George Will and the Conservatism We Lost

Here’s George Will, the inventor (albeit not the chief practitioner) of “strong government conservatism,” sniffing disdainfully at Ron Paul, Congress’s one and only consistent advocate of good old-fashioned “small government conservatism,” as “a cheerful anachronism.” After all, Rep. Paul’s quirky idea that “the federal government is a government of strictly enumerated powers” is held “with more stubbornness than evidence.” Silly Ron — he thought conservatives were advocates of limited government. But he didn’t bank on the revisionism of Will & his fellow neocons, who have redefined traditional conservatism out of existence. Today, Barry Goldwater — and the rhetorical Reagan — would be laughed off the stage of a National Review “summit” (not that he’d be invited in the first place). 

The neocons would prefer to ignore Ron. Here is a Republican congressman from George W. Bush’s state who routinely denounces the big-spending, big-government -creating policies of his President, and is a staunch opponent of the Iraq war. Ron’s devotion to principle — the priniciples conservatives used to uphold, albeit only in theory — shows up the “official” conservative leadership as fraudulent. So why is Will writing about Ron?

Well, to begin with, the libertarian Republican congressman from Texas is reportedly running for President, and, as such, has been invited to participate in the first GOP primary debate, to be held in New Hampshire on April 4. “This could be entertaining, meaning embarrassing,” avers Will. Yes, but embarrassing for whom? The “strong government” conservatives in the GOP presidential wannabe pack — i.e. everybody but Ron – are the ones likely to be caught up short. All have issues with the core Republican constituency — if it isn’t a bit of personal eccentricity, as in Giuliani’s case, it’s a theological one, as in Romney’s — and rank-and-file GOPers looking for the Real Thing are bound to find Ron attractive.  Will cites Ron as saying that the New Hampshire debate will reveal “how many real Republicans are left” — and that is something the neocons, who are apparently uniting around Giuliani, would rather not find out.

The real threat, of course, is that Ron will mobilize the growing legions of Republicans who oppose the Iraq war — and its extension into Iran. As a principled opponent of our interventionist foreign policy — Will describes his support of the anti-“surge” resolution as “vehement” — Ron could tap into the 30 percent or so of anti-“surge” Republicans. In a field divided by as many as half a dozen ostensible conservatives — all of them vehemently pro-war — this would amount to significant support and put Ron on the map as a viable candidate. A populist, antiwar libertarian revolt in the GOP — this is the stuff of the neocons’ worst nightmares. Which is why Will dissed Ron. However we’ll see who has the last laugh ….