Politics

George Will on Colbert

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Conservative-turning-libertarian pundit George Will, who has a new collection out (One Man's America), has a genuinely interesting conversation with Stephen Colbert. Watch here.

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  1. Will has a quaint idealistic notion of what the word “conservative” means that ignores what real conservatives are in the real world.

  2. I am at work and can’t WTFV. Can someone sum up the conversation, please?

  3. Wow, that was great. Will handled Colbert masterfully. Each handled each other respectfully.

  4. Can someone sum up the conversation, please?

    Will defends a version of conservatism that died with Goldwater, Colbert plays midwife to a litter of stillborn jokes.

  5. I, too, am at work, but it would be helpful if Mr. Gillespie noted if it was Stephen Col-bear, or Stephen Colbert. I tend to think the former. I heard the latter interviewed and he was reasonably interesting.

  6. Will has a quaint idealistic notion of what the word “conservative” means that ignores what real conservatives are in the real world.

    I disagree. I think Will knows exactly what the Neocons are, and all his time following politics has no doubt disabused him of any notion of ideological “purity” from the party rank-and-file.

  7. “I’m never wrong.”
    – George Will.

    I like it.

  8. Will is one of those unforgivable bastards that perpetuates the myth of small government conservatism.

  9. Will is one of those unforgivable bastards that perpetuates the myth of small government conservatism.

    I *strongly suspect* that Will is one of millions who is disgusted by the current state of the Republican party but holds his nose and supports it because he believes the other team is worse.

  10. Wow, Will surprisingly held his own.

  11. Yeah Will handled that really rather well, playing off of Colbert’s character.

    Anyway I don’t understand why fiscal conservatism would somehow suffer from what Bush has done. I mean it’s a concept. Might as well declare the Nordic countries and everything with “social” in it idiotic because of the Soviet Union (I’m not saying they might not be dumb, but saying they’re dumb because the Soviet Union called things socialist and they sucked is inane)

  12. I like how Will admitted that he is agnostic. He’s long seemed to me to be a fairly honest fellow. I’d vote for the guy for pretty much any office, but he’s too smart to run.

  13. Yeah, I wanted to ask him why, if conservatism was around to protect people from idealism and preserve freedom, it was working so hard to protect the idealistic notion of marriage as one man and one woman by throwing freedom by the wayside. Will is remarkably quick on his feet, though; I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone come off looking so smart and knowledgeable on Colbert’s show.

  14. Will reeks of ideological fundamentalism: The Free Market and Santa Clause will solve all our problems. Government is bad and the people who allow it to do more than deliver the mail and defend the borders are doomed.

    His response to the question of health care was the most revealing: Health care is unaffordable for so many because state legislatures have burdened it with so many mandates. Not obscene profits, not enormous corporate overhead, not executive salaries all duplicated across companies who’s goal is not to provide healthcare but to maximize return by cutting service. No, the problem is state legislatures which do evil things like creating regulations about the re-use of dirty needles and the hours a nurse is required to work.

    The Free Market is a lie that never existed. The first laws boiled down to “thou shalt not obstruct the profit of rich and powerful” and it’s taken centuries for the regulatory universe to include provisions that can be stated as “thou shalt not kill, maim or cheat your customers.” Free Market Capitalism as it’s understood today means repealing that second set of regulations.

    fp

  15. FP –
    Well played, unless you were serious. If you were serious, holy crap!
    Thanks for the preparation for the mentality of my buddy’s fiance I’ll be experiencing this weekend.

  16. Barr’s on Colbert tonight.

  17. I facepalmed while reading your screed, fp. Please post here a lot more.

  18. Cesar, you really should just come back as yourself. This “Frank Pryor” character isn’t worth it. “Neil” was great, though.

  19. IDK Episiarch – he did a really good job with FP. It helps to prepare us for the real world.

  20. The Free Market is a lie that never existed

    Har har. What never existed: The free market or the lie?

  21. IDK Episiarch – he did a really good job with FP. It helps to prepare us for the real world.

    Naw, he set it up as one of those etched-in-stone believers who it isn’t even interesting to argue with.

  22. Yeah, I wanted to ask him why, if conservatism was around to protect people from idealism and preserve freedom, it was working so hard to protect the idealistic notion of marriage as one man and one woman by throwing freedom by the wayside

    Gay marriage is an entitlement issue, not a freedom issue. Please keep your tangents straight.

  23. That was too good. Still chuckling…

  24. I’m getting tired of people who can’t make the distinction between conservatism (the spectrum from say, Goldwater to Buckley) and the neoconservatism the Republicans practice nowadays. George Will has every right to call himself a conservative and not support the modern GOP or the Democrats.

  25. Was anyone else shocked to hear George Will come out against privatizing the post office?

  26. Hugh,
    Gay marriage is an equal protection issue.

  27. I’m getting tired of people who think the paleo-conservatives where any better about small-government than their neo-con offspring.

  28. We heard you the first time, Warren.

  29. Frank, how free do you want the markets to be?

    What limits do you think there should be on government?

    What should be the government’s role in health care?

  30. I’m getting tired of people who think the paleo-conservatives where any better about small-government than their neo-con offspring.

    Really? Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater were worse on small government than Bill Kristol and his ilk? You must be smoking some good shit.

    Oh, and the leading neocons were mostly Red Diaper babies–hardly the offspring of the old right.

  31. Read George Will closely in the coming months, and you will see a guy who is “supporting” John McCain, because he knows McCain is going to lose in a landslide–and Will hopes such a crushing defeat will blow up the Republican Party so it can be re-built along traditional libertarian conservative lines. Will has moved from “movement conservative” in the past decade to a solid libertarian. And it is obvious from everything he writes that he cannot stand John McInsaneFeingold. LOL

  32. FXKLM, rilly. “The government’s job is to deliver the mail…?!”

    George Will, closet Democrat.

  33. Will nailed the cap and trade boondoggle last week. The right to vote should be contingent on reading his stuff. The current book tour would be a launching point for a movement led by him in a perfect world.

  34. I *strongly suspect* that Will is one of millions who is disgusted by the current state of the Republican party but holds his nose and supports it because he believes the other team is worse.

    I was at a lunch with him last summer and can confirm his disgust with the current administration and the party.

  35. I admit it, I’ve always been a big fan of George Will. Two things surprised me during this “interview”. 1. GW says he’s an agnostic. 2. How quick he was on his feet (his writing seems endlessly tweaked). Perhaps I could have learned a few more things — maybe next time Colbert will actually let his guest talk. It reminded of the time Jon Stewart “interviewed” Bernard Goldberg: 95% of the spoken words came from Stewart.

  36. zeph

    Like so many conservatives/libertarians, he started out as a Democrat.

    fwiw, me too.

  37. >FXKLM, rilly. “The government’s job is to
    >deliver the mail…?!”
    >
    >George Will, closet Democrat.

    It probably shouldn’t be their job, but barring a constitutional ammendment to that effect, that is explictly one of their current responsibilities.

  38. After reading these comments, I am reminded how absolutely naive, and intellectually vacant many Libertarian supporters are.

    The Republican party only survives today due to the religious right. Any separation between the GOP, and the religious right would essentially render the party impotent. End the fantasy gentleman, and come towards the center. Your theories aren’t any more part of the real world than other extremist political positions that have little chance of ever surviving.

    So, all of this fantasizing about the GOP eventually becoming Libertarian (Is this a rare instance of Libertarian optimism?) is just that. The supposedly old GOP wasn’t Libertarian either, and as we have seen from this site anyone who does not worship at the alter of Orthodox Libertarianism is usually dismissed with an ad hominem attack. However, it’s cute that you make an exception in this case.

    Libertarian utopianism is just as bad as any other utopia ideal. It’s evidence as to why Libertarianism is often perceived as a fringe movement for humorless IT guys, and bitter financiers.

  39. Terry Michael

    I (unfortunately) don’t think Obama will win by a landslide–too many states are simply not Dem, never mind very liberal Dem.

    Too bad though–I also believe the Republican party needs to be utterly destroyed before it can be credible again.

    The best hope for a libertarian-ish Rep party is utter defeat this fall. I just don’t think it will happen.

  40. FM,

    The fact that the “old” R party wasn’t particularly libertarian is irrelevant–libertarian thinking doesn’t depend on any kind of Rep party thinking or their history.

    Likewise, I don’t see any fantasizing about the Rep party becoming libertarian–if they could simply practice and preach more in the Goldwater vein, I’d be happy. And it’s hardly a fantasy, given there are, have been and will continue to be individual Republicans who advocate Goldwater small gov’t values.

    Lastly here in H&R there are many different kinds of libertarianism discussed–it should be obvious that Taktix, Episiarch, Dondero, and Joe (to name a few) aren’t exactly all reading from the same page when talking about libertarianism.

    Oh, and utopianism is pretty much the opposite of libertarianism.

  41. oh, and I’m the Matthew above

  42. maybe next time Colbert will actually let his guest talk.

    I don’t know if you have watched Colbert or how well you know the character he plays. If you do, then you will realize how futile the comment is. He is satirizing The O’reilly-Hannity types who monopolize interviews. That’s just his character. You might as well hope that Cartman turns liberal in the next South Park episode.

    It reminded of the time Jon Stewart “interviewed” Bernard Goldberg: 95% of the spoken words came from Stewart.

    I won’t complain. Goldberg has now become a joke, and is reduced to just being an O’reilly yes-man.

  43. Yeah, I know Colbert is playing a character, but I don’t think that excuses this particular performance.

    Three cheers for Matthew above. I CAN’T STAND people calling libertarianism “utopian.” ARGH!!!

  44. Stormy Dragon: The constitution gives the federal government the authority to run a postal system. It doesn’t require the government to do so.

  45. Mortimer, I had a hard time following your comment. It isn’t clear that you understand the distinction between “libertarian” with a small L and “Libertarian” with a big L. Nor the differences between the Libertarian Party crowd and the Hit & Run crowd.

  46. Hey Mortimer: Couple of things

    So if the GOP of Reagan wasn’t completely orthodoxical in its libertarianism, than don’t people calling for its return actually want a move to the center? In fact, libertarians who call for an infusion of more libertarian influence in the GOP actually want to moderate its politics from the neo-con brand that exists today.

    A good argument renders an opponent seemingly “intellectually vacant.” Throwing the insult out there is like an ad hominem attack, don’t you think? I thought you frowned on that sort of thing?

    As for your comment regarding an ideal scenario separating the religious right from the GOP, during the Reagan era the “religious right” elected Carter. The GOP was regarded as souless. Not seeing how this is a fantasy, it actually happened…And it wouldn’t happen again because…?

    Thanks for the condescension though, I am sure everyone got a kick out of your use of words like cute and naive. Healthy debate, really.

  47. Reinmoose,

    I will admit to an occasional penchant for hyperbole. 🙂

    Mike Laursen,

    Trying very hard to be brief:

    “Frank, how free do you want the markets to be?”

    Very. But not completely. “Perfectly” free markets are ruthless. They seek the shortest distance to the greatest profit at the expense of human life, safety and often efficiency. Piracy is a free market. The trade in illicit drugs is a free market. No regulation. No conscience.

    Capitalism is a powerful engine for progress and, like fire and electricity civilization as we enjoy it in the Western Democracies would be impossible. No one is in favor of obstructive interference by regulatory agencies, but It is an article of Neocon faith, repeated in Will’s interview, that burdensome regulation is at the core of our economic woes. Eight years of Neocon management has shown this to be simplistic and self-serving. The Mortgage Crisis is an excellent example: It was no accident. It was created by the removal of depression-era regulation that kept banks, mortgage brokers and investment firms from creating exactly the situation we find ourselves in today. Phil Gram, McCain’s economic brain, was the spearhead for that deregulation.

    Regulation is absolutely necessary. We have a string of examples, the Crash of ’29, Junk Bond crisis, the Savings and Loan scandal and now this one (all spear-headed by conservative legislators during conservative administrations BTW) that demonstrate the inevitable result of a regulatory atmosphere that favors unfettered greed.

    As an analogy, the highways are not perfectly free. Stop lights, school crossings, speed limits constitute ubiquitous, somewhat burdensome, regulations but we get where we want to go with an acceptable degree of efficiency. And without that regulation the roads would be a deathtrap and traffic would come to a halt.

    “What limits should their be on government?”

    Plenty! Many of them are outlined in the Bill of Rights. Still, precisely what should be limited is the subject of debate. For instance:

    Personally I think it’s nobody’s business who what you or I want to worship or not. This is a private matter. Woe be unto him who makes it a public matter. Some Americans disagree and would like the question of worship dragged through the gutter and on to the public stage.

    Who anyone want’s to marry, how they want to dispose of their own remains, whether or not they want to be kept on life-support and a long list of other things that are nobody else’s business but which many conservatives think SHOULD be the business of government, I do not.

    Attempts by neocon trolls like George will to confuse the issue, the difference between liberal and conservative cannot be drawn between those who want to limit the intrusive nature of government and those who do not.

    “What should be the government’s role in health care?”

    I think it should be acknowledged that of the advanced democracies we spend the most money on healthcare. We do the poorest job of keeping our population healthy and treating them when they’re sick. Of those advanced democracies we are the only nation that endures a healthcare system which has corporate profit as its primary goal.

    The role of government in health care is a complex issue that requires sincere discussion but I believe we must start from the position that government should have a role in health care.

    fp

  48. Don’t you hate it when you only see the typos after you hit the Submit button? Of course the proofreading would be easier if I weren’t so long-winded.

    fp

  49. “Perfectly” free markets are ruthless. They seek the shortest distance to the greatest profit at the expense of human life, safety and often efficiency.

    If a market allows for force or fraud, it isn’t free.

  50. Well the question of course is: what is a free market? Is it free as in no-holds-barred? Or is it free as in allowing for maximal competition?

    I believe that most left leaning people translate free markets as referring to the previous, while most right leaning interpret it as meaning the latter.

    The latter actually creates a very clear position for the government. First of all it needs to support business modularity as well as possible, with regulation if necessary but preferably with helpful standardization of key interfaces. This is to avoid making entry to any particular industry so expensive that it solidifies to a oligarchy where some sort of cartel think becomes unavoidable. Even worse are the cases where actual monopolies are allowed to form, though obviously everything has to be evaluated on a case by case basis, and instant action might not be ideal (best case in point being Microsoft Windows).

    The key idea in a free market is though that the government should:
    1) Sometimes guide, preferably never force (sometimes it might be necessary, but it means that the preceding government screwed up, and probably yours isn’t that clever either)
    2) Never participate in the production of services and/or good except in truly exceptional fields (defense, -probably- espionage, though even that could be privatized theoretically)
    3) Optimize the conditions by making market entry and competition as easy and efficient as possible

    This is not a small role by any means, but it also is not a role that requires tens of millions of employees.

  51. I don’t have time to go through your whole comment, so let’s start at the beginning. And I’ll have to ask you about the rest later.

    Piracy is a free market.

    So, when pirates raid a ship, that falls under the definition of a free market transaction in your definition of “free market”?

  52. “If a market allows for force or fraud, it isn’t free.”

    How about if the market allows for the ignoring of detrimental externalities? There’s a lot of money to be made that way, and no business likes being forced to care (i.e. spend money) about something they had previously ignored.

    Ideally, this is where the start and end of free market regulation should be. But given the complexities of some externalities, and the tendencies of those with skin in the game to obfuscate said externalities, regulation is always going to be a messy affair.

  53. High-seas piracy is an example of an unregulated commercial activity.

    As opposed to, say a ship operating under a letter of marque, whereby it’s targets were limited to ships of belligerent nations, the conduct of its captain and crew were, to a limited extent, governed by rules set by the entity issuing the license.

    Privateers frequently became disenchanted with the “burdensome regulation”, some skipped privateering altogether and became buccaneers. They operated on a much more dangerous/lucrative part of the risk/reward curve. Unlike privateers they did not have to share any of their booty with a king or governor, they were free to attack any ship they came upon and they were absolutely free to commit any and all atrocities they cared to. As long as they were not caught the operated in the complete absence of any external regulation.

    Like Enron, on steroids. Like Haliburton, on… like Haliburton.

    One way to escape regulation is to operate outside of any governmental jurisdiction. One way is to escape regulation is to break the laws within the jurisdiction in which you operate but not get caught. One way to escape regulation is to convince the regulating authorities to stop regulating. In a democracy that can also involve convincing the people you will suffer from your activities that regulations are somehow unpatriotic.

    Don’t get me wrong: we all agree (I hope) that freedom is a good thing. But very little is absolutely free and thats a good thing too. I am free to drive my car. I am not free to do so in a way that is endangers other people. Far too often the choice is cynically framed as being between absolute freedom or absolute tyranny. George Will did it quite casually in this interview and it’s a terrific reason to treat his thesis with extreme caution.

    Here’s another thought about regulation: Many of the people who passionately oppose them also believe in gun ownership and the right of self-defense. In an unregulated confrontation in the marketplace most individuals are defenseless against the resources of a corporation. The reason people demand their guns is because they understand that people can be dangerous. Why does it make sense to kick the sherif out of the very part of town where only the little guys are unarmed?

    fp

  54. “Well the question of course is: what is a free market? Is it free as in no-holds-barred? Or is it free as in allowing for maximal competition?

    I believe that most left leaning people translate free markets as referring to the previous, while most right leaning interpret it as meaning the latter.”

    William,

    This is a very interesting comment.

    I would agree that lefties understand that free markets are imperfect, are never really free and tend to serve the most advantaged and aggressive players. They appreciate the harm that is possible in an unregulated environment.

    Righties, I would suggest, see the liquidity and opportunity afforded by a free market, often without appreciating it’s hazards.

    I offer this observation: Competition is great for consumers. Corporations are competition averse and left to their own devices will sabotage, undercut, acquire or otherwise destroy their competition whenever they can. Competition leads to lower prices and corporations like to charge higher prices when the can. Anti-trust legislation was not written because Congress had time on it’s hands. It has not been systematically dismantled by corporate lobbyists because consolidation is good for consumers.

    fp

  55. FP,
    I think you’re confusing free markets with anarchy. Your analogy to piracy implies that at least. It is a fundamental libertarian tenet that one of governments’ legitimate reasons for existing is to protect property rights and to enforce contracts (rendering piracy completely un-libertarian).

  56. NAL,

    No confusion here.

    Something is lost in the translation between what Dick Cheney, Ken Lay, George Will MEAN when they say “free market” or “burdensome regulation”, and what they would like you to UNDERSTAND that they mean.

    The conditions for the California energy “crisis” were created when the California legislature took the suggestion of Enron, Duke, Dynegy, PG&E, et al that there were savings to be had by “de-regulating” California’s energy market. Legislators were persuaded to allow industry lawyers to draft the required legislation (not an uncommon occurrence I believe) and the result was out-and-out piracy. Corporate buccaneering without precedent.

    This was not anarchy; it was a carefully managed program. And it was sold by neocon free-market champions who used much the same language to sell the idea that was used to “free” the mortgage industry from “burdensome” red-tape.

    Fundamental libertarian tenets are dogmatic academic fantasy; as impractical, unrealistic and prone to abuse as Marxism.

    We have very good examples of what happens when these kinds of hopeful panacea’s get out of the classroom and into the real world. You’d think that after our grandparents, parents and we ourselves have had a chance to observe the results of these experiments, (the crash of 29, Enron and the California energy “crisis” and the other incident’s I mentioned above) that we’d be able to come to an informed conclusion about the miraculous properties of the Free Market.

    The thing about this particular idea is that it’s not so much an attractive economic policy as it is a really good ponsie scheme. Every time it happens, the people who run it get away with a fortune. Most of the time they run long enough that others are able to cash in as well. But they are all zero-sum games and every time, to varying degrees of financial disaster, the rest of us get stuck holding the bag.

    fp

  57. The conditions for the California energy “crisis” were created when the California legislature took the suggestion of Enron, Duke, Dynegy, PG&E, et al that there were savings to be had by “de-regulating” California’s energy market. Legislators were persuaded to allow industry lawyers to draft the required legislation (not an uncommon occurrence I believe) and the result was out-and-out piracy. Corporate buccaneering without precedent.

    I can’t disagree with your characterization of how the California energy “deregulation” happened. In your definition of the word, “regulation”, did the “deregulation” legislation that was passed in California regulatory legislation?

  58. Err, I meant “was the ‘deregulation’ legislation that was passed in California regulatory legislation?”

  59. I really liked the Will comment that “liberals believe in equality, conservatives believe in freedom”

  60. I really enjoyed that Colbert seemed genuinely taken aback when Will admitted to being an agnostic.

    I also like that, at least accordingly to Will, the definitions for classical liberal and conservative are nearly identical.

  61. Frank Pryor, please stick around. Your comments are some of the most balanced I have ever seen on here.

    See, we can enjoy Libertarian ideas without an either/or propositions.

  62. Also, I respect, and acknowledge that there are various degrees of Libertarianism on this site, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy coming here, instead of some wacko site like Takimag.com. Well, that and the fact that Hit & Run is probably one of the most intelligent, and witty places to hang out online.

    Often, frustration sets in and certain distinctions are not made. For that, I apologize.

    Sometimes I feel that there needs to be a bit more forceful examination of strict Libertarian philosophy that ultimately, Frank Pryor has done a better job of addressing.

    In the end, I think the vast majority of us are here because no one else seems interested in the ideas that we feel are important. I shouldn’t lose site of that.

  63. Site, sight, who fucking cares?

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