"I've lived in Washington now for 44 years, and that's a lot of folly to witness up close," says Washington Post columnist George Will. "Whatever confidence and optimism I felt towards the central government when I got here on January 1, 1970, has pretty much dissipated at the hands of the government."
Branded "perhaps the most powerful journalist in America" by The Wall Street Journal, Will appears in more newspapers than any other columnist in America and was a sharp-witted commentator on ABC News' This Week from 1981 until this September, when he switched to Fox News. He received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977 and is the author of numerous books, including Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, and One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of our Singular Nation. He has the distinction of having been attacked in the pages of Doonesbury and praised in an episode of Seinfeld (for his "clean, scrubbed look").
Will began his career at National Review, but he has always had a mixed relationship with conservatism and the Republican Party. He was critical of the Nixon administration's abuses of power in the 1970s. Initially somewhat hawkish, Will also became a prominent critic of the Bush administration's conduct in the run-up to and execution of the Iraq War.
More recently Will has become a frequent champion of libertarianism, both in print and on the air, praising the likes of Liberty Movement stalwart Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) while puncturing the balloons of big-government conservatives like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "America's most interesting development since November," he wrote in an April column about Amash, "is the Republican Party becoming more interesting."
Will sat down with reason's Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch in late August to talk about his libertarian evolution, the incarceration crisis, what the government should be spending money on, and much more.
To see video of the full interview, go to reason.com or scan the QR code at left.
reason: In 2011 you discussed in your Washington Post column a rather obscure tract called The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. You wrote, "These incurably upbeat journalists with Reason magazine believe that not even government, try as it will, can prevent onrushing social improvement."
"America," you continued, "is moving in the libertarians' direction not because they have won an argument but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous. This has opened minds to the libertarian argument." Is it correct to say that you yourself over the years are inclining more in a libertarian direction as well?
George Will: Yes, for several reasons. The first is that I've lived in Washington now for 44 years, and that's a lot of folly to witness up close. Whatever confidence and optimism I felt toward the central government when I got here January 1, 1970, has dissipated at the hands of the government.
Second, I participate-although I'm 72 and too old to learn much-in the changing technological assumptions. Give you an example: When I was growing up and wanted to hear the songs of the day, Bill Haley & His Comets, the Platters, and all that stuff, I would turn on the radio and hope the disc jockey would play three or four of the songs I wanted to hear in the next hour. When my daughter and other children want to hear songs, they just go to the Internet and they have 50,000. When I wanted a cup of coffee I went to a coffee shop and ordered a cup of coffee. Now you go to Starbucks and you have a mind-boggling number of choices, and choice just seems natural, more built into the social environment.
reason: So what does this have to do with government?
Will: Government operates on one-size-fits-all, because that suits the bureaucratic impulse and method, which is empire building and Manifest Destiny on the part of every bureaucracy to maximize its mission. You can see it in everything from the Secret Service-no president can be safe enough-to ObamaCare.
reason: You've said previously that John McCain was helpful in your evolution in a more libertarian direction. Talk about that.
Will: The McCain-Feingold [campaign finance] law did something that never occurred to me the Congress would have the audacity to do, or that the Supreme Court would ratify, which it largely did at first. And that is, Congress, which is to say incumbent legislators, passed laws limiting the content, timing, and quantity of political speech about incumbent legislators. This passed, which shouldn't have surprised me but it did, and was ratified by the Supreme Court.
reason: That was the final moment when you gave up completely on large government?