No Hubris, Please, We're Conservative


I like George Will. I really do. For more than thee decades now, I have been reading his columns and his books and listening to him on television. Agree with him or not, his political analysis is almost always interesting, insightful and often expressed with a delightful sense of irony. And when he writes about baseball, which is often, he is one of the best baseball writers in the country.

It is from Will that I learned of former Cubs player Frankie Baumholtz, a man of modest skills by big league standards, who at least never sunk to the level of hawking coffee makers on television like Joe DiMaggio. ("There are some depths to which you can only plunge from an Olympian height," Will shrewdly observed.) Without Will, I might never have known that on the day Karolyn Rose filed for divorce, her husband, Pete, went five for five. I believe that’s called "compartmentalizing," as we learned in the Clinton era.

But sometimes Will tries this poor reader’s patience with his vacillations and verbal sleight of hand, and I don’t mean only about important things like the designated hitter rule. (Check his collection of columns in the book, "Bunts," and you’ll see he has been alternately for and against the DH a number of times for a number of reasons.) No, I mean his wavering on issues of seemingly lesser importance, like war and peace.

You might never guess it from reading his recent columns, but Will was among the many conservative pundits supporting the great Bush War II in Iraq, dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom," the successor to "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan. (The "operations," to be sure, are enduring. Freedom has not yet arrived, despite all the purple-thumbed elections.) But at least Will was candid enough to call the Iraq adventure a "war of choice," in contrast to the phony "last resort" rhetoric of the Bush administration. War is an expensive "resort," where conservatives seem eager to lavishly spend lives, limbs and money.

But Will has recently published a column full of airy abstractions about liberalism, conservatism and "reality." Reality, if you haven’t guessed, is entirely on the side of the conservatives. (Libertarianism gets nary a mention.) In truth, separating the conservative wheat from the liberal tares is not nearly as easy as Will would make it appear.

For example, Will states: "Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things from the government." Really? You mean, like the Bush administration’s prescription drug add-on to Medicare that has been called — by Will, among others — the largest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ’s Great Society?

"Steadily enlarging dependence on government," Will tells us, "accords with liberalism’s ethic of common provision, and with the liberal party’s (I think he means the Democrats’) interest in pleasing its most powerful faction — public employees and their unions." Okay. That must be why so much of the federal education largesse is tied to compliance with the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act, Bush’s landmark domestic achievement. And it must be why conservatives love to vote for federal funding for local law enforcement. (In Manchester, NH, our police have even had a federal grant to help battle the crime of jaywalking.) Perhaps that’s also why the "conservative" party was the moving force in creating a massive bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, with the politically rewarding task of dispersing federal funds for security measures, broadly defined, to police and fire departments in congressional districts all over this Heaven-blessed land. Thus does the "conservative" party engage in "enlarging the dependence on (federal) government."

I could go on and on. But the sentence that nearly slayed me was this mind boggler: "Regarding foreign policy, conservatism begins, and very nearly ends, by eschewing abroad the conceit that has been liberalism’s undoing domestically — hubris about controlling what cannot, and should not, be controlled." Whoa!

Say, George, did you miss the elections last November? I don’t think it was liberalism that underwent a near "undoing" by an electorate fed up with the results of "hubris." Nor was it primarily liberals who took us to war for "regime change" in the Middle East in an attempt to control something we cannot, and should not, control, namely the lives and future of other people in distant lands.

No, that has been the course followed by this administration, headed by an allegedly "conservative" president who came to office advocating a more "humble" role for America in the world. No doubt George W. Bush still thinks his foreign policy is a paragon of humility. Bush probably thinks "hubris" was Lyndon Johnson’s vice president.

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.