Bench Memos

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.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

Most Popular



Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone. Hope it has been a good one. Yesterday, I had a tale in my Impromptus column. I had been to Harvard, to conduct a couple of interviews, and I waxed nostalgic. In Widener Library, there are bag-checkers -- people checking your bags on your way out. Ages ago, there was this ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Rolling Back Dodd-Frank

The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would roll back parts of Dodd-Frank. The vote was 67–31, with 17 members of the Democratic caucus breaking party lines. If the legislation passes the House and is signed, it will be the largest change to the controversial financial-reform package since it became law in ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Samantha Power Regrets

‘I’ve had a lot of bad ideas in my life,” former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power tells Politico. “Though none as immortalized as that one.” Wow. It’s a major concession. And what might “that one” be? Not standing idly by in the White House while Iranians protested a fixed election in 2009, then ... Read More