George Will's Nostalgic Conservatism

George Will is the Washington Post's favorite conservative, an exquisite writer and a genuinely interesting thinker. Why then is he savagely attacking the Bush administration in  Post—owned Newsweek magazine, just one week before a make—it—or—break—it midterm election?  Clearly Mr. Will is going all out to grease the skids under the Republicans. Without speculating about his motives, which  may well be honorable, we can look at his arguments and how they affect the political scene.

Mr. Will is a Madisonian conservative. He believes in small government above all.  That is a safe hope for his liberal admirers, because they know it's not going to happen. The best conservatives can hope for is Newt Gingrich—style voucher programs, with Federal education money empowering children and their parents rather than the fat and self—serving education industry. But Gingrich isn't really betting that the US Goverment will actually shrink. Federal dollars for education haven't gone down in a century.

So liberals can feel happy with Mr. Will. He is a sort of old—fashioned bangle on their string of conservative intellectuals, admirable but harmless. Yes, yes, wouldn't it be nice to go back to a misty memory of Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson (sans the slaves), but we all know that's a nostalgic fiction. George Will allows the Washington Post to pride itself on its fairness; after all, it has a distinguished conservative on its otherwise wildly skewed list of pundits.

The Bush administration is everything Mr. Will despises about modern conservatism. Stylistically it is Jacksonian, not Madisonian. Andrew Jackson's cowboys are whooping it up again in the White House, and Mr. Will's lip is curling. The Bush Administration carries out a vigorous and hotly debated foreign policy, rather than avoiding foreign entanglements, as George Washington advised. Bush has added money to education, though he has tried to make it more accountable. Bush hasn't vetoed any Congressional spending bills —— or anything else for that matter. As far as George Will is concerned, vetoing spending is the main function of a President.

Mr. Will is also furious with Vice President Cheney for talking optimistically a year ago about the Iraq War, and in effect charges the Veep with lying —— echoing a loud Democrat slogan for the season. Let's not say that Mr. Will is singing for his supper at the Washington Post. But optimism in war is not the same as lying about it; the enemy always gets a vote.  War is full of unexpected setbacks, as Mr. Will knows very well in another part of his being.  Without realistic optimism, wars are lost by default. That is why the American President has talked optimistically during our wars, and we can thank our lucky stars that eventually optimism has been borne out in victory. Even Vietnam ended up as a temporary setback in a Cold War that we won decisively. Optimism is never a guarantee right in the middle of a war. Mr. Will knows all this very well.

George Will is passionately set against the way the modern world conspires against the Madisonian ideal. We are no longer protected by vast oceans, East and West. Fifteen minutes is all it takes for an ICBM to fly from Tehran to the White House, and that tiny number changes everything. Human beings cannot begin to make life or death decisions in fifteen minutes. Passive defense against a serious attack is therefore a loser's game.  There's no way for a modern nation to simultaneously protect all its points of vulnerability, when every elementary school is a potential target. A forward defense is the only way.

These are facts. We can argue about their application in practice. But Madisonian theory, lovely as it is, simply gives no answer.

It is this single, practical point that Mr. Will does not deal with. Messrs. Bush and Cheney cannot afford to ignore it;  too many lives are at stake. Fifteen minutes to protect the country from attack. There are a dozen ways to wipe out New York or Washington, D.C. even without a sophisticated ICBM or nuclear weapon. Even the clownish Hugo Chavez can load up a tanker with radioactive materials from the nearest radiation unit at a hospital and explode it in San Francisco Bay. The 9/11 attackers came within a hair's breadth of flying a 757 into the White House, using nothing but utility blades and the utmost brutality.

The news narrative is against us. All the international "news" services serve the political interests of Europe and the rising Islamist nations, not the United States. Our own liberal media are all too eagerly to join the suicidal fray. George Bush becomes Satan for the news mob, who make up George Will's world.

Winston Churchill had to retreat helter—skelter at Dunkirk; George Washington had his Valley Forge; Abraham Lincoln lost the Battle of Bull Run. There are no serious wars without setbacks and disappointments. We do not live in a world of fantasies, Madisonian or otherwise. Once you are in the midst of battle, victory or defeat are the only options. US defeat in Iraq, situated right at the source of the world's oil supply, does not bear thinking about.

Remember that fifteen minutes. Next time George Will appears on C—SPAN maybe someone will ask him how America can survive in a world of fifteen minutes. Guessing doesn't count.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.

George Will is the Washington Post's favorite conservative, an exquisite writer and a genuinely interesting thinker. Why then is he savagely attacking the Bush administration in  Post—owned Newsweek magazine, just one week before a make—it—or—break—it midterm election?  Clearly Mr. Will is going all out to grease the skids under the Republicans. Without speculating about his motives, which  may well be honorable, we can look at his arguments and how they affect the political scene.

Mr. Will is a Madisonian conservative. He believes in small government above all.  That is a safe hope for his liberal admirers, because they know it's not going to happen. The best conservatives can hope for is Newt Gingrich—style voucher programs, with Federal education money empowering children and their parents rather than the fat and self—serving education industry. But Gingrich isn't really betting that the US Goverment will actually shrink. Federal dollars for education haven't gone down in a century.

So liberals can feel happy with Mr. Will. He is a sort of old—fashioned bangle on their string of conservative intellectuals, admirable but harmless. Yes, yes, wouldn't it be nice to go back to a misty memory of Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson (sans the slaves), but we all know that's a nostalgic fiction. George Will allows the Washington Post to pride itself on its fairness; after all, it has a distinguished conservative on its otherwise wildly skewed list of pundits.

The Bush administration is everything Mr. Will despises about modern conservatism. Stylistically it is Jacksonian, not Madisonian. Andrew Jackson's cowboys are whooping it up again in the White House, and Mr. Will's lip is curling. The Bush Administration carries out a vigorous and hotly debated foreign policy, rather than avoiding foreign entanglements, as George Washington advised. Bush has added money to education, though he has tried to make it more accountable. Bush hasn't vetoed any Congressional spending bills —— or anything else for that matter. As far as George Will is concerned, vetoing spending is the main function of a President.

Mr. Will is also furious with Vice President Cheney for talking optimistically a year ago about the Iraq War, and in effect charges the Veep with lying —— echoing a loud Democrat slogan for the season. Let's not say that Mr. Will is singing for his supper at the Washington Post. But optimism in war is not the same as lying about it; the enemy always gets a vote.  War is full of unexpected setbacks, as Mr. Will knows very well in another part of his being.  Without realistic optimism, wars are lost by default. That is why the American President has talked optimistically during our wars, and we can thank our lucky stars that eventually optimism has been borne out in victory. Even Vietnam ended up as a temporary setback in a Cold War that we won decisively. Optimism is never a guarantee right in the middle of a war. Mr. Will knows all this very well.

George Will is passionately set against the way the modern world conspires against the Madisonian ideal. We are no longer protected by vast oceans, East and West. Fifteen minutes is all it takes for an ICBM to fly from Tehran to the White House, and that tiny number changes everything. Human beings cannot begin to make life or death decisions in fifteen minutes. Passive defense against a serious attack is therefore a loser's game.  There's no way for a modern nation to simultaneously protect all its points of vulnerability, when every elementary school is a potential target. A forward defense is the only way.

These are facts. We can argue about their application in practice. But Madisonian theory, lovely as it is, simply gives no answer.

It is this single, practical point that Mr. Will does not deal with. Messrs. Bush and Cheney cannot afford to ignore it;  too many lives are at stake. Fifteen minutes to protect the country from attack. There are a dozen ways to wipe out New York or Washington, D.C. even without a sophisticated ICBM or nuclear weapon. Even the clownish Hugo Chavez can load up a tanker with radioactive materials from the nearest radiation unit at a hospital and explode it in San Francisco Bay. The 9/11 attackers came within a hair's breadth of flying a 757 into the White House, using nothing but utility blades and the utmost brutality.

The news narrative is against us. All the international "news" services serve the political interests of Europe and the rising Islamist nations, not the United States. Our own liberal media are all too eagerly to join the suicidal fray. George Bush becomes Satan for the news mob, who make up George Will's world.

Winston Churchill had to retreat helter—skelter at Dunkirk; George Washington had his Valley Forge; Abraham Lincoln lost the Battle of Bull Run. There are no serious wars without setbacks and disappointments. We do not live in a world of fantasies, Madisonian or otherwise. Once you are in the midst of battle, victory or defeat are the only options. US defeat in Iraq, situated right at the source of the world's oil supply, does not bear thinking about.

Remember that fifteen minutes. Next time George Will appears on C—SPAN maybe someone will ask him how America can survive in a world of fifteen minutes. Guessing doesn't count.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.