I realize that George Will is the establishment’s pet conservative. I realize that all these thirty-two years since he supported George H.W. Bush against Ronald Reagan early in the Republican primaries, Mr. Will has been smarting from being wrong. I know all of that, but what I do not understand is how George Will has become the “go-to” conservative for every occasion. Last week, I listened to him pillory Newt Gingrich on Laura Ingraham’s radio program, and his column about Gingrich was simply scathing, but all of this begs a question: Will says Romney is no good, and I agree, and I might be inclined to agree that Gingrich has several fatal flaws, but what does Will offer other than insults? To say of Newt Gingrich that he “would have made a marvelous Marxist” is more bellicose than truthful. What is troubling about this statement is actually the way in which he supports his claim:
Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how. Conservatism, in contrast, is both cause and effect of modesty about understanding society’s complexities, controlling its trajectory and improving upon its spontaneous order.
What Will argues is that Gingrich, with his multiple plans and endless ideas, is like the schemers of socialist leaning who never fail to present projects that end up failures which they dismiss because, they claim, others hadn’t grasped them. It’s all well and good as a reproach, but then Will offers us his view of conservatism, and I must say that in total, it doesn’t match mine in the least. I don’t know conservatives who wish to improve on society’s spontaneous order. The conservatives I know would be happy to see the development of some sort of spontaneous order in substitution for all the plans and ideas Washington DC already imposes. Ronald Reagan was modest in person, but not in ideas. He didn’t shrink from offering new and bold ideas to elevate — not control — society’s trajectory.
I think this serves to explain why Will seems to resent actual conservatives, and why it seems will is so thoroughly ready to throw Palin, Gingrich and a whole host of others over the rail: Will is an educated, erudite man who is part of the Washington DC establishment, the existence of which he denies. Back in August of this year, in the online Green Room Segment of This Week on ABC, will said:
“Amy used the ‘e’ word that I would like to ban from public discourse: ‘establishment,’” Will said. “There is no Republican establishment. In 1966 its house organ — the Republican establishment’s – the New York Herald-Tribune died. The establishment itself died two years earlier in Cow Palace in San Francisco with the nomination of Barry Goldwater.”
Consider for a moment what will is arguing: He’s stating flatly that the candidacy of the Barry Goldwater in 1964 effectively destroyed the Republican party establishment. That wasn’t true then, and it hasn’t been true since, or Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have needed to overcome it in 1980. The reason Will wants the word “establishment” banned is because in all honesty, whatever his position in life in 1964, Will has become part of that establishment in its continuing evolution. To be sure, it’s not exactly the same establishment, but it is an establishment nevertheless. It’s the sort of establishment that sees Mitch Daniels as a savior. It’s the sort of establishment that views Governor Huntsman as a great option. It’s the sort of establishment that sees Jeb Bush as the second(or third) coming. It’s the sort of establishment that views conservatives outside of Washington as an afterthought, to be shaped, molded, and driven, but never, ever minded.
Even now, the establishment seems aligned with Romney, and while Will took his shots at Romney not long ago, he’s now suggesting that as bad as Romney is, Gingrich is worse. This prompts a question, because among the Washington intelligentsia, back when Gingrich was Speaker of the House, they would have had you believe he was the most conservative of them all, to the right of Rush Limbaugh, for goodness’ sake. Remember when Newt was that mean and villainous conservative, the “Gingrich Who Stole Christmas,” in Time Magazine, only as far back as 1994? That hardly seems like the resume of a man who “would have made a marvelous Marxist.”
In point of fact, Will’s ludicrous assessment of Gingrich is no more or less absurd than the portrayal of Gingrich as the Grinch, some seventeen years ago. Will would have you believe Gingrich is alongside Karl Marx, while Time Magazine portrayed him as an extremist right-winger. I don’t believe either assessment, because both have the cacophonous racket of shrill protests, but more because I see Newt’s record as rather more moderate. He certainly has his “big ideas,” but what of it? He’d hardly be the first President to offer one.
Whatever I may think of Gingrich, there exists no shortage of conservatives who remember the shrill voices of an establishment in Washington that claimed Gingrich and conservatives wanted to “starve children,” or “feed grandma dog-food from a can.” It was all garbage, and truth be told, they’re still angry about it, so that Gingrich may be the beneficiary of an era gone by, when he was made to be DC’s caricature of a conservative. It’s small wonder that conservatives now look hopefully to him to live up to that image. For his part, Will simply feeds this view, because most American conservatives have become exhausted with the constant criticisms coming from establishment Republicans and their media mouthpieces who never find anything positive to say about a conservative. Will is feeding what he claims to oppose, because the nation’s conservatives by now rationally view Will as part of the problem. He can call Gingrich a Marxist if he likes, but all he’ll succeed in doing is pushing voters to Gingrich with that hyperbole.
At some point, somebody’s going to ask George who died and left him to decide the fate of the Republican party, and if he believes it’s his place, how does this validate his point about the death of the establishment he claims to have witnessed? This election needs more than the old, tired Washington-insider appraisal, but sadly for George Will, that’s all he seems now to offer.