When I was growing up, George Burns was sometimes referred to as “a comedian’s comedian.” And Alicia de Larrocha was referred to as “a pianist’s pianist.” Well, George F. Will is a conservative’s conservative, as I see it — the very model of an American conservative.
But we are living in strange times. I often hear on the right that Will is no conservative — but Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump are. It depends on what you mean by “conservative,” I suppose.
I talk about this with George Will on my latest Q&A, here. He says that his conservative credentials are “in reasonably good order” (fine understatement). He cast his first vote for Barry Goldwater. He was chosen by Bill Buckley to be National Review’s Washington editor. He got in a world of trouble (as he says) for helping Reagan to prepare for his debate against Carter. And so on.
Incidentally, I ask Will a question about his byline — his identity, so to speak: Is he “George Will” or “George F. Will”? He says that he added the “F” early on because people were confusing him for Garry Wills. The middle initial would further distinguish him from that other writer. Plus, Will was working for a guy whose middle initial was also “F” (WFB).
In the course of this podcast, I ask Will about Trump. What is he? A populist, says Will, riding public opinion. He also speaks about Obama: a “social democrat.” What about Bernie? What is a socialist? They keep shifting the definition, says Will.
We also get into the phrase “America First.” This is not a benign phrase, says Will. America is a nation dedicated to a proposition (as someone once said). And the Declaration commits us to certain universal truths. We are realistic about what we can accomplish, but we should also be realistic about the universal significance of our country.
Okay, what about “deep state”? “It’s another sort of Continental European right-wingery that’s being imported into our country and tarted up as conservatism.”
Then there is the recently reawakened issue of the Confederacy. “The Confederates tried to destroy our country,” says Will. “That’s kind of a serious business. And we’re happy they failed. [Well, some of us are.] And they tried to destroy our country in the name of the ultimate human evil, which is the complete annihilation of freedom we call slavery. So there’s no point in investing the Lost Cause with glamour and romance. It was an execrable movement with a hideous objective.”
That said, there are arguments about monument retention and removal. And we should make distinctions between, say, Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
But, says Will, “the romance of the Confederacy is something for which I have zero sympathy.” Amen.
In this podcast, we move on to North Korea — an “intractable problem,” says Will, and one that needs to be managed. Sometimes you can’t solve a problem, as you can in mathematics. (Well, I guess there are math problems that are unsolvable.) You have to hold the line — deter — until better days come along.
And the Afghan War? We should find a graceful exit, says Will, with this caveat — a big caveat: an exit that assures, to the extent possible, that Afghanistan won’t anytime soon become, as it was before, an incubator of 9/11-style terrorism.
We end the podcast on baseball. George F. Will has written 14 books, as he tells me. His baseball classic — Men at Work — has sold more copies than the other 13 combined. Which is “a sign of national health,” says Will.
Again, our podcast is here.