charles Mathias. Charles Percy.
I’ll stop there. For more, check out the book Geoffrey Kabaservice recently published about the defunct Rockefeller wing of the Republican party. I find it hard to imagine Williamson believes that Javits—who wrote a manifesto in 1964 assailing the Goldwater right—or any one of the aforementioned would make it in today’s Republican party. Judging from Williamson’s favorable summation of Ike’s record of prudence and caution on foreign policy, and his deft maneuvering around both the labor left and the McCarthy right, it seems to me he’s genuine when he writes that “Eisenhower had a deep appreciation for those most conservative of virtues: steadiness, judgment, predictability, attention to detail.”
There is more—much, much more—to conservatism, in other words, than “ideological flamethrowing.”
Maybe Williamson’s critics aren’t hip to what he’s trying to bring about: a revitalized Republican big tent.
I won’t go so far as to say Williamson agrees with Sen. Rand Paul, who said, “There’s room for people who believe in bigger government in our party.”
So I’ll say it for myself: The Republican party was better off when it had a moderate wing. A bona fide national party, if nothing else.
There’s no turning back the clock, of course. Republicans can no more reabsorb moderates (notice I didn’t say “independents“) than Democrats could successfully woo southern conservatives. A new coalition will have to be formed. But recognizing the greatness, the conservatism, of Ike is a worthy baby step. Dare I say it, Williamson and I are on the same page:
[W]here the ideologue sees a two-dimensional world with endpoints marked “Freedom” and “Slavery,” Ike saw the world in three dimensions. Just as his innate sense of realism and caution led him avoid unnecessary war, Ike’s fundamental lack of zeal helped him see that an ideological war on the New Deal would lead to, yes, quagmire—something very like what we’re experiencing today. Therefore, he employed his vice president, Richard Nixon, to run interference with the likes of Joseph McCarthy, and he quietly and unflashily went about the business of maintaing a course of peace, stability, and incremental racial progress.
Somebody–I hope a commenter will remind me who it was–has suggested that the Left typically thinks in terms of an opposition between oppression and liberation, whereas the right typically thinks in terms of an opposition between civilization and barbarism. I would reframe the latter opposition as order vs. chaos; if we do that, it’s obvious that both oppositions are unrelentingly relevant, yet few thinkers or artists are able to hold both conflicts before our eyes at once.
I just finished Charles Johnson’s 1986 short-story collection The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Tales and Conjurations, a bag of broken glass which is equal parts liberationist and reactionary, yearning for freedom and knuckling under to fatalism. Centering on black American lives, mostly set within black communities, his stories shouldn’t be missed—he’s an intensely intellectual visionary, a reader of Plato who remembers that the heart of Plato is in the Symposium, a black Buddhist for whom education is not so much self-improvement as self-abnegation.
Jamelle Bouie argues that conservatives are simultaneously obsessed with and oblivious to race. Citing Glenn Beck’s accusation that President Obama hates white people and some conservatives’ public delight in the Zimmerman verdict, Bouie contends that conservatives have adopted a distorted and distorting understanding of racism according to which “anyone who treats race as a social reality is a racist.” It follows that:
Because Obama acknowledges race as a force in American life—and because he even suggests that there are racists among us—he becomes the “real racist,” a construction designed to give conservatives moral high ground, while allowing them to insult Obama. After all, for them, “racist” is the worst accusation in American life.
Bouie is right to criticize the naivëté about race that Dan McCarthy mentioned in his defense of Jack Hunter, which is characteristic of talk radio and other political entertainment. But he misunderstands the conceptual frame that many conservatives apply to these issues.
The background assumption in many conservative arguments about criminal justice or affirmative action is not precisely that any acknowledgement of “race as a force in American life” is racist. Rather, it’s that racism refers only to the kind of eye-popping bigotry recently on display in the film “Django”.
Conservatives correctly observe that this kind of overt hatred is rare today. They wrongly conclude from this that legacies of slavery and segregation are not relevant to modern life–and that anyone who says they are must therefore have ulterior motives.
Jonah Goldberg offers a representative sample of this view. In a post several months ago, Goldberg argued that racism “should be defined as knowing and intentional ill-will or negative actions aimed at an individual or group solely because of their race.”
Note the qualifiers: “knowing and intentional”; “ill-will”; “solely”. According to Goldberg, racism is limited to conscious malice independent of any non-racial considerations. And racism, on this definition, is no longer a big problem.
But this definition seriously obscures the role of race in American society, past and present. To mention only an obvious defect, it excludes the ideas about black inferiority that informed the “positive good” defense of slavery. John C. Calhoun was not Calvin Candy, the psychopathic plantation owner in “Django.” But it is obtuse to deny his racism on the grounds that he believed the slave system was beneficial to blacks.
In more contemporary inquiries, the restrictive definition of racism Goldberg suggests conceals systematic inequities in the economy and other spheres of activity. One need not regard every racially disproportionate outcome as the result of discrimination to understand that it is not simply a coincidence that blacks, who have within living memory been been excluded by law and custom from the vehicles of upward mobility, tend to be poorer and less educated than whites. Colorblindness on these issues is more like simple blindness.
Clumsy as it was, Rand Paul’s speech at Howard University in April was a step toward more serious conservative reflection on race. Although he relied implicitly on a definition of racism as conscious bigotry, Paul at least acknowledged that the bigotry of the past has had unconscious and enduring consequences, which have to be the starting point for arguments about policy. The task for conservatives is to make a plausible case that the policies they favor will be more effective in ameliorating those consequences than either the status quo or progressive alternatives. Until then, our black fellow citizens will be correct in their judgment that we are either hopelessly naïve or playing dumb about the unique and heavy burdens that they continue to bear.
Forbes contributor and CEI president Fred Smith has a different definition of the “culture war” than most: in a Monday op/ed, he argued that this war is economic at heart—waged between “the forces of economic dynamism and stasis.”
He offers two figures as inspiration for economic dynamism: the economist Deirdre McCloskey and Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser redeemed through spiritual intervention. According to Smith’s thesis, Scrooge is not a villain; rather, he was a victim of the anti-capitalist society. He references McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Dignity, where she writes that the Industrial Revolution was predicated on a shift in rhetorical values. Capitalism thrived after talk of private property, commerce, and the bourgeoisie became accepting and laudatory. Before this point, principles of hierarchy and community undermined the innovating class. Prudence and faithfulness enjoyed higher standing than virtues necessary for modern capitalism—namely, dignity and liberty:
“I claim here that the modern world was made by a new, faithful dignity accorded to the bourgeois – in assuming his proper place – and by a new, hopeful liberty – in venturing forth. To assume one’s place and to venture, the dignity and the liberty, were new in their rhetorics. And both were necessary.”
Smith argues that Scrooge (and other “penny pinchers” like him) was unfairly vilified because he championed McCloskey’s innovative virtues: “a willingness to break ranks with the cultural tribal norms of their community (courage), confidence that this course was needed (faith), and belief that their actions would eventually be vindicated (hope).” In creating Scrooge, Smith believes Dickens hearkened to a time when “guilds took care of tradesmen, nobles took care of their lands and serfs, and everybody had a station … He seemed not to have understood how the breakthroughs made by the Scrooges of that earlier age had helped transform England from a stagnant feudal society into the industrial powerhouse of his day. Certainly, he found nothing heroic or admirable in such individuals.”
Perhaps it was difficult for Dickens to applaud Scrooge’s capitalist “virtues” when facing the moral depravity and squalor that overwhelmed industrial England at the time. A Christmas Carol is full of characters who are destitute yet generous; he painted pre-reformed Scrooge as the antithesis of these poor but happy people.
Wilhelm Röpke’s book A Humane Economy dovetails with the transformed Scrooge. Rather than accepting Smith’s fully liberated individualism, Röpke advocated the principled economics of the “decentrist,” who “thinks in terms of human beings and also knows and respects history.” The decentrist adheres to “established principles; he is swayed more by a hierarchy of norms and values, by reason and sober reflection, than by passions and feelings.” This hierarchy-respecting capitalist is rather divergent from McCloskey’s progressive innovator. But Röpke believed innovation and free market economics have limits:
The market economy is not everything. It must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices, and competition. It must be firmly contained within an all-embracing order of society in which the imperfections and harshness of economic freedom are corrected by law … Man can wholly fulfill his nature only by freely becoming part of a community and having a sense of solidarity with it. Otherwise he leads a miserable existence and he knows it.
Scrooge came to know it. He forsook his icy palace of individualism for a life of community. Dickens and Röpke both seem to suggest that the virtues of dignity and liberty must be tempered and complemented with one more virtue, once called the greatest of them all: love.
A Republican Congressman told Fox News yesterday that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, and not a traitor—another clear example of the shifting conversation on civil liberties on the Right.
Fox host Chris Wallace, clearly skeptical, asked Justin Amash of Michigan directly: “You still consider him a whistleblower?”
“Yes,” replied Amash.
Amash stressed that Congress could not provide effective oversight without Snowden’s revelations: “Members of Congress were not really aware … about what these programs were being used for, the extent to which they were being used.”
Late last month, Amash proposed an amendment to strip funding for an NSA program that collects the telephone records of people in the United States. While the amendment failed–narrowly–the vigorous debate it prompted exposed deep divisions in both parties in the NSA debate: it’s not Republican versus Democrat but civil-libertarians versus security hawks. As Jim Antle explained in TAC,
While the Tea Party was split down the middle, with many conservatives bucking the party leadership, civil libertarians on the left also revolted…Republican leaders can’t control the libertarians in their midst and are starting to conclude it’s better not to try. Civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are no longer allowing Barack Obama’s presence in the White House to keep them silent.
According to a Quinnipiac poll released last Thursday, a majority of U.S. voters agree with Amash’s recent comments: 55% percent of respondents say Snowden is “more a whistleblower” than traitor, 34% “more a traitor.”
Particularly interesting is the shift in Amash’s own party that these polls have highlighted. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Republican demographic has been one of the most drastically changing in recent years. In 2010, 72% of Republicans said counterterrorism did not go far enough, which had fallen to 46% by this summer. And according to last week’s poll, Republicans almost mirror national sentiment: 51% of Republicans label Snowden a whistleblower.
Crucially, the poll was conducted before Snowden accepted asylum in Russia. Whether that will change the public’s mood remains to be seen, but Amash remained circumspect on that question: “He may be doing things overseas that we would find problematic, that we would find dangerous. We will find those facts out over time,” he conceded. “But as far as Congress is concerned, he’s a whistleblower. He told us what we needed to know.”
Nor have the recent al-Qaeda threats and embassy closings changed Amash’s mind; if anything, he says, these dangers should reinforce our wariness of expansive government powers:
“It’s precisely because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you could have national security justifications for violating people’s rights.”
FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas, is becoming quite the libertarian/conservative event of the year. Going on for three days, with over a hundred and sixty lectures and panels, it has become a must-go and a fascinating meeting. “Are We Rome?” was the topic this year, led off by Steve Forbes describing the misery and bankruptcy that was Rome in its last century, when men sometimes sold their children into slavery in order to pay their taxes. The last day was highlighted with a live broadcast on John Stossel’s Fox Business Network show of leading participants, which was so successful that it was rebroadcast twice on Fox the following Sunday.
Everyone could find subjects that interested them from rarefied economics to history and philosophy, such as Paul Cantor’s “Empire and the Loss of Freedom: What Shakespeare’s Rome can Tell Us about Us.” Another whole section, called Anthem—The Libertarian Film Festival run by Jo Ann Skousen, showed movies and freedom documentaries. Ten feature documentaries and 11 short narratives filled the program including “Atlas Shrugged II,” “America’s Longest War”—Reason’s movie about the drug war—and “Sick and Sicker—What Happens when Government Becomes Your Doctor.” Some 2,200 people attended and all received a copy of The American Conservative in their welcome packages. TAC has helped promote the conference for years.
Lead speakers were a veritable Who’s Who of the libertarian movement. Steve Forbes; Mark Skousen, who organizes the yearly conferences; Grover Norquist; financier Jim Rogers; Charles Murray; Arthur Laffer; George Gilder; Steve Moore; Cato’s new president, John Allison; Tom Palmer of Atlas; Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch; TAC’s editor Dan McCarthy; Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks; Fred Smith of CEI; Jeff Tucker of Laissez Faire Books, which ran the book offerings; and other top intellectual leaders. The list is too long to name all the significant men and women. Senator Rand Paul was the keynote speaker. Read More…
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain waged a quixotic war on earmarks. For years before that, he was associated with campaign finance reforms that eventually became law under President Bush. Few outside of Washington cared about such process-oriented issues.
The logic behind “libertarian populism” does not neatly fall into the same category as McCain’s hobbyhorses, but its impetus is largely the same. Libertarian populism is not primarily about reducing the size of government (though its policy preferences may overlap with that goal); it is about making government “cleaner” and more transparent. It is about making the “system” seem less “rigged.” It’s about treating powerful moneyed interests no better, or at least no differently, than the “little guy.”
In theory, there’s no reason Democrats couldn’t advance their own version of a high wall of separation between government and private business. As an alternative to coopting the private insurance industry, a practical reality that chief #LibPop booster Tim Carney liked to expose as Obamacare developed on Capitol Hill, Democrats could have fought harder for a single-payer system. If by some long shot they had succeeded, the result may not have been a more libertarian healthcare market—but by Carney’s reckoning, it would have been a “cleaner” welfare state. The wall of separation would stand in a different place, but it would be higher than it is under Obamacare.
The libertarian populist mindset is a useful corrective, but it leaves much to be desired as the basis for a governing agenda. To stick with the insurance industry example for a moment: did Obamacare’s architects desire to turn insurance companies into public utilities as a policy end in itself—or was it a means of broadening access to medical insurance (a goal that the public generally favors)? Or consider the case Carney cites in the video above (from an AEI panel about collusion between big business and government): that of an aluminum manufacturer (Alcoa) lobbying for and subsequently benefiting from new environmental regulations on fuel efficiency.
Critics of such self-dealing may be right on the merits. But there is still the matter of the public good being pursued: is it, too, worthy on the merits? And if so, is it not inevitable that some private actors will prosper, and others will not?
After September 11, the Bush administration and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers concluded it was in the national interest to invade two countries. A giant new security apparatus slowly spread its tentacles across American life. Defense contractors and security consultants dine out on this policy sea change to this day. One can argue until one is blue on the face about the wisdom of these policies—but at the end of the day, one is forced to mount an argument about an overarching public good (or ill).
Simply asking “who, whom?”, as libertarian populism would have it, will only you take you so far.
It’s only natural for those who cover politics in Washington to overdramatize the gory details of legislative sausage-making. Elections, however, rarely turn on process. And so, despite how much I may cheer each and every one of Tim Carney’s money-in-politics exposés, I can’t quite convince myself that Republicans are going to have any more luck at this than Democrats had against Halliburton.