Columns published over the past five years provide conservative pundit Will’s trademark curmudgeonly commentary on the gilded Clinton years and the dawn of the more troubled W. era.
King of the Beltway pundits in the 1980s, Will (The Woven Figure, 1997, etc.) was ever so gently dethroned in the ’90s. On the right, there were the more red-blooded types, and on the left there was Bill Clinton, unlikely to ever invite George to an Oval Office confab. Will, however, has always been better as a contrarian than an insider. He takes on such distasteful (to him) features of the high ’90s as the use of the courts to enforce entitlements, the tastelessness of the first Bubba in the White House (including, of course, the sexual peccadilloes that lead to his impeachment), the unctuousness of the first lady, and the expansion of a bureaucratically powered government into ever-new areas of private life. This time, Will’s best essays are on cultural rather than political topics, with particular attention paid to what he sees as the threat to the “seamlessness” of cultural memory embodied in dumbed-down pop culture and “leftist” academic culture. Will’s faults are evident in here too: for instance, his tic of larding columns with enough quotations to make Bartlett want to sue. He also has a penchant for intemperate, off-the-cuff anathemas. His conclusion about Clinton, for instance: “the worst person ever to have been president.” Really? Worse than, say, slaveholder and would-be ethnic cleanser of Indians Andrew Jackson?
The gold standard among conservative columnists remains William F. Buckley Jr., who can be enjoyed as literature even if you don’t agree with him; the same cannot be said of Will. Nonetheless, a must-read for aficionados of Beltway journalism.