Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
George Will: Politics should not be what defines your identity. Government has a great and stately jurisdiction, but it’s not everything. And, if you’re looking for excitement, if you’re looking for spiritual fulfillment, if you’re looking for the meaning in life, don’t look to politics, because we’ve seen what happens when mass movements become intoxicated by political movements, fighting faiths, fascism, communism, all the rest, try to envelope the lives of their adherence. It’s unhealthy.
Preet Bharara: That’s the venerable conservative commentator, George Will. He’s written nearly 6,000 columns for the Washington Post. I actually grew up reading George Will. While I often disagreed with his opinions, I can thank him for expanding my vocabulary. His most recent book is The Conservative Sensibility, and does not mention the current president at all. We talked about the effect of fox news, the fecundity of freedom, how Barry Goldwater started the modern conservative movement and why George Will left the republican party. But first, let’s get to your questions. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Hey, folks. CAFE recently launched something to help you keep on top of today’s news cycle. It’s a newsletter that recaps news and analysis of politically charged legal matters, the CAFE Brief. Sign up to stay informed at cafe.com/brief. That’s cafe.com/brief.
Louise: Hi, Preet. It’s Louise in San Diego, and I’m wondering what kind of authority and control the attorney general has over federal prosecutors. Like you are in New York, the southern district of New York. Could he caution investigation that you were carrying on? Thanks. I worry.
Preet Bharara: Thanks, Louise. It’s a question that I get asked from time to time. It’s a question that swirls around discussions about what’s going on in the justice department, and my answer is a little bit complicated. Yeah, in the line of succession, the attorney general of the United States of America is at the top, and he has or she has authority over everything that’s going on in the department. And so, when I was a United [inaudible 00:02:15] attorney, we had an independent streak, but if I were ever directed to do something by the attorney general, I complied. There was a lot of discussion. There was sometimes debate. I had arguments with both attorneys general with whom I served when I was in office. Which disputes, I’m not going to describe in this program.
Preet Bharara: And, you come to an understanding about how you should proceed, and there’s vigorous debate, and sometimes we were overruled. Most often, we were not. But, largely, most of the cases that we dealt with, even very significant one that included charges against Sheldon Silver, the assembly speaker and the senate majority leader Dean Skelos and the charges against S.A.C Capital and Raj Rajaratnam and a whole host of others, there was literally no involvement from main justice or the attorney general whatsoever because there was no regulation or guideline or statute that required any approval from the justice department.
Preet Bharara: Now, on other matters like the potential criminal trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the resolutions with Toyota and GM and some other matters that the attorney general would want to be apprised of we had a mechanism for briefing the attorney general. But, largely, I that the best attorney general know that a district is handling something well and tend to stay out of it, especially when it comes to the southern district. There was never a time during my seven-and-a-half years where an an attorney general said, “Do not continue an investigation,” of someone or something. It never happened in my experience. I can tell you that if there had been such an occasion where we thought we had a good, bonafide investigation in a controversial matter and an attorney general, for not-good-faith reasons told us to stop investigating, there would have been something of a crisis.
Preet Bharara: I don’t think I would have defied the attorney general. In fact, I would not have, but we would have reached a moment where I either had to convince the attorney general that our way was correct or resign from the office, and, depending on the nature of it, make myself available for congressional testimony if I thought something corrupt or untoward or improper was happening. Based on some things that have been happening recently, Louise, I understand the basis for your worry and I understand the spirit of your question to be, “Will Bill Barr put the kibosh on some good faith proper investigation being done by the southern district or some other office?” Anything is possible and things I didn’t think were possible have become possible in recent months, but I think that if you’re attorney general Bill Barr or you’re someone advising attorney general Bill Barr and you’re going to do something like that, you need to proceed with extreme caution because you’re not the only one asking this question and there will be a lot of other folks with subpoena power and gavels asking the same question if some investigation looks like it was cut off improperly. Hope that answers your question.
Preet Bharara: This question comes from Twitter user @thistlefarmcows. I’m not sure what kind of a cow that is, but, sounds cool. This tweeter asks, “I read that Acosta felt incapable of going up against Epstein’s eight powerful attorneys, so cut the plea deal. Doesn’t a prosecutor have resources — hotshot federal prosecutors, perhaps — to call on when confronted with a wealthy, lawyered-up criminal. #askpreet. Sarah, thanks for your question. And, [Milgrim 00:05:15] and I discussed this at some length in the Insider Podcast, which you can listen to. But, let me just say briefly: yeah, you know, I don’t know if I believe that reporting necessarily. It would seem odd to me, and, as [Ann 00:05:26] and I discussed, if you were the presidentially appointed, senate confirmed United States attorney for a district, especially a district as large as the southern district of Florida, which, by the way, is about the same size, has about the same number of staff and lawyers as the southern district of New York and includes Miami, a large metropolitan area.
Preet Bharara: You’re not afraid of any lawyer. You might have qualms about the closeness of a particular case that you have brought, but you do have the resources of the government. You do have the backing of the entire Department of Justice. You do have access to huge law enforcement agencies like the FBI, the DEA, the secret service and others, and you’re also not in it for the money. There’s no cost problem for you. You go forward when you that the case is proper to bring. And, if you think the case is righteous and the facts are on your side and the law is on your side, then you go forward and you proceed in court.
Preet Bharara: The fact that there may be hotshot lawyer … I don’t even know what that means. I think, frankly, I will not name them, here. There are a lot of folks who are in the hotshot lawyer category who, frankly, are not particularly good. Okay, I’ll name one. So, I don’t understand why that phenomenon would take place here, which is why I tend to doubt it even though lots of other stuff that’s negative about Alex Acosta’s handling of this, I do believe and I do credit. If it is the case that a sitting US attorney was afraid or cowed or put off by quote/unquote, “Powerful defense attorneys,” then that person shouldn’t have the job.
Preet Bharara: To hear the fuller conversation about this issue and everything else related to Acosta and Epstein, you can listen to the CAFE Insider podcast. Go to cafe.com/insider. This question comes from Twitter user @bebogirl33. “Hi, Preet. You mentioned in the last podcast a former colleague at SDNY was now a judge, assuming a federal judge. I’ve always wanted to know: how does that work? You express interest? You are recruited? Can we look forward to Judge Bharara in the future? #askpreet”
Preet Bharara: So, that’s a great question, and it’s complicated, and it depends on what state you’re from. It depends on whether you’re interested in the district court, which is the lowest court in the federal system, the trial court, or the appeals court. It depends on who the senators are. It depends on who the president is, lot of different things. The general tradition around the country is that the home state senators are the ones who make recommendations both for US attorneys and for federal district court judges to a particular White House. That’s not anywhere in the constitution. That’s not anywhere in any guidelines or statute, but that has been the tradition. Senators make the recommendations. Some senators will recommend one human being for a particular open spot. Some senators will recommend a number of people for a particular spot and give the White House it’s choice. Some senators have screening committees like senator Schumer does made up of serious lawyers of diverse background who do vetting and screening and interviewing and recommendations to the senator.
Preet Bharara: In some states, there are bipartisan commissions who make these recommendations, so it’s all different ways where someone gets to the attention of the White House. Remember, you cannot become a federal district court judge unless you are nominated by the president, so the recommendation can come from any source. It can come from a senate or somewhere else, but the nomination has to be made by the White House, and then you cannot be confirmed unless, thereafter, you are voted upon favorably by the US senate. That’s advise and consent. Now, what complicates this in some ways is: let’s say the White House decides to nominate somebody over the objection of the home state senators. Right now, a tradition remains. It’s not true, still, for the circuit courts, but there’s a tradition of the blue slip. The blue slip is a form — and it’s actually the color blue. I filled it out for Senator Schumer on a number of occasions — that you return if you’re the home state senator with respect to a nomination in a federal district court in your state, and it indicates your ascent to the moving forward of that nominee.
Preet Bharara: If both home state senators do not return a blue slip with respect to a nominee, the tradition has been that the chairman of the judiciary committee will not consider moving forward on that nominee. Now, you may have read some controversy about the blue slip falling into oblivion. That is true with respect to circuit court nominees. So, this White House has made nominations of people for the higher court, the appellate court in various states, and the home state senators have not approved those nominations, and the White House has pursued them, anyway. And, Mitch McConnell has taken up those nominations and hearings anyway.
Preet Bharara: And, of course, there’s all sorts of ways to get to the attention of screening committees and senators. There are bar associations. Quite frankly, depending on the state you’re in, if you are a lawyer who you think should be considered for a federal judgeship, you should reach out to the staffs of both home state senators, state your interest, and, in all likelihood, there will be a process that will be outlined that requires submission of an application, a résumé, a CV, references, all sorts of other questions you have to answer that, in New York, at least, basically track what the senate questionnaire is once you get confirmed.
Preet Bharara: So, if you’re asking for a friend, tell your friend to seek out advice and counsel from the home state senators. As for whether or not you can look forward to Judge Bharara in the future, the answer to that is no. I’ve said multiple times on the show and also at some length in my book, I have great respect for judges. We ask them to do really, really difficult work. We ask them to be perfect and they’re just human beings, but I like being a prosecutor. I like public service, and one reason I don’t have an interest in being a district court judge is I don’t have an interest in doing the hardest thing that they do, which is to determine for how many days, weeks, months or years you separate another human being from their And, I’ve said this before; I know it sounds odd coming from a prosecutor who, for years, made recommendations about that all the time, and we convicted people knowing that they would be sent to prison. Making those determinations, those This question comes from twitter user @Chelsea_Diandra. “Hey, @PreetBharara, any advice for us future lawyers currently studying for the bar in major need of some encouragement right now. #askpreet”
Preet Bharara: And, you’ve indicated that you go to William & Mary Law School: terrific, great law school. And, you’re taking the bar in DC, so, man my heart goes out to you. I will not sugarcoat this, and you know this better than anyone, and there are probably hundreds if not thousands of folks in your position who hopefully are fans of Stay Tuned. Taking the bar exam was the single most miserable test I ever had to undertake in my life, and I had a lot of schooling. I went to a private school in college and law school, and nothing is worse than the bar exam. In part, it’s terrible … and, this maybe helps you think about it. In all likelihood, you’re a great student and you’ve done well in school and you’ve gotten as far as you’ve gotten and gotten into great law school because you’ve done well and you’re used to getting really good grades on tests. The bar exam is pass/fail. We used to joke in law school and after that the smartest person in the world was the one who could figure out how to do just enough studying to pass the bar exam by one question.
Preet Bharara: Obviously, you don’t do that. I don’t know what the DC bar is like. I didn’t take it. I took New York and I took New Jersey. New York bar at the time I took it was pretty hard. New Jersey bar, no offense to the Garden State, was much easier. But, they ask a lot of questions on a lot of things that maybe you’re not expert in. I can tell you some things not to do. So, I took one of the bar testing courses. I know there are other popular ones now that didn’t exist when I was in law school, but I took one of the classic ones, made a bunch of money … or, at least, my law firm made a bunch of money. And, I don’t remember how many weeks it is. I think it was like, 12 weeks or something like that, and about seven weeks in, I lost all my notes. So, don’t do that. That’s a bad thing to do.
Preet Bharara: And, at some point, I began earnestly studying, probably by late June, early July, and I shifted my schedule such that I was sleeping all morning and I would stay up and I would study and take sample bar exams til late in the night, and by the time we got to the end of July on the eve of the bar exam in New York, I was literally going to bed at 8:00AM and waking up in the middle of the afternoon, which is not a great way to condition yourself for taking an exam that begins at like, 9:00AM. The Monday before the bar exam, which I think, in my day, was Wednesday and Thursday, I was settling in to sleep. So, don’t do this, by the way. This is an example of what not to do at home. I was settling into sleep in my very comfortable law school futon, and I put on the TV just to see what was on and rest my eyes and go to bed, and, literally, it was about 8:00 in the morning. The opening credits to the Godfather Part II grace my screen, and I had a decision to make.
Preet Bharara: Do I go to bed after having been up a lot of hours because the bar exam was about 48 hours away, or do I watch for the 17th time, The Godfather Part II? Well, I watched The Godfather Part II for three hours, went to bed at 11:00AM: did not put me in good standing in terms of rest for the bar exam, but I made it through. I passed, and now I’m a podcast host. So, notwithstanding, my trajectory, please, do as I say, not as I do. But, there’s really no good advice other than: take good notes. Don’t lose them. There’s certain big areas of law from my time that I remember I was not going to be able to master. I never studied in law school and I was learning it for the first time over the course of some days in the summer of 1993, and there were only going to be a very few number of questions on some of those arcane topics, so you need to balance your study time. Study the basic stuff that you know will be on it and that you probably know better. And, some of the other more arcane stuff, I would make that a lower priority.
Preet Bharara: If your bar prep professors disagree with me, follow their advice over mine. I remember one person saying, “Look,” I apologize for this arcane talk to the non-law-student folks who are listening, but, “The rule against perpetuities is something that I didn’t understand, nobody understands, that it’s difficult to understand. It takes a lot of effort and energy and study to understand. And, music to my ears was one teacher saying, “Look, at most, there’s going to be one question on it, and if there is, just answer D,” and study other stuff. Hope this was helpful. Good luck not only to you, Chelsea, but to every suffering law student taking the bar exam anywhere in the country. I feel for you.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is columnist and author George Will. He won the Pulitzer prize for commentary back in 1977 just three years after joining the Washington Post. No topic is off limits for Will. He writes about baseball, parenting, foreign policy, presidential candidates and more twice each week. We discussed what’s happening to the relationship between conservatism and the GOP, why he says Paul Ryan is the biggest casualty of Trump’s presidency, America’s other national pastime, and how a George Will column nearly crashed an online dictionary with the one word he used to describe Vice President Mike Pence. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
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Preet Bharara: George Will, thank you for joining us. It’s a real honor to have you.
George Will: Glad to be with you.
Preet Bharara: You are the author of a new book, The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will, which we’ll talk about a bunch, but I wanted to let the listeners in on something. As is standard practice when you go into a studio, the sound people want to make sure that the levels are okay and the volume is right. Ordinarily, people will sort of count or talk about what they did that day. You, instead, uniquely, began to recite what I thought was the Gettysburg Address.
George Will: Well, even Lincoln can be improved or updated. Like the living constitution, we have a living Gettysburg Address.
Preet Bharara: Do you mind sharing with the listeners how you made sure that the sound level was set properly?
George Will: I said, “Four score and seven years ago, or fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that the designated hitter rule is a mistake,” and I’m sure if Lincoln were alive today, that’s what he would have said at Gettysburg.
Preet Bharara: If only we could spend all our time talking about the designated hitter rule in baseball.
George Will: Well, I only write about politics to support my baseball habit.
Preet Bharara: I’ve seen you say that. You began as a young, smart person as a liberal. Is that correct?
George Will: Well, in college in 1960, I supported Jack Kennedy. I was a sort of standard-issue academic child. My father’s a college professor and I was a standard-issue liberal. And then, in 1962, I went to Oxford for two years and came back and voted for Goldwater. What happened in between was not only did I see the Berlin Wall, which was a great instant tutorial in the stakes of modern politics, but also, I got to know British socialism and it struck me that a vibrant society was having its energy suffocated by too much statism.
George Will: At about that time in 1962, Milton Friedman published Capitalism and Freedom. Fredrick Hayek had just published through the [inaudible 00:18:55] Chicago Press, his great book, The Constitution of Liberty, and I was often running toward what I’ve become, which is, as I say, a Goldwater voter in ’64 when I cast my first vote for president, and it is to the memory of Barry that this book is dedicated.
Preet Bharara: How’d that vote go in ’64? Not so good.
George Will: Well, no, I think Goldwater won in ’64. It just took 16 years to count the votes.
Preet Bharara: You have not written a book about politics and political philosophy in, I think, ten years. Why write this book, now?
George Will: Well, I’ve been thinking about this stuff since, well, all the time in Washington since I wrote my doctoral dissertation at Princeton on the Rob [inaudible 00:19:34] it’s called Beyond the Reach of Majorities. You may recognize the phrase from Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion in the West Virginia v. Barnette second flag salute case where he said, “The very purpose of a bill of rights is to place certain things beyond the reach of majorities, to rescue them from the vicissitudes of politics.” And, I grew up in Central Illinois where we worried about Lincoln and the Kansas/Nebraska Act and all the rest.
George Will: So, I’ve been think about, a long time, whether America is about a process, majority rule, or a condition liberty. They’re not the same thing, and majority rule can be a problem for liberty. And so, I thought it’s time to put this down Also, obviously, to speak about the elephant in the room, conservatism has lost, at least as I understand it, has lost the allegiance of the party which was the vessel of conservatism for, actually, since Goldwater when it became a ideologically conservative party. So, this seemed like the time.
Preet Bharara: How many times do you mention Donald Trump in this book?
George Will: Zero. I also don’t mention Charlemagne or Doris Day because none of them have anything to do with American conservative.
Preet Bharara: Although, arguably, Donald Trump has something to do with hijacking a party that, as you said a minute ago, was a vessel for conservatism. Does that matter?
George Will: Well, it matters that the party was so susceptible to hijacking. These people, particularly in the congressional party, were so lightly attached to their rhetorical convictions. Whether they were real or not remains much in doubt. For years, to take just one example, one thing that all republicans were agreed upon was the virtues of free trade. That is so universally recognized, at least among academic economists, that it’s one of the reasons why economics is one of the few academic fields that has moved to the right in the last 50 years.
George Will: Donald Trump comes to town and says, “By the way, you’re no longer for free trade,” and they tug their forelocks and essentially said, “You’re right. We’re not,” and he set about exercising discretion that congress has given the presidents willy nilly over the years as part of the congress shedding its responsibilities in ways that, were the supreme court vigorous in enforcing a non-delegation doctrine, they could stop.
Preet Bharara: You say they tugged on their forelocks. Is that the same as bangs?
George Will: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
George Will: Obeisance to their dear leader.
Preet Bharara: I’m translating for some of the youth. Further to what you said just now, George, let me read something you wrote very recently in the Washington Post, which I tend to agree with. “Consider today’s supine behavior of most congressional republicans,” echos what you said, but then goes a little bit beyond. “Speaking of republicans,” you say, “They were for free trade until Trump informed them that they were not. They were defenders of the US intelligence community until Trump announced in Helsinki that he believed Vladimir Putin rather than this community regarding Russian support for his election. They excoriated wishful thinking regarding North Korea until Trump spent a few hours with Kim Jong Un, and, smitten, tweeted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” So, can you expand a little bit on why you think they’re so supine?
George Will: Fear is the basic answer. They’ve seen what happened to Senator Corker and Senator Flake and Congressman Sanford who got on the wrong side of Mr. Trump and are now outside of politics. A large number of people are in politics to be in politics. That’s what they want. That’s their objective, and the intellectual and ideological trappings that came with it are to be shed as a snake sheds its skin when they become inconvenient, as a lot of traditional republican views have.
George Will: One of the few things that my hero James Madison got wrong was he said in the Federalist Papers that under popular government, all power tends to be sucked into the impetuous vortex of the legislature. Actually, for the last 80 years or so, congress, under both parties, has been spinning off powers to the presidents of both parties, reveling in the fact that they are no longer accountable for many of the things that happen in Washington, and it’s much more restful to allow most of the actual legislating — that is the details, the trade-offs and all the granular business of government — to be done by the agencies within the executive branch of the administrative state.
Preet Bharara: So, when you say non-delegation doctrine, remind people what you mean.
George Will: There are certain … well, let’s do it this way. The first substantive words of the Constitution … that is, the first words after the preamble are, “All legislative power shall be vested in a congress of the United States.” Congress has no right to shed powers, that is, rulemaking discretion, to the executive branch that is essentially legislative power. John Locke in the second treatise said, “Legislatures may make laws. They may not make legislators,” and the Supreme Court has, in the past, episodically, but not recently, has said there are limits to the discretion congress can wield in giving, essentially, legislative powers to presidents.
Preet Bharara: So, is it your view that the only conservatives that can sort of be fearless and stick to their principles, whatever they may be and whatever other progressives on the other side of the ideological spectrum may not like … but, the only people who can be free to say what they feel are journalists and columnists like you and David from … and, Max Boot, who have also been on the show … but, that there’s a large number of republicans who are elected to office who feel the same way that you do, but, out of fear, don’t state that and will revert back to being garden variety conservatives later, or is that dead for good?
George Will: Well, that’s a good question. If Mr. Trump is reelected, that changes a lot of things. One term is an aberration. Two terms is a trend, a pattern, and I that coming back from eight years of this would be very difficult. I’m not saying that the republican party can snap back to what it was. I’m not saying it actually ought to, but I am saying that the vigor with which republicans have turned their back on 50 years of rhetorical support for conservative positions is striking.
George Will: What is open to question is whether the rhetorical support was ever particularly sincere, and let me give you one example. I believe that for all the talk about the discord in American public life, the most shocking and frightening thing is a consensus. It’s as broad as the republic, as deep as the Grand Canyon, and it extends from left to right of the spectrum and it is simply this, that we should have a large, generous entitlement state and not pay for it. Everyone’s agreed on that, that we should give the American people a dollar’s worth of government and charge them 80 The public likes that bargain. The political class loves making big government cheap by shoving part of the cost of it off on the unconsenting because unborn future taxpayers, and we sail merrily along while everyone talks a great game about fiscal responsibility. Republicans don’t mean it.
Preet Bharara: We can also just make Mexico pay for it, no?
George Will: Well, of course, but, when the next recession starts, if the president has abolished the business cycle, his native modesty would not have prevented from mentioning that fact. When the next recession starts with deficits already at a trillion dollars a year at full employment and 3% growth, it’s going to be really interesting.
Preet Bharara: So, let’s take Mitch McConnell, for example. Do you think that he has any love, affection, admiration, rapport in a real way with Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s politics?
George Will: No. I know Mitch McConnell very well and I think I know how he’s thinking. He’s thinking that there’s nothing he can do about that end of Pennsylvania Avenue. 16 blocks away, there’s this primal force of nature who’s doing what he does, but the senate, Mr. McConnell says repeatedly, “Is in the personnel business.” That is it must advise and consent to the nominations to the executive branch, and, most especially, So, Mr. McConnell’s keeping his head down and doing the personnel business half of the senate’s business and doing it quite effectively.
Preet Bharara: Suppose, hypothetically, that Donald Trump gets defeated by a wide margin; it’s a definitive loss, and some democrat becomes the president. What, then, will be, you think, the posture of people like Mitch McConnell? Not just with respect to the new president going forward, but with respect to how they will talk about the Trump presidency once Trump is gone and will never hold office, again?
George Will: I don’t that they’ll talk about it. I think it’ll be a repressed memory. I think they will say, “What? That didn’t happen, did it?”
Preet Bharara: We’ll need hypnotists.
George Will: Exactly. I think they think they will come back to something like the conservatism that I outline in my book.
Preet Bharara: This discussion we’re having about the difference between what conservatives, sort of philosophers or writers or journalists can say and talk about, the same is true on the liberal side and what is then politically possible for what could be the vessel for that ideology whether it’s conservative or liberal. This may be an impertinent question, but is there a point to conservatism, or, for that matter, liberalism outside of politics? In other words, is it the purpose of it to cause politics — if that’s the point of view you have — to become coextensive with the philosophy?
George Will: Not really. I can’t speak for progressives today, but I can speak for conservatives who are, in American context, the legatees of classical liberalism, of rights-based limited government, natural rights, thinking from Locke through Jefferson, Hamilton and the rest. I think one of the messages, an invaluable message after the political intoxications of the 20th century is that politics should not be what defines your identity, that government has a great and stately jurisdiction, but it’s not everything. And, if you’re looking for excitement, if you’re looking for spiritual fulfillment, if you’re looking for the meaning in life, don’t look to politics because we’ve seen what happens when mass movements become intoxicated by political movements, fighting faiths, fascism, communism all the rest that try to envelop the lives of their adherents. It’s unhealthy.
Preet Bharara: We should, instead, allow baseball to govern us. That would be better.
George Will: You should leave lots of social space for people to have hobbies like that, yes.
Preet Bharara: Absolutely. But, I guess my question is … maybe this is a silly question. To the extent there is such a thing as conservatism, what does it speak to outside of policy and outside of laws there should be areas of life where, like baseball or art or music or literature-
George Will: Sure, look, the reason I call my book The Conservative Sensibility is a sensibility is more than an attitude, but less than an agenda. It’s a stance, a way of seeing, a way of experiencing reality and the flux of events. A wise person has said, “If you reduce the message of the Bible to one sentence, it is, ‘God created man and woman and promptly lost control of events.'” Conservative sensibility likes that. It likes the fact that in an open society of spontaneous order, to use the phrase from Hayek, who figures prominently in my book. “To embrace the openness of the open society,” to use the phrase from Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science who wrote the book The Open Society and Its Enemies, “To embrace the fact that the fecundity of freedom is such and the exhilaration of an open society is so exciting, it’s frightening on occasion. An open society of dynamic economy has casualties. Care must be taken for the people who are left behind, but the basic experience is thrilling, and it’s not the thrill of politics. It’s the thrill of a creative life lived in the vast social spaces left by a lightly governed society.”
Preet Bharara: It’s quite the dilemma, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking about this over the last number of weeks, months, maybe two years, that there’s all sorts of people who think that what’s happening in Washington and the policies that Donald Trump is putting forth, and, in some cases, more importantly, the rhetoric, causes people to be consumed by it in a way that I think people have not been consumed by politics or a president in my lifetime. And, that’s important, and people say, “You know, you must vote.” You want people to become engaged. I have three young children who I hope will become engaged. And, on the other side is the point you keep making that it can become so consuming that you forget to enjoy these other things.
George Will: You’re quite right that the current president has achieved a ubiquity that no one has ever seen before, but I don’t blame him for trying. All presidents would if they could, I suppose. But, I blame the media for allowing themselves to be whipped around the way they are. But, it’s important to understand the long pedigree of this phenomenon that we now have: began with Theodore Roosevelt and his stewardship idea of the presidency, which was, he said, “A president is free to do anything he wants that he is not explicitly forbidden to do.” Significantly, Teddy Roosevelt was the first man to become president who was filmed by a movie camera because the Now, you combine this new intimacy with the desire of congress to shed powers and responsibilities and to give presidents the power to impose taxes in the form of tariffs and all the rest, and you have the short circuiting of the Madisonian equilibrium.
Preet Bharara: What guidance does a conservative ideology give one about particular policies, and does that change over time? So, for example, if you were a conservative of the type that you write about in your book, someone who adheres to those principles, at the time that social security was proposed, what would have been the appropriate conservative view?
George Will: That’s a very interesting question because you know, when Ronald Reagan came to town, he did not have a complaint against the New Deal legacy. It was the Great Society legacy that he took aim at. Social security is something conservatives can embrace. That is a social safety net.
Preet Bharara: Today, they embrace it, but, I guess-
George Will: A lot of them did then, too. Social security is something government knows how to do. That is, it identifies an eligible cohort, the elderly, and it mails them checks, fairly simple. What changed was when, in the 1960s when government said, “Our scope and our competence are so majestic that we’re now going to deliver things like model cities.” Well, government doesn’t know how to build a model city. It just doesn’t, but it had this sudden pretense. Now, notice what happened. In 1964 when the country made a terrible blunder of rejecting my man Goldwater, 77% of the American people said they trusted the government to do the right thing all the time or almost all the time. Today, the figure is 17%. That’s a 60 point collapse. The prestige of government has plummeted as the pretenses of government have risen. Now, it seems to me my progressive friends, all of whose agenda depends upon strong government that can only be strong if the public supports it and respects it … my progressive friends should be alarmed by this and they should sit down and say, “How did this happen that we frittered away 60 points of public approval?”
Preet Bharara: Who are your progressive friends? Who are your best progressive friends?
George Will: Oh, gosh, there’s a bunch of writers in town. I don’t want to embarrass them by identifying them as friends, but as you may have noticed in the book, my best friend for many years was Senator Pat Moynihan of New York, a resolute New Deal democrat, never wavered in that, the finest social scientist to ever serve in the national legislature, a man of fact and data and reason and good cheer who loved the clubhouse kind of politics he grew up with in New York and loved the game.
Preet Bharara: Are there any people who are in the image of Pat Moynihan, today?
George Will: Well, Ben Sasse, the senator from Nebraska and ending his first term … he’ll be up for reelection in 2020. When Ben Sasse was elected to the senate — he’s a Yale history PhD, wonderful fellow — the one request he made was he wanted to have Pat Moynihan’s desk, and he does have it.
Preet Bharara: Any democrats?
George Will: That I admire particularly?
Preet Bharara: Well, that are in the mold of Pat Moynihan. I don’t think I ever met him, an important senator from New York where I spent most of my life, and he’s a particular kind of democrat, as you described, not the kind of person that ordinarily goes into elective office. But, are there people like that now? And, if not, why not?
George Will: Well, Ben is the closest, partly because people like Pat are rarities. I once said rather naughtily that while he was in the senate, Pat had written more books than most of his college had read, but Pat was just … they don’t come along that often, but Ben Sasse would be … he’s actually written two books while he’s in the senate and both of them [repay 00:36:45] reading.
Preet Bharara: There’s this continuing — we like to say battle because we like war metaphors — between conservatives and progressives/liberals. But, in America, as people often point out, there’s not as much as a … the spectrum is not as broad as it is in other countries. There’s basically two parties. As some people point out, they’re not that different when you compare how politics goes in, in, for example, the country of my birth, India.
Preet Bharara: The difference between one end of the spectrum and the other is much, much, much wider than it is in America. Now, some people think that’s a bad thing. Some people think that’s a good thing, but, my question is: if you had to do the Venn diagram of liberals and conservatives in America, not broadly and not throughout history, where is the overlap? You made a joke earlier about everyone wanting entitlements and not wanting to pay for it, somewhat in jest, but I got the point. But, are there some things that you would see in the Venn diagram from which there’s fruitful progress to be made?
George Will: You mean in expanding the overlap?
Preet Bharara: For example, there can be differences in opinion with respect to certain policies and the limits of the first amendment. But, is it fair to say … maybe I’m wrong about this, and we can have a debate of how what happens on college campus. But, generally speaking, a mainstream liberal, whatever that means, and a mainstream conservative in America tend to agree on the importance of the free press, fair?
George Will: Yes, of course.
Preet Bharara: Are there other things like that?
George Will: Yes. I think I do not tar mainstream liberals with the behavior of academic progressives who are trying to impose thought control on campuses. I acquit them of complicity in that.
Preet Bharara: That’s very kind of you.
George Will: Well, it’s not obvious, but I think it’s fair to do. I do think that there are intelligent men and women in both camps who can do arithmetic, and the arithmetic tells us that the entitlement programs we have under current law are unsustainable. This is because … this is a really predictable crisis because it’s driven by demography and demography is destiny for a welfare state because a welfare state exists to transfer wealth to the elderly, and we know how many they People understand this, and I think there will come a time when there will be a president who says, “Okay, look, these are all splitable differences. We’re talking about money. We’re not talking about the meaning of life,” we’ll see that we can get back to the business of politics, which is splitting differences.
Preet Bharara: The other issue that I thought about because of the prior life I had, that, to my mind, doesn’t seem to be a conservative issue or a liberal issue, if you can show it, and that is bipartisan hatred of corruption. Does that remain something that is opposed on a bipartisan basis?
George Will: Well, yes, again, rhetorically, everyone’s opposed to corruption. The problem is that the modern state, which exists to further the national pastime, which is not baseball; it is rent-seeking. And, in fact that we have so blurred the line between what is corrupt and what is simple, normal routine, everyday garden variety manipulation of the government, that it’s hard to say what is corruption and what is normal practice. It’s been well said that if you set out a picnic, you expect to draw ants, and the biggest picnic in the world is the federal budget.
George Will: There is a reason why five of the ten most affluent counties in the United States by per capita income are in the Washington area. We have no natural resources. We don’t manufacture anything except rules, laws and trouble. But, we get rich because trillions of dollars are sloshing through and being allocated by a government that is far too deeply involved in allocating wealth and opportunity and is far too subject to regulatory and other capture.
George Will: I believe that, for example, Elizabeth Warren has a firm grip on half of a point. She says, rightly, that the government is far too much the plaything of compact, intense, articulate, confident, well-lawyered factions that know how to work the opaque gears and pulleys and levers of the government. Where I differ from Elizabeth Warren is she says, “Well, the solution is to make the government really much bigger and much more intrusive and much more energetic in allocating wealth and opportunity.” She really believes that somehow, government is suddenly going to become disinterested.
Preet Bharara: Do you respect Elizabeth Warren?
George Will: I do, actually. She brings a weight and dignity to politics. I love the audacity which she has made “I have a plan for that,” her mantra, because she surely knows the old axiom, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
Preet Bharara: You clearly have a bias that we have, I think, established in this program towards people who have written books.
George Will: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Do we need more of that?
George Will: We sure do. I’m well aware of the existence of the new media, Twitters and Facebooks and all that stuff, but I still think that books are primary carriers of ideas, that books matter. I’ve just written a great thumping one on that believe, that-
Preet Bharara: The Conservative Sensibility, let me say it again.
George Will: Yay for that, yes, the greatest publishing event since Gutenberg.
Preet Bharara: Can I go back to Goldwater for a second?
George Will: Of course.
Preet Bharara: When I first started this program way back a year and change ago, I had on, when he was still a senator, Jeff Flake, and Jeff Flake had written a book also, and I believe, if I remember correctly, that he borrowed the title from Barry Goldwater.
George Will: You are correct.
Preet Bharara: He said, like you are saying now, Barry Goldwater was a hero of his and a model for him. The difference between you and him is he was a sitting senator and you are a writer of books. And, he was thinking about taking a stronger stand and thinking about doing various things. And, one of the things he chose not to do was run for reelection. And, I didn’t understand, frankly, how that squared with his adulation for Barry Goldwater, given that Barry Goldwater, as you’ve described already, ran an uphill race, very uphill against Lyndon Johnson, and remained, as far as I can tell, although I wasn’t alive then, true to his principles, and got thumped, 49 states, and then-
George Will: No, 44 states.
Preet Bharara: Oh, 44 states, I’m sorry. That was in ’72.
George Will: Yep.
Preet Bharara: It’s good to have you on the show. Some people don’t correct me when I say dumb things. And then, some people will say … I think you’re one of them, that, notwithstanding that loss in that race, conservatism was, in a sense, launched and had its expression more fully in the political word in Ronald Reagan, and there was something good about that. I’m sorry this is a long question. I ask this question, A, because I wonder how you think about Jeff Flake and that decision not to stand up for principle and run again even if you’re going to go down in a flaming loss, and then, second, if there’s any lesson there for liberals, progressives who are debating what kind of person they want in the White House? Do they want someone who is adhering more purely to some view of liberalism and progressivism in America or someone who can just win?
George Will: That’s an excellent question, and I know, like and respect Jeff Flake. He would have lost in the primary. He wouldn’t even have got to the general election, so, it would have been a truncated attempt to unfurl a flag that was not popular anymore in Arizona. Let me go back and do a little history, here. Barry Goldwater was a reluctant presidential candidate. It’s as close as we’ve come to a draft in my lifetime because the conservative movement kept prodding him and moving him this way.
George Will: This was in 1962 and 1963. In the 1960 convention, he’d gone to the convention and said, “Wake up conservatives. Grow up. We can take back this party.” Then, as he was being ambivalent about this, on the 22nd of November, 1963, Kennedy is shot. Lyndon Johnson comes in. Barry Goldwater knew instantly that the republican nomination was not going to be worth very much because the American voters were not going to choose to have three presidents in 14 months, which is what they would have done if they had elected Goldwater.
George Will: So, he held back, and, finally, someone said, “Look, someone needs to revitalize the vocabulary of limited government.” Unfurl this flag. You’ll lose, but you will plant seeds and you will change the republican party. You will make it a vessel of these ideas. And, finally, he said, “Well, dammit, all right, I’ll do it.” He went out and had a blast, actually, because, knowing he wasn’t going to win, he went to Tennessee and say, “Let’s privatize the TVA,” and said some things that some of us found racing.
Preet Bharara: Is there a Barry Goldwater of the left as we approach 2020?
George Will: Well, could be Elizabeth Warren is. I don’t count Bernie Sanders because I don’t take his socialism seriously. Elizabeth Warren is much more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders is.
Preet Bharara: Why don’t you take it seriously?
George Will: What, his socialism?
Preet Bharara: Bernie Sanders’ socialism, yes.
George Will: Well, because he won’t define it in the first place. What is socialism? It used to be government ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Then, Lenin with the new economic policy said, “Well, no, actually, socialism is government control of the commanding heights of the economy: heavy industry, telecommunications, transportation, etc.” Then, after the second world war, European socialism was watered down further to the point at which it was regulation of the private sector by the public sector, plus ambitious redistribution of wealth.
George Will: I have a news bulletin for you: that’s America, today. 67% of the federal budget is transfer payments. The sky of America is dark with checks flying back and forth from one faction to another, so he pretends that there’s this kind of clarity about what socialism is. He actually thinks Sweden is a socialist country. Sweden has more billionaires per capita than we have, so I don’t think he’s attended to his facts.
Preet Bharara: What’s been the impact of Fox News, realistically, on American politics?
George Will: Well, it speaks directly to the republican nominating electorate. And, Trump probably could not have been nominated without Fox News and probably not elected without Fox News. I mean, it sits there at 440 North Capitol Street right across from The Capitol. It is a place where republican members of congress can walk in 15 minutes from their offices and speak directly to their voters, so it’s been a mobilizing force, and a profound one.
Preet Bharara: So, that’s what you’re saying. That’s what a lot of people say, left and right. And, Fox has a lot of critics, and, obviously, has a lot of people who watch it, but, as I understand it, if you look at the numbers, on any given … even if you’re talking about Sean Hannity, which I think is or was the highest rated program.
George Will: Yes.
Preet Bharara: It’s just a few million people.
George Will: Exactly.
Preet Bharara: Single digits millions, and yet, tens of millions of people voted for Donald Trump, and so I wonder a little bit about this theory that I saw someone challenge of how much of an effect Fox can really have if, on any given day, a tiny fraction of the people who make up the 39-41% of Trump supporters are ever watching it? Do we overstate the impact of Fox News?
George Will: I think we do, but we should not overstate the importance of the intense minority of Americans who drive the nominating and electoral process, who are actually active in the turning out of votes. There are 327-million people in this country. At any given moment, more than 320-million of them are not listening to the talk radio and are not watching cable television. They’re washing the car, cleaning the gutters and raising children and getting on with their lives. But, the small intense minorities matter in democracy. Intensity, as much as numbers, matters.
Preet Bharara: I guess that’s right. How was your experience Fox News?
George Will: I liked the people: a lot of good journalists there. They came to the conclusion and they were right that I didn’t belong there, anymore, no hard feelings, and we went our merry way. I may be the only person who’s worked for both Fox and MSNBC, and people sometimes say, “Gee, what’s the difference?” and I say, “Well, there isn’t one,” in one sense in that they both have a base. They have a core audience, and they feed it and they cater to it. That’s a business model that I don’t think there’s anything wicked about it. But, in that sense, they’re quite similar.
Preet Bharara: You left the republican party.
George Will: I did, on June 3rd, 2016, the day after Paul Ryan endorsed Trump. I said, “Well, that’s it.”
Preet Bharara: Did you struggle with that?
George Will: No, not a bit. It wasn’t a close call. If someone as intelligent and cheerful and decent as Paul Ryan was going to endorse Trump, then Trump was going to be thoroughly normalized and I didn’t want to be part of that. But, people always say, “Gee, what courage it took.” It didn’t take any courage. It’s not like leaving a church. A political party is a utilitarian device, and when it stops being useful, you go elsewhere. That’s all.
Preet Bharara: How do you judge Paul Ryan today?
George Will: I think Paul was probably the biggest casualty of the Trump revolution. I know that Paul doesn’t … well, I’m not going to say what he thinks of Mr. Trump. He can do that on his own, but he’s not a Trumper. He tried. He had a responsibility. His congressional caucus had made him speaker, very high office, huge responsibilities. He tried to work with Mr. Trump, found it not worth the candle and left. It was, I think, a civilized, intelligent decision.
Preet Bharara: What is going to happen in 2020? Who’s going to win?
George Will: Well, everyone always says if the future’s like the past, X will happen. Well, we’ve seen recently that the future’s sometimes not like the past. Mr. Trump has never really approached 50% approval. That’s a very bad sign for a president, so this should be a very promising year for democrats. However, I’m just reaching into my wallet. I carry in my wallet a little card. It’s going to have to get a bigger card because on it, I write all the things that the democrats, one or another of them, have endorsed in public so the negative ads are already made about them.
George Will: Let’s see: terrorists and everyone else, felons in prison, should be allowed to vote. We should end private health insurance. That’s a way to start a campaign, is to offend 180-million Americans who rather like their private health insurance. Pack the Supreme Court. Abolish the electoral college. Everyone knows that’s not going to happen because it takes 13 states to stop a constitutional amendment and 13 small states will stop that. We’re going to have a green new deal, which means the end of meat and airplanes.
Preet Bharara: But, that’s not actually true. It does not mean the end of meat and airplanes.
George Will: Well, that’s-
Preet Bharara: That’s responding to a slogan with a slogan a little bit, no?
George Will: No, well, that is a quote from the talking paper put out by AOC at a time when six or seven of the current people running for president instantly endorsed it. And then, they read it, and they said, “Well, we’re not taking back our endorsement, but that’s just aspirational.” Well, if it’s your aspiration to get rid of meat and airplanes, that’s good to know. Moving on to reparations for slavery, etc., etc. Now, individually, these are somewhat off-putting. Cumulatively, I think normal Americans say, “Who are these weird people and why are they talking about these things?”
Preet Bharara: So, you’re for Joe Biden.
George Will: Biden would be fine. Hickenlooper would be fine. Delaney would be fine. Senator Bennet would be fine. There’re a bunch of fine people out there. Amy Klobuchar would be fine. The question is: are they going to have enough sense to pick these people, which question reduces to, “How badly do they want to win, or do they want to make a point? Do they want to send a message or do they want to send a president?”
Preet Bharara: This goes a little bit back to the Goldwater question, too.
George Will: Right back to Goldwater.
Preet Bharara: Right. Goldwater, I guess, once he decided he couldn’t win, as you pointed out, he had the luxury of being able to make a point. And, here, every democrat knows that he or she can win, and, many people say forces should dictate that they should win. Part of the point is that they don’t have the luxury of being able to just make some points.
George Will: Exactly.
Preet Bharara: Okay, so, enough about politics. I’d like to spend a few minutes talking to you about writing. We’ve had some very important writers on the show, now, including yourself. We had Bob Caro on, the biographer of both Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. Everyone has a different way of going about writing. Not only do you write books, but you are a prolific writer of columns. How do you not burn out?
George Will: When I first started this in 1973, I asked my friend Bill Buckley who was a columnist, wrote three columns a week, and I said, “How do you do this every day?” And he said, “The world irritates me three times a week.” The world irritates or piques my curiosity or amuses me or entertains me twice a week. I’ve written … I’m approaching 6,000 columns, now, and there has never been a day that I didn’t have three or four or five things I wanted to write about.
Preet Bharara: You’ve never had, on the eve of a column being due, no idea what you might say? It’s always come?
George Will: Never, never. I have, in my pocket right now, another little card with column topics I want to get to. It will take me-
Preet Bharara: Oh, give us a couple.
George Will: Well, hang on. Let me grab my-
Preet Bharara: Breaking news, right here.
George Will: Let’s see. Breaking news, yes. This is coming to a newspaper near you. Let’s see: I’ve been writing about … I went out to see the commandant of the Coast Guard, which has got an interesting mission these days. I’m going to write something about Oberlin College’s recent $11M fine for libel and slander when the social justice warriors got out of control. I’m going to write about the concept of social justice, which is much embraced and rarely defined. I’m going to write about the popular vote compact whereby states would agree to vote for the winner of the popular vote no matter who won the particular states. I’m going to write a book ab the increasing interest in antitrust with regard to big tech companies and others and what theory of antitrust you have to have to justify that.
Preet Bharara: Those are all pretty good. You’re not going to run dry any time soon.
George Will: No, and you notice I didn’t mention the 45th president because he’s boring. He’s as [crosstalk 00:55:27]
Preet Bharara: He’s become a little boring, hasn’t he?
George Will: That’s the one thing an entertainer, which is what he is, dare not be. He has one pedal on the organ and he works it all the time, and it is excruciatingly boring.
Preet Bharara: So, I’ve been reading you since I was a teenager back in the ’80s. I disagree with a lot of things that you would write, but I always very much admired the writing, and I think the most reasonable people understand that you’re a beautiful writer, but you do engage, from time to time, I think it’s fair to say, in flourishes, and you do use words that, at least when I was younger and had a smaller vocabulary, I would have to go to the dictionary, like, “I don’t know what the hell George Will means by this word,” and I think you played some role in expanding my vocabulary than others. So, you do use big words. Do you have a view on that usage?
George Will: Yeah. When you have 750 words to work with and you’re dealing with complex matters, you have to deal in intimation and nuance, and you have to have the most efficient word possible. In a recent … well, I’ll say a couple months ago, I wrote a column about Mike Pence, and I referred to him as oleaginous, and I guess I almost crashed the Webster’s website. They said they had 5,000 people instantly flew to their computers and said, “What does oleaginous mean?” It’s means oily, but it was the perfect word.
Preet Bharara: But, it’s not so efficient, George, if people read the word and then they have to go look it up, and then maybe they don’t finish your column because they got distracted.
George Will: No, no, my readers are so devoted.
Preet Bharara: They always get to the end.
George Will: They’re all good robust English words and they oughta be taken out an exercised every once in a while.
Preet Bharara: Do you think writing in this country has gotten worse?
George Will: Probably. Everything else has.
Preet Bharara: Has everything gotten worse?
George Will: Not everything. Baseball’s better than ever in some ways, but I do think the social media and communicating in 240 characters is not helpful.
Preet Bharara: There is some worry in the country that intellectuals are not to be trusted. There’s a sort of bias against, it seems, expertise. You have, I think, it’s fair to say, have been an intellectual for a long time. When you were a child, were you made fun of, teased, mocked, bullied in any way because you were the smartest kid?
George Will: No, because, A, I wasn’t, and, B, all I talked about was baseball until I got to college. I come from an academic family. My father was a professor of philosophy, and I was surrounded by books and big words, occasionally, lots of talk, and it was a great way to grow up, but I think I grew up relentlessly, militantly normal.
Preet Bharara: And unscathed.
George Will: Unscathed.
Preet Bharara: Did you wear a bow tie in high school?
George Will: Nope.
Preet Bharara: That’s another good thing.
George Will: I learned to tie a bow tie because in the 1960s when everything went mad, men’s ties became absurdly wide, so I went out and bought a bow tie.
Preet Bharara: You once said the following about your father that I found really interesting, quote, “There is no moral power like that of a quiet example, and none more vivid to me than my father’s.” Why is quiet example morally more powerful than another way to model behavior?
George Will: Because it is quiet, because it says, “Just watch what I do, not what I say.” It’s because it’s oblique and indirect, and, for that reason, more effective, I think.
Preet Bharara: Do you have a working definition in your head of what justice means?
George Will: Treating likes alike and unalikes unalike. That’s not mine; it’s Aristotle’s.
Preet Bharara: Simple as that.
George Will: Simple as that, and I do think … and, I’m going to get to this in a column. I don’t think that the adjective social does not modify justice and the phrase social justice, I don’t know what it’s doing, there.
Preet Bharara: You gave the commencement address at Princeton, this year.
George Will: I did.
Preet Bharara: A, was that fun?
George Will: It was. It was. It wasn’t fun for a few protestors who turned their back to indicate that I’m a bad fella, but didn’t bother me.
Preet Bharara: The subject of your speech, I found interesting, and I liked the sentiment. You talked about the importance and the power of praise. What was your message?
George Will: That in an age of rage, of coruscating cynicism and snarkiness, all of which are encouraged by what we call the social media and should be called anti-social media. In this age, praise is considered a sign of weak critical faculties, and people become addicted to anger. I think their pleasure synapses light up in their brains the way it would with cocaine. But, in fact, I said I hope that these, the class of 2019 leaving Princeton had learned at the university how to praise, because, if you learn how to praise, A, it’s pleasure in praising because it means you’re savoring and appreciating excellence, and it means that you have acquired standards by which. And, that’s a great pleasure to have those standards and to apply them and to take satisfaction from other people’s excellence.
Preet Bharara: Is there a particular compliment you’ve received that has gratified you the most?
George Will: Long ago, when I first started writing for National Review and the magazine was run by Priscilla Buckley, Bill’s sister, she said to me, “When my copy came in, if my name wasn’t on it, she’d have known it was mine, anyway, because I had a style which I thought was rather good. I’ve always been drawn to writers with distinctive styles, P. G. Wodehouse. I remember buying a copy of a P. G. Wodehouse novel, was so enchanted I read 73 more. In a way, I am a columnist now because of what … in 1958 at age 17, I’d gone to college in trinity college in Hartford, and I went down to New York, plunked down a nickel and bought a New York Post, and, in it I read Murray Kempton, a wonderful columnist. No one ever did more with 700 words. He had a style that he actually knew where he got it. He said it was from Clarendon’s history of the great rebellion in England. It was a bit baroque, but wonderful fun.
Preet Bharara: If I read a column without a name attached to it and it has the word coruscating in it, I’ll know that it was you.
George Will: Or oleaginous, yes.
Preet Bharara: Or [leaginous 01:01:32], yes. Congratulations on the book. Good luck with the rest of the book tour. It is The Conservative Sensibility. George Will, thank you for being with us and thank you for all the great reading you’ve provided us over the years.
George Will: Thank you, and I enjoyed this very much.
Preet Bharara: Take care, sir.
George Will: Thanks.
Preet Bharara: Every week, we have a special bonus for members of the CAFE Insider community. This week’s Insider bonus is like delving into a George Will column. I get his opinions on James Madison, baseball and Ted Cruz, the worst law John McCain ever passed, and what George Will really thinks about Senator Elizabeth Warren. To hear that and get the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider podcast, sign up today at cafe.com/insider.
Preet Bharara: There are various things that I thought about ending the show with as I thought about it over the last number of days. But then, late last evening, one of the most preeminent jurors in the history of the country, Justice John Paul Stevens passed away. He was 99 years old, was the third-longest serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court in this country, appointed in 1975 by the short-serving President Gerald Ford. What you may not know is that before becoming a judge, back in 1941, John Paul Stevens volunteered for the Navy precisely one day before December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.
Preet Bharara: So, he was a proud American, served his country. Here’s another historical fact about John Paul Stevens, not quite as serious of one: John Paul Stevens was actually at the stadium in Wrigley Field in 1932 at the age of 12 when Babe Ruth, famous Yankee slugger appeared to call his shot and hit a home run into the center field stands. And, a very young future Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens got the thrill of a lifetime seeing that. Unlike some, he evolved in his thinking over time, which I think is a good thing. Whether or not you think the Constitution is a living document or frozen in time, people are allowed to evolve in their views, and, the one area in which he seems to evolved very significantly was with respect to his views on the death penalty.
Preet Bharara: And, as he got on in years, he came to believe more and more that the death penalty was right and the death penalty was not just, and actually began to advocate that the eighth amendment to the constitution should be amended with the addition of five new words so that it would read, “Excessive bail shall not be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment such as the death penalty inflicted.” One of the most famous dissents that John Paul Stevens ever wrote rings in people’s ears to this day, and it was with respect to the 2000 election case Bush v. Gore, and Stevens wrote at the end of his dissent, quote, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law,” end quote.
Preet Bharara: Unlike some other retired justices, John Paul Stevens remained outspoken about the law and about the court even as he sat in retirement. He was critical of Brett Kavanaugh, called him unqualified for the Supreme Court because of his partisan language during a senate hearing, and he continued to talk about the death penalty. But, the other thing you think about a person, not so often in life, but compelled to think about after they pass is not just how big a brain they had, how smart they were, but how big a heart they had, and I did not know John Paul Stevens personally. I think I met him in passing just once, but I know a lot of people who did, and to a person — I’m sure you’ve heard this on television and the various testimonials and newspaper articles — he was a lovely man who not only worked hard, but cared about people, cared about his clerks, cared about individuals and had not just a big brain, but a big heart.
Preet Bharara: And, one story captures it well that was posted in the New York Times. And, let me just read from it, quote, “One former law clerk, Christopher L. Eisgruber described in the 1993 essay an incident at a party for new clerks. Before Justice Stevens arrived, an older male justice had instructed one of the few female clerks present to serve coffee. When Justice Stevens entered, he quickly grasped the situation, walked up to the young woman and said, ‘Thank you for taking your turn with the coffee. I think it’s my turn, now,’ and he took over the job. Justice John Paul Stevens, may he rest in peace.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, George Will. Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Aaron Dalton, and the CAFE team is Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, Vinay Basti, and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.
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