Beyond that concession, has his libertarian streak gone too far? That's the argument Scott Galupo has made at U.S. News and World Report. It's been seconded by Andrew Sullivan. Here is the line of argument to which they both object: "America is moving in the libertarians' direction not because they have won an argument but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous," Will wrote. "This has, however, opened minds to the libertarians' argument."
In response, Galupo declares that this "heavy petting" with libertarianism has rendered Will himself "ludicrous." Claiming to miss the "old, sane" George Will, Galupo digs into the columnist's archives. What follows are a series of quotes. In 1975, Will spoke out in favor of the welfare state. In 1983, he defended sobriety checkpoints against civil libertarians. The same year, he argued that "'strong government conservatism' is not a contradiction in terms," and insisted that both FDR and Reagan "are versions of the basic program of the liberal-democratic political impulse." In 1988, he pointed out that Reagan didn't seem particularly concerned about his deficit raising policies. And in 1990, he made the case for government spending on infrastructure and transportation.
Galupo thinks these columns, all at least two decades old, are in conflict with the assertion that, circa 2011, "government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous." I disagree. Will's statement is a perfectly defensible assessment of reality, or so I'll argue. And it's liberals and independents that I hope to convince. There is a strain of libertarianism that is perfectly willing to concede the necessity of smart financial regulation, environmental law, and a safety net that ensures poor people have access to food, shelter, and medical attention, none of which is incompatible with the notion that the status quo in government is "so foolish or unreasonable as to be amusing." In failing to understand that perspective, liberals lose potential allies who are defecting from the Republican Party, but scoff at the idea of becoming Democrats.
Let's begin by defining "government and the sectors it dominates." As I see it, those sectors include a Defense Department that is more accurately described as the Department of War, other agencies in the federal bureaucracy, Social Security, Medicare, domestic law enforcement including federal, state, and local police, public education, the U.S. Postal Service, and transportation bureaucrats. Note that I am not calling for these agencies and programs to be abolished, or asserting that they're unnecessary, or that they do no good work, or that their employees are malign. My claim is that there are absurdities in each of these areas, and obvious reforms compatible with libertarian thought would help. If nothing else, let this be an explanation, for those who can't conceive of this viewpoint, of why some people regard government with such skepticism.