Having lived through the Watergate scandal and the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon, I recall that one conservative journalist stood out from the pack. As the Washington columnist for National Review, George Will regularly exposed the Nixon administration’s lines of defense as the lies that they were. He distinguished himself both for his merciless analytical rigor and his skills as an anatomist.
Will was in the infancy of his now long and distinguished journalistic career. He had joined National Review in 1972, just in time take a front row seat from the beginning of the scandal. By 1973 he was devoting every one of his biweekly NR Washington columns to a dissection of the administration’s evolving “hangouts,” limited, modified or otherwise.
Readers of National Review did not take kindly to Will’s treachery, as they saw it. In one of his books (I think, but which one?), William Buckley writes about the torrent of criticism that Will’s work aroused among National Review’s subscribers. It can’t have been a pleasant experience, either for Buckley the editor or Will the columnist. Yet Buckley stood behind him and Will went from strength to strength, beginning his syndicated column and, within a few years, winning a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
George Will’s intellect made him one of a kind in the profession, but is there a liberal columnist who can serve Will’s role in the current crisis of the Obama administration? Asking the question suggests that events support a parallel between Nixon and Obama, and I don’t exactly mean to do that. Something, however, is rotten in the Obama administration. The problem is that the political rot overlaps with leftist goals. I doubt that a liberal critic can rise to the challenge presented by Obama and his, if not the journalist’s, friends.
I’ve had the thought that Kirsten Powers might be the liberal counterpart to the conservative George Will of 1973. Powers would have it easier than Will did. In mid-career, she is already a star, and calling out the Obama administration might even serve to enhance her career.
I have the feeling she will let me down before long, but in the meantime, here is to Kirsten Powers and “How hope and change gave way to spying on the press.” Ms. Powers, you might even want to follow up with a look at the administration’s incredibly destructive national security leaks — leaks regarding the Stuxnet virus and the Seal Team 6 raid that killed bin Laden, to take two examples offered by Victor Davis Hanson — in the service of its transient political goals.
UPDATE: As I think about it, I am almost certain that I was recalling Jeffrey Hart’s account of Will’s tenure at NR in his terrific personal history of the magazine, The Making of the American Conservative Mind. I will have to return to this subject when I have my copy of Professor Hart’s book in hand.