Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

A Columnist’s Kidnapping


Who is this man and what has he done with George F. Will?

Here is George F. Will on March 6, 1987: “Alexander Hamilton, the Founder most relevant to the realities of the modern state, stressed the sovereign importance of ‘energy in the executive.’”

And on March 1, 1984: “[I]f Alexander Hamilton was not a conservative, then who was, or is or wants to be?”

And today, as though he had never even heard of Alexander Hamilton:

[M]any conservatives have not just become comfortable with the idea of a strong president, they have embraced the theory of the “unitary executive.”

This theory, refined during the Reagan administration, is that where the Constitution vests power in the executive, especially power over foreign affairs and war, the president, as chief executive, is rightfully immune to legislative abridgements of his autonomy.

Ahem.  This is precisely the view of Hamilton in the Federalist, in the Pacificus papers of 1793, and throughout his career as the most cogent exponent of the powerful presidency that saved constitutional republicanism from the imbecility of legislative supremacy.

Today George Will condemns Harry Truman for being “crucial to the magnification of the president’s war powers.”  That is, for being as interested in the energetic executive as Alexander Hamilton was.  Or as George Will once was.

But this George Will is also the columnist who on May 3, 1984 called “astonishing” the “difference between Truman’s views regarding U.S. capacities and responsibilities and the views of those in his transformed party who today praise him.”

That’s nothing.  What is astonishing is the difference between the George Will who used to make sense, and the George Will who today changes his principles because he is unhappy with the performance of a particular president who shares his first name.


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