George F. Will and Testament

Review of ‘The Conservative Sensibility’ By George F. Will

The publication of George F. Will’s new book, his 15th, took place one month to the day after his 78th birthday. He has been writing his syndicated column for the Washington Post, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1977, for 45 years. He has been a regular feature on public-affairs television programs since the days of This Week with David Brinkley, which premiered in 1981. He follows baseball closely enough to have written two bestsellers on the subject. He finished a Ph.D. at Princeton in 1968 and is deeply steeped in the canonical works of political philosophy and Western culture as well as in American history. He has enjoyed the company of Washington political figures from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Ronald Reagan. Though an adherent of no particular school within the spectrum of conservative opinion, he has long been one of America’s best-known conservatives.   

Columnist, pundit, television personality, scholar, author, newspaperman, bon vivant, aphorist, baseball fan, conservative—in a span that began in Richard Nixon’s America and continues through Donald Trump’s: One eagerly awaits the memoirs of such a man, or so one should. Continue reading

A Court Worth Having? Growing Pains at the International Criminal Court

The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague is a testament to liberal normative aspiration in international politics—the conviction that there should be a neutral juridical body, beyond the influence of the ebb and flow of political power among states, that is capable of holding the perpetrators of atrocities or aggression to account. Now, more than twenty years after the negotiation of the 1998 Rome Statute––the treaty establishing the court––and coming up on seventeen years since the ICC entered into force in 2002 with the ratification by sixty state-parties, one vexing question for proponents of international justice is that of how far beyond mere aspiration the court has managed to get.

The U.S. government has had a highly ambivalent attitude toward the ICC from the beginning. Washington long supported a jurisdictional procedure for an international criminal court that would require a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution for the court to begin an investigation. The UNSC had previously authorized the establishment of special international tribunals to deal with atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Requiring UNSC action for a free-standing tribunal would, of course, subject its jurisdiction to a veto by any of the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council. For many proponents of international justice, this potential limitation was unacceptable. “A court worth having,” as then Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy insisted, was incompatible with impunity at the behest of the P5.[1] The Rome Statute thus also allowed the prosecutor to assert jurisdiction proprio motu (on her own motion) upon obtaining evidence that atrocities had been committed by a national of a state-party to the Rome Statute or on the territory of a state party. Continue reading

Trump Is Serious About Diplomacy With North Korea

His special envoy makes clear the administration’s priority is depriving the regime of nuclear weapons.

Before President Trump announced in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that he would hold another summit this month with Kim Jong Un, he indulged in a bit of braggadocio: “If I had not been elected president of the United States,” he said, “we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”

That may sound strange coming from a president whose engagement with North Korea began with insults and threats, with Messrs. Kim and Trump calling each other “dotard” and “Little Rocket Man.” But Mr. Trump’s alternative history aside, his administration has indeed pursued serious diplomacy with North Korea, taking a novel approach that will shape the bilateral relationship far into the future.

The new tack was made clear in a detailed speech given at Stanford last week by Stephen E. Biegun, the U.S. special envoy to North Korea. Mr. Biegun firmly reiterated the administration’s objective: “the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.” Of course that’s easier stated than accomplished, but the administration has set a standard, and has exposed itself to harsh criticism if it tries to deliver anything less. Continue reading

The Weekly Standard and Me

RIP to a magazine—and the notion that people could be persuaded by ideas

Not long after the 1994 mid-term election, the one that brought Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years and capped the meteoric rise of Newt Gingrich to the House speakership, the conservative media world was home to two big secrets. As editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times at the time, I was in the sweet spot of the Venn diagram, the only person in town, I believe, who knew both of them.

The first secret was that the firebrand conservative journalist David Brock had secured an amazing $1 million advance for a biography of Hillary Clinton. With David fresh off his New York Times bestseller The Real Anita Hill, the expectation at Free Press was that he would deliver revelations about the already controversial first lady on a scale even bigger than those about the woman who nearly derailed the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Continue reading

Interview with Tod Lindberg

Where are you from, and why there?

I was born in Syracuse, N.Y. I lived there only a couple years, then moved to Buffalo through Kindergarten, then Pittsburgh through junior high school, then Chicago through college. Actually, it was the same bedroom suburban community in all four cases, just increasingly far away from downtown as the cities got bigger. My father worked in coal traffic for the Pennsylvania Railroad, then the Penn Central, then Conrail. Back then, really before containerized shipping, freight rail moved two things, coal and everything else. The railroads kept failing, but Dad kept getting promoted, ending up retiring as Coal Sales Manager in Chicago. My mother died of stomach cancer when I was about 13, just after we moved to Chicago. I’m an only child, so Dad had to figure out single parenting in a hurry. His basic message was do what you want, but don’t screw up. I was very good at the former and not too bad at the latter. My senior year in high school, I managed to get myself elected to a three-year term on the school board. We had about 8,000 students in four high schools, which I mention not only because it’s a little-known cool fact about me, but also because it dictated my decision to go to college somewhere nearby. My very smart, sweet, and pretty high school girlfriend was going to Northwestern, which I thought might be a little too close to her for me, so I decided to go to the University of Chicago. Continue reading

The Next Advocacy Generation

Who will carry on the cause?

If you are a young and promising toiler in advocacy for a cause you believe in, feel free to read on, but I address myself primarily to those who are aging out of the “young and promising” category or have already done so. I used to be young and promising myself, a posture one can maintain (with diminishing plausibility) well into one’s 40s. I’m now in my late 50s. That’s the same age the author Douglas Preston is in Lost City of the Monkey God when his doctor mocks him as follows: “Oh-ho. So you’re still telling yourself you’re middle-aged. Yes, we all go through that period of denial.”

The reason I bring this up is that at a certain unspecified age just above “young and promising,” I think we in the advocacy or policy or, more broadly, the ideas world, acquire a responsibility to which we have probably given insufficient thought hitherto. It is this: Who will come after us to carry on the cause? What about the next generation? Continue reading

Spoiler Alert | Why Americans’ Desires for a Third Party Are Unlikely to Come True

Coauthored with Lee Drutman & William A. Galston

Key Findings

  • Two-thirds of Americans want a third party. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that two parties do not do an adequate job of representing the American people and that a third party is needed.
  • But third-party enthusiasts don’t agree on what that third party should be. About one-third want a party of the center, about one-fifth want a party to the left of the Democrats, and about one-fifth want a party to the right of the Republicans, with the remainder wanting something else. It would take at least five parties to capture the ideological aspirations of Americans.
  • Partisans are not about to abandon their party; most value what makes their party distinct from the other major party. Seventy-seven percent of Americans feel better represented by one party or the other, leaving only 23 percent who are equivocal between the two existing parties. And overwhelming majorities of partisans feel well-represented by their parties (81 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans) and very poorly represented by the other major party (68 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans).
  • Americans neither support nor see the necessity for reforms that would help create a multiparty system. Electoral reforms like ranked-choice voting would be necessary for third parties to gain support — even more so given that the actual demand is for multiple additional rather than a single third party. But our research shows little understanding of or support for such reforms. Few make the connection between their stated desire for a third party and the electoral reforms that would make that possible.

Read the full report here.

John McCain, Hero

The late senator was the kind of man the Founders had in mind.

long time ago, and for no particular religious reason, I decided the psalmist was right: “Put not your trust in princes.” The point the unknown author was making is that it’s God, not some son of man, in whom one should trust. But regardless, it has seemed to me eminently true that princes are not trustworthy. I especially like the term “princes” because it’s more encompassing than “kings” would be. It seems to evoke the totality of the class of politicians, from the time of the psalms unto this democratic age.

I have made one exception in the years since, and that was for John McCain. I never worked for the man, except as an informal and unpaid adviser on national security to his 2008 presidential campaign. Perhaps that contributed to my ability to trust him: I thereby avoided finding myself the object of one of his famous outbursts of temper. But maybe not, because not one of the dozens of people I know who worked for him, and who presumably were at one time or another on the receiving end of one of his tirades, had anything but love and loyalty for him. Continue reading

One of a Kind

Why the success of the Federalist Society is unlikely to be replicated.

With President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court seat Justice Anthony Kennedy is vacating, the influence of the Federalist Society—the membership organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers, legal scholars, and law students—remains at the absolute peak it attained during the administration of George W. Bush with the nomination of Samuel Alito to the nation’s highest court.

Founded in 1982 by Lee Liberman Otis, Steven Calabresi, David McIntosh, and E. Spencer Abraham, the Federalist Society launched as a counterbalance to the leftward tilt among law school faculty nationwide. Part of the idea was to ensure that the progressive hegemony on campus met serious resistance at least at the level of intellectual debate, if not the numerical balance among faculties. But within 20 years of its establishment, the Federalist Society had also emerged as the premier vetting institution for Republican appointments to the federal judiciary, especially at the appellate level. Continue reading

Unlikely to Be Fired

Trump may well prefer for Mueller to play out the string.

For much of the past year, speculation has swirled that President Trump will fire Robert Mueller, the independent counsel investigating supposed links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Interestingly, the likelihood that Trump fires Mueller is an area of rare bipartisan agreement in Washington—though of course, the speculated reasons why he might do so vary greatly.

Democrats think Trump may or will fire Mueller as a last-ditch attempt to derail an investigation closing in on him. Republican supporters of the president think Trump might or should fire Mueller because his probe has become exactly the “witch hunt” the president often tweets that it is.

Republican never-Trumpers and neutrals by and large take the view that the investigation must run its course even (or perhaps especially) if there was “no collusion” with Russia, as Trump insists on a regular basis. Disrupting the investigation would worsen the president’s position. But such is their generally low opinion of Trump that many of them, too, regard it as likely that the president will fire Mueller despite his own best interests in letting the investigation play out. Continue reading