George Will's Libertarian Evolution: Q&A on Obama, Syria, & the Power of Choice


"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."

"In part, I owe my current happiness to Barack Obama," continues the 72-year-old Will, who "so thoroughly concentrates all of the American progressive tradition and the academic culture that goes with it, that he's really put the spring in my step."

Branded "perhaps the most powerful journalist in America" by the Wall Street Journal, Will received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977 and is the author of numerous books, including Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government DoesMen at Work: The Craft of Baseball, and One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of our Singular Nation. A regular panelist on ABC's This Week, Will has the distinction of having been attacked in the pages of Doonesbury and praised in an episode of Seinfeld (for his "clean, scrubbed look"). 

More recently Will has become a champion of libertarianism, both in print and on the air. "America is moving in the libertarians' direction," Will wrote in a 2011 review of The Declaration of Independents, "not because they have won an argument but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous."

Will sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch to discuss his libertarian evolution (2:16), how Sen. John McCain spurred his political transformation (4:07), Ronald Reagan (4:29), the tax code (8:45), why the Republicans are becoming more interesting (19:30), what the government should be spending money on (23:14), war hawks and foreign policy (25:19), the benefits of judicial activism (34:49), gay marriage (37:55), marijuana legalization (39:04), the importance of Barry Goldwater (40:28), Mitt Romney (45:45), the 2016 election (46:37), Medicare (48:52), how Everett Dirksen's untimely death changed his life (50:42), why President Obama makes him happy (52:06), affirmative action (53:07), and his optimism in America's future (57:31).

Approx. 60 minutes long. 

Shot by Meredith Bragg and Todd Krainin. Edited by Bragg. 

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66 responses to “George Will's Libertarian Evolution: Q&A on Obama, Syria, & the Power of Choice

  1. One of Matt Welch’s signature moves around here used to be the fellow journalist take-down. I guess he was more of an outsider back then? I guess he’s moved up in the world since. Nowadays, it’s funny–at least from my peanut gallery perspective–because it’s like he’s meeting all the people he took down back then. I guess they’ve all forgiven him?…..rn#comment

    Holy smoke, that was nine years ago, now! I guess maybe they just forgot.

    I’m looking forward to the Huffiana interview. Welch put up some great threads when that thing launched.

    1. Well, there are gong to be disagreements. I’ve noticed that Will has become more libertarian. I remember back when I had access to a pulp newspaper, I hardly ever remember agreeing with him.

      Reading a lot of his columns on the Internet the past few years, he’s gotten much better.

      1. So…


        1. He’s fairly influential among conservative pundits, and he’s fairly sharp. It can’t hurt.

        2. Know who else thought there was hope for change?

          1. Luke Skywalker?

          2. The guy panhandling at the Union Station’s Madison Street entrance?

          3. Chelsea Manning?

          4. The guy that’s looking under the sofa cushions?

      2. I remember reading his columns in the back of my parent’s Newsweeks. I despised him at the time, but I was liberal of course at the time.

    2. I certainly stand by the characterization of that column as “Thanksgiving death porn,” even if I do sometimes live in George Will’s world now. As I recall, my characterization then was met with stiff resistance by the commenters here…

      1. I thought it was hilarious!

  2. Jerry: Elaine and I were just discussing whether I could admit a man is attractive
    Kramer: Hmm. Yeah. I’ll tell you who is an attractive man: George Will.
    Jerry: Really?
    Kramer: Yeah. He has clean looks, scrubbed and shampooed and?
    Elaine: He’s smart.
    Kramer: No, no, I don’t find him all that bright.

    1. Damn! I was gonna go there. Beat me to it.

    1. WTF? That has to be satire.

    2. Nonsense! Soccer, not denim, is CLEARLY responsible for the downfall of civilization.

      1. Could you elaborate on that, Frank? I tend to have some negative views on that so-called sport also.

        1. Tread carefully dude. Soccer aficionado here.

          1. I also love soccer… except, I call it “nap time”.

    3. So, the guy doesn’t like jeans. As long as he’s not out to legislate it, I’ve no problem. Honestly, I’m not even completely sure I disagree with him (even though I type this wearing jeans). To some extent the elevation of casual in our society might crowd out equally (or even more) valuable qualities.

      1. I honestly find it embarrassing when I’m back in the States how people dress. How hard is it to find some black jeans and black comfortable shoes?

      2. “To some extent the elevation of casual in our society might crowd out equally (or even more) valuable qualities.”

        I’d like to give you the opportunity to explain this nonsense.

        1. Damned squirrels ate my response. I’ll give you the abridged version. The rise of the casual creates a faux intimacy that allows people to relax standards in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise and with which we’d be better off if they didn’t. I’m not particularly interested in knowing about my neighbor’s ass antlers. Denim is not, per se, to blame. But, it is symptomatic of the increased emphasis on informality.

      3. I’m the only guy in the office who refuses to wear denim on his body. Its much harder to kick a motherfucker in the throat without lighter material at the knee bends.

        1. Sure, as a utility-minded fellow you desire to freely-kick motherfuckers in the throat- but do you consider yourself more esteemed than those who don’t wear your style of cloth?

          Do you consider your denim-clad counterparts as indicative of a thread of negativity weaving its way through modern culture?

          1. Oh, no, not at all. I’m often aesthetically pleased by the sight of things I would never wear. I’m just a survivalist.

            1. Then you’d never count as true George Will anti-denimist. Now go kick some motherfuckers in the throat.

        2. I never saw my father wear jeans. Ever. He never owned a pair. I think it has something to do with him being a tailor.

          I once went to get a soccer trophy in a suit.

          I was six.

    4. He spoke of choice on the video- the very concept the article you posted entirely negates. Will might be owner to an impressive brain but even impressive brains are not immune to confusion and contempt.

      I find it difficult to appreciate the perspective of the tailored when they engage in sophomoric assumptions about a person based on his/her clothing.

      I hate suits. I hate ties. However, I appreciate a well-suited man or woman. I don’t think they are more intelligent or useful to society because of their dress style.

    5. My standard of clothing is a collared shirt and Levis 517s. I have a closet full of them. What is not in my closet is a suit or a single tie. If that gives you clothes snobs conniption fits then you can just suck it.

      … Hobbit

  3. My somethingth cousin something removed, Judy (my grandfather’s cousin; southern family) used to have week-long sleepover beach parties for the Young Republicans at the family’s place in Panama City Beach during the 50’s. George Will was in attendance several times. Apparently he was a stickler for always wearing Argyle dress socks, or so said Judy. At any rate, he’s always been a fave in my family, so I guess he was a decent house guest. Buttoned up a little tight, though.

    1. I went to an ABA conference some years ago where he was the luncheon speaker. Sounded reasonably libertarian, and I threw him a libertarian softball question during Q&A that he hit correctly.

      1. I went to an ABA conference


      2. “Mr Will, who will pay for MA ROADZ!”

      3. I don’t care what anyone else says, you are living the dream. It may be closer to the one I had where a bear and a croc fought over who got to eat me than a rapper’s braggart video, though.

    2. First cousin twice removed.

  4. Will is usually worth a read. I remember coming across a professor at a college teaching statistics. He used Will’s columns as a source to teach his students about statistical fallacies.

    1. I loved watching him on the ABC Sunday show. He would obliterate liberal positions with intellectual arguments. The panel liberals would usually ignore him because they couldn’t start to deconstruct what he said.

      1. Yeah well there’s a logic professor on the internet who regularly singles him out.

        Of course, this professor has ThinkProgress and Media Matters as his links on his site. He also claimed Krugman is logically sound.


        1. I bet he wouldn’t try to “single” George Will out face to face though.

      2. Here too. This is why Democrats are so scared of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal.

  5. You know it’s a boring day at work when you watch an hour long interview. *yawn*

  6. I predict his libertarian “evolution” will stop, and reverse, once there’s a Repub in the White House.

    1. The TEA Party will evaporate and the anti-war protesters will dust off their signs.

    2. His libertarian evolution started in the Bush administration, so I doubt it.

  7. His evolution would seem more sincere if it has occurred when a Republican was in office.

    1. Well, I would say that Republicans make government appear ridiculous while Democrats take it to ludicrous.

      Or, like me, he has gradually lost confidence in large government over time. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and the Congresses of those eras have all disappointed me and pushed me towards libertarianism in different ways.

      1. “Prepare for LUDICROUS SPEED!”

  8. George Will sounds like a wise man who isn’t a party hack. Which is totally expected since he works for the completely neutral and unbiased Washington Post.

    And I’m not being sarcastic.

  9. Sometimes man, you jsut have to roll that beautiful bean footage!

  10. It was a beautiful interview, thank you. Watching the Old Warrior pass the torch to the young bucks was an emotional experience for me. I have been reading National Review since 1976 and have been a libertarian that entire time.

  11. This is actually the best job Ive had. I work at Home with Google. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Moreover, My Uncle Carson got a stunning gold Porsche Cayenne Hybrid only from working part time off a pc. Official website

    1. Then you can kiss your Obamacare subsidies goodbye !

  12. I enjoyed the interview immensely, but I was disappointed that one issue was not addressed: The role of the religious right in conservatism. I’d really like to know what George Will thinks about the tension between libertarian views and religious commitment. Can both of those co-exist within one political party in a way that still makes it possible for that party to win national elections?

    1. i agree. he kind of skipped over gay marriage by saying the argument didn’t interest him.

    2. Walter Russell Mead, to my knowledge, has offered one of the best reads about the subject. God’s Country.…..ds-country

      I have the issue and I believe it may have been posted on his site or still may be. I don’t know.

    3. We were freer when we were a more religious nation. That isn’t a coincidence.

      1. We had slavery when we were a more religious nation. Is that a coincidence?

  13. Thank you for this wonderful interview; what a fantastic mind. Am I crazy that I found it too short? Can we get some extended material?

  14. Two things. When Andre Moreau was the LP Presidential candidate, Will compared him to Lenin. And he believes that the Federal Reserve is a legitimate gov’t agency.

  15. Great interview. Shows that he “gets” at least the broad outlines.

  16. Anybody happen to jot down (or remember) all of the books referenced during the interview? The only author whose name I remember (or recognized) was Charles Murray. And I’m too lazy to rematch the interview to get them.

    The only other one was able to find (by Amazoning the snippets that got caught somehow in my increasingly sclerotic brain) is this one:

    Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas

  17. Will is a thoughtful and decent man (one of the few journalists who thinks about basic questions) and he is less confident that he was once about government. But he still conceives of statecraft as soulcraft. Re his ultimate premises for political philosophy, see “The Road to Conservative Serfdom,” a review of George F. Will’s Statecraft as Soulcraft, REASON 15 (December 1983): 47-48.

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