In March, I compared columnist George Will to a “Titan, one who reigned supreme in a previous era, but has seen been overthrown by [a] new generation of deities “. I said as much because while I had loved his columns in the 1980s, the 1990s and well into the current decade, I found his campaign coverage last fall less insightful than his past punditry. He seemed harsher on the more conservative of the candidates (John McCain) than the more liberal (Barack Obama).
Perhaps, I should revisit thse columns again, maybe he did offer some insight in the Democraitc nominee for Will’s columns, these past three months, have been nothing short of brilliant. To borrow a metaphor from his favorite past time, nearly every time he steps up to the plate, he has not just been hitting home runs, he’s been sending the ball out of the park.
It’s why I decided to attend a dinner celebrating the Claremont Review of Books last night in Santa Monica featuring the conservative columnist. I even took a date, a gay Jewish actor/producer who wanted to learn more about the conservative ideas which have increasingly appealed to him in recent years. And while he proudly sported a name tag with his real name at this shindig, he asked that I not include his name here, lest the revelation of his conservative politics hurt him professionally.
Once again, it was easier for us to be “out” as gay at a conservative event than to be out as conservatives in Hollywood circles.
My friend appreciated the evening; it helped deepen his knowledge of conservative ideas. I only wish there had been a transcript of Will’s talk for while it was punctuated by his pessimism, he did, in criticizing the current Administration, articulate some of the fundamental tenets of conservatism. I scribbled notes as best i could, but Will was a captivating speaker and it was more pleasant to listen than to write (especially on two glasses of wine). Though he seemed shy and somewhat nervous when he started, but the more he spoke, them more engaging he became.
He faulted the President for creating policies which will institutionalize slow economic growth, creating a “dependency agenda” and fostering an “entitlement mentality.”
He talked about the tension between freedom and equality, with conservatives on the side of freedom and liberals favoring not just equality of opportunity, but also of outcome. He faulted liberals for wanting to work in the 1950s, addressing their policies to the era of big business and big labor. But, big business so dominant then no longer provides the creative energy of the commercial sector.
Addressing the debate over health care, he wondered why so many politicians, even former Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain felt it incumbent upon themselves to demonize the pharmaceutical industry, particularly its profits, given all that it has accomplished (that is, the cures they have found for diseases once thought incuable). All too many critics fail to appreciate that those companies pump their profits back into research; it’s how they have developed drugs and other treatments or various illnesses. And yet the Democrats (and some Republicans) want to tax those whose business is creating life-saving medication.
With increased taxation, Will warned, government is killing opportunities for innovation. He fears that with a increasingly smaller segment of the population shouldering an ever greater share of the tax burden, we risk changing the character of the American people. We have “never been an envious people; we’ve been an aspirational people.” The increasing government involvement in our lives for which fewer and fewer Americans pay is displacing our sense of individual responsibility.
He contended lawsuits against playgrounds for children’s injuries have helped spawn the obesity epidemic. To avoid the cost of lawsuits, jurisdictions close playgrounds. With fewer opportunities to play outdoors, kids are retreating to their home computers where they sit on the backsides all day and play video games.
It’s not just taxation which throttles innovaiton. Government regulation also takes a toll. He told us how, in eighteen months, inspired by then-Mayor Fiorella La Guardia, New Yorkers built the airport which now bears that Republican’s name. Today, it would take just that long ot get an environmental impact statement. “We used to celebrate people who got things done. Now we celebrate people who stop things from getting done.”
True to the spirit of the Claremont Institute which hosted the event, Will celebrated the founders. Praising the constitutional system of checks and balances, he reminded us that “government gridlock is not an American problem, it’s an American achievement.” We should be backward-looking, he said, to the ideas of the founders, so we can look forward to face the problems of today (similar to the sage advice Athena Peggy Noonan offered at the Reagan Library last month).
There was much that he said that I did not get to take down. He offered a seven-second soundbyte definition of conservatism which was brilliant, then contrasted that to lbieralism. What made his remarks so brilliant was the manner in which he faulted Obama’s policies by appealing to conservative ideas and the vision of the founders. In short, we need policies which reward risk and encourage innovation.
I was wrong to suggest that George Will’s best days were behind him. Perhaps, I was overly critical of him because I did not find such a defense of conservative ideas in his campaign columns as I have in his recent writings and as I did last night. He is every bit the sage columnist he was when I first read his stuff, perhaps a bit of a curmudgeon, but one able to apply enduring principles to contemporary problems.
Would that the President paid attention. And would that conservatives learned from his example. Not just to criticize the President’s policies, but in criticizing to remind us of the eternal principles which would help us develop much sounder solutions.