Why We Should Care About George Will's Radical Transformation

Will has ditched the "Oxford Movement" and more or less become a libertarian with a radically different notion of individual rights.

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One of my "beats" around here has been to document columnist George F. Will's unmistakable drift from Tory conservatism to doctrinaire libertarianism.

Posts on this subject have gained some attention at the margins (see Front Porch Republic's Russell Arben Fox here, for instance), but reaction from readers may accurately be summed up as follows: I don't care about George Will, and neither should you.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

The reason I think it's a big deal is twofold: First is that, through his widely-read syndicated columns and perch on ABC's This Week, Will commands a big audience. And, as evidenced by the dinner he hosted for then-President Elect Obama, he commands an important audience. Second is that I think the old Will—the one who had accepted the New Deal's "ethic of common provision" and called Franklin Roosevelt's "mild ... social democratic program" an "honorable persuasion"—could have served as a useful corrective to the Tea Party movement and its cramped, selective reading of American history, and helped reshape the conservative movement in the wake of the Bush years.

So it's heartening for me to see that, independently, other people have begun to notice Will's transformation. Matthew J. Franck, a contributor at National Review Online's Bench Memos blog, has called out, in particular, the shift in Will's thinking on jurisprudence. Will has apparently embraced judicial activism under certain circumstances and completely reversed his position on whether the president should abide by the War Powers Act (in short: yes, unless George Will approves of the war in question).

[See pictures of soldiers returning home from Iraq.]

Franck calls these shifts "strange" and "curious." But they make perfect sense if you accept my theory that Will has ditched the "Oxford Movement" and more or less become a libertarian with a radically different notion of individual rights. This is the generous interpretation, at any rate. (The cynical one is that Barack Obama has driven him insane.)

Either way, Franck is right: "[I]t is not too much to ask that a writer with such a track record acknowledge that his considered views have altered approximately 180 degrees, and give his readers arguments that rebut the ones he used to make."

Or, as I put it last September, "It seems clear to me that, over the course of years, he's changed his mind on these matters. But he neglected to explain why to his readers. It's about time he did."

Any time you're ready, Mr. Will.

I'll be watching, and waiting.

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