Mark Twain once observed that there were people who claimed that James Fenimore Cooper could write English, “but they are all dead now.” I have a similar feeling about George Will. I’ve been told that he produced incisive commentary. But what I find in his column is self-indulgent pseudo-conservatism that conceals its distance from reality beneath a veneer of scholarship.
Consider his latest. Picking up a thread from Charles Kesler’s I Am The Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, Will argues that Obama is the “real radical” in the campaign. Why? Because Obama is “a conviction politician determined to complete the progressive project of emancipating government from the Founders’ constraining premises, a project Woodrow Wilson embarked on 100 Novembers ago.”
Will doesn’t even bother to find examples of Obama’s policies that support this charge. That’s because he’d have a trouble time doing so. None of Obama’s policies as President are major departures from the contemporary center-Left.
So Will tries to show that the Democratic party itself is radically opposed to the “Founder’s constraining premises.” In order to so, he quotes some speeches by Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and…Archibald MacLeish, the left-wing man of letters who served as Librarian of Congress in the 1930s and 1940s. Will’s most recent datum is LBJ’s off the cuff and totally anodyne statement while campaigning in 1964 that “we’re in favor of a lot of things and we’re against mighty few.”
Let’s get this straight: We know that Obama is a dangerous radical because Democratic presidents and an almost forgotten poet used exuberant rhetoric to justify the establishment of a welfare (and warfare) state more than half a century ago.
Although I think it would be less bad than a Romney presidency, there are plenty of reasons to oppose Obama’s re-election. One might begin with his support for drone warfare in Pakistan. Will doesn’t mention any of those reasons. The cause, I suspect, is that he has relatively few substantive criticisms of a thoroughly mainstream politician whose actual positions on the economy, foreign affairs, and even healthcare run amazingly close to the Washington conventional wisdom.
Forget what Will and his sources say about the subterranean influence of the Progressives. The most important feature of this election is that Obama is running as a “conservative.” Not, of course, a conservative in the ideological sense. But rather as a defender of the long-term and generally bipartisan status quo. If Republicans hope to defeat him, they have to make the case that change is necessary–including change to the elements of the welfare state that Americans most treasure. So far, they’ve manifestly failed to do so.