A Shot From the Right


George Will concludes that the Bush administration is rendering conservatism incoherent.


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  1. The link isn’t quite right there — you have two HTTPs and if you choose to delete the first one, be sure to add a colon to the second ;).

  2. Will pretty much sums up what is wrong with modern “conservatism” when he says “A prescription drug entitlement is not inherently unconservative, unless the welfare state itself is — and it isn’t.” A conservative today was a liberal 30-40 years ago. Conservatives used to oppose this type of entitlement…back when they actually could be called conservative.

  3. This just reaffirms the fact that the Republican and Democrat parties are, in fact, the same… the four types of conservatism that Will outlines align directly with the several types of today’s liberalism, as exemplified in the Democrat contenders for the presidency.

  4. I made the point on the post regarding the ‘scientific’ definition of conservatism, that in general political affiliation and belief are essentially historical accident; searching for logical consistency between conservative policies or between liberal policies will ultimately lead to cognitive collapse unless you view it that way. This is but one more example.

  5. Thanks, Alex. Fixed.

  6. Conspicuous by its absence from Will’s piece was any mention of the administration’s wretched record on free-trade.

  7. I was willing to forgive Reagan the budget deficits of the 80’s for various reasons, but most importantly the overriding need to fight the Soviets. But it seems like this is turning into a pattern. A tax cut with no spending cuts is not a tax cut I can support.

  8. Yeah, we need a coherent “national greatness” conservatism. Where’s Henry Clay and TR when you need them?

    I’m not even going to use the n-word, because it’s already hanging over Will’s every utterance like Casper the friendly ghost. Of course, we know that Will is just a generic “conservative,” and there’s no difference at all between him and, say, Barry Goldwater.

    The use of force to reshape the world with “creative destruction,” and the use of government domestically as a social engineering tool. Will and his kind talk a good game about “limited government” and “federalism,” but what they mean by it is giving the States a little administrative autonomy in administering federal funds–until State medpot laws, welfare or schools need a little “conservative” social engineering, of course.

  9. Yeah, I was kind of tooling through the essay until I came to his breezy assertion that the welfare state is a conservative institution.

    I guess under a definition of conservative that is, essentially, pro-status quo and anti-change that would be true, but under this definition, it is the Democrats who are conservative.

  10. NO SHIT? Conservatives are not dogmatic libertarians? I suppose that is why conservatives are called conservatives and not libertarians.

  11. It is an interesting column, if only to show that the Right is not as united as the Bush Leaguers want everyone to think.
    George Will’s assertion that the Welfare State is OK for conservatives is not new. In the 1980’s he wrote about the welfare state as a conservative institution going back to Bismarck’s initiatives toward socialized medicine in the German Empire.
    So Bismarck, not Jack Kemp, is Will’s welfare state conservative hero.

  12. Well, we can debate all we want about a coherent conservative philosophy would say of government, the Constitution, “national greatness”, foreign policy, federalism, traditional values, or whatever.

    But the coalition of politicians and voters that goes by the _name_ “conservative” (however inaccurate it may be) has NEVER been a unified bloc with a single philosophy. It’s just a coalition formed to oppose another coalition, AKA the Democratic Party, AKA “liberals” (NOT in the classic sense of the word) AKA “the left.”

    It isn’t surprising if the administration sometimes compromises on goals espoused by various members of that coalition. Will’s point seems to be that the administration is back-pedaling on everything that the “conservative” coalition supposedly stands for. This begs the obvious question: What DOES the administration want, besides staying in power?

  13. Clinton called it the “third way”. It means doing whatever is politically expedient for the purpose of smuggling in a few of your “real” ideas.

    It’s compromise in the worst form. And as we can all see – it knows no ideological bounds.

  14. Mainline conservatism has been incoherent for 30 years at least.

  15. Talk about getting to the station after the train has left!

    George Will is only a writer, but he is a writer with a national platform. During the 2000 campaign he didn’t write about any of the vital issues he discusses in today’s column nearly as much as he did about campaign finance reform. Though nothing should be surprising about George Bush acting as though the next election was the only thing that mattered, Will didn’t make any of the points he makes today when it might have done some good. Again the reason was campaign finance reform.

    Will is only now discovering that conservatism may need some reexamination if it starts getting interpreted to mean spending huge amounts of money on new entitlements (Medicare prescription drugs) and old ones (farm programs), tax cuts aimed mostly at benefiting the Republican contributor base, gigantic deficits without end, and expansive military commitments without any more troops to meet them. But at least none of these things were McCain-Feingold.

  16. Andrew Sullivan echoes (echo, echo) pretty much what everyone else is saying.

  17. Why is that most of the 19th century adherents of “classical liberalism” were also racists?

  18. “I guess under a definition of conservative that is, essentially, pro-status quo and anti-change that would be true, but under this definition, it is the Democrats who are conservative.”

    What do you mean? Society’s status quo, or the government’s status quo? The government often works to change society’s status quo. So is someone who wants to change what the government is doing, so society stays the same, a conservative? Or is someone who wants to continue a program that is changing society a conservative?

  19. Politics is not about government. When the KKK lynches a black man to keep other black men from “taking white people’s jobs” etc, it is a political act – no gov’t involved. Politics is about power, and how it is distributed among and exercised by groups.

    A conservative wants power relations to remain as they are among members of society – hence, their opposition to tax dollars being used to provide legal help for the indigent, etc. A reactionary wants them to go back to the way they were before – slavery, no women’s suffrage. A liberal also wants power relations to keep something like their current form, but loosen up and be less harsh – hence, welfare for the poor, tax credits for lots of stuff, tons of programs that appeal to the middle class. A progressive wants power relations to change, so that those with little power will have considerably more, and those with a great deal of pwer have considerably less – levelling taxation, strong unions. A radical wants to do away with power relations – everyone with glasses gets sent to a camp.


  20. Franklin: Conservatism is not an ideology, it is anti-ideology. This means isn’t consistant.

    Crow: So of course, that means that most 21st century adherents of “classical liberalism” are also racists, right? And racists are the ultimate evil (unless it is anti-americanism). This is the point of your post, correct? Never mind that most EVERYBODY were “racist” in the 19th century by our standards.

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