At least a quarter century past his sell-by date as a credible columnist, George Will is still churning it out for the Washington Post syndicate. Recently, he looked down from his unchanging tower and pronounced that the savior for conservatism is...Doug Ducey.
With the Republicans facing at least a temporary but stunning Waterloo in their attempt to take health insurance from 24 million Americans, Will sought a quantum of solace in Goldwater country. He wrote, "Today’s governor, Doug Ducey, is demonstrating the continuing pertinence of the limited-government conservatism with which Sen. Goldwater shaped the modern GOP, after himself being shaped by life in the leave-me-alone spirit of the wide open spaces of near-frontier Arizona."
The column is worth reading if for no other reason than the skill with which Will elides over the facts. Here are a few:
• Arizona is hardly a creation of "the leave-me-alone spirit of the wide open spaces." Instead, it required the U.S. Army to brutally pacify the Apache, Yavapai, and other Indian tribes. Second was federal land grants for railroads. Third was billions of dollars in federal reclamation to turn the Salt River Valley into American Eden and then a place where millions could live in subdivision pods thanks to cheap water and power. Fourth was the New Deal funding that saved Phoenix, especially, and Arizona more broadly from the Great Depression.
Fifth was the Cold War military spending that created the tech economy in Phoenix and Tucson. And don't forget federal flood-control money that allowed developers to lay down tract houses in what would otherwise be flood plains. Oh, and federal home-loan support and the GI Bill, authored by Arizona's Ernest McFarland, were essential for further subsidizing the state's massive post-World War II population influx.
• Goldwater. Will never mentions how Barry opposed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Barry gets a pass as a simple offspring of the frontier. In fact, he inherited a department store chain. He was a rich man, handsome and glamorous, who ran with a fast crowd, including mobsters. He was a prominent attendee at the funeral of Gus Greenbaum, after the latter was whacked by the Chicago Outfit.
Most of Goldwater's time as a senator was spent representing a rapidly urbanizing state. All along the way, he had his hand out, from federal funds to preserve Camelback Mountain to the massive public expenditures necessary for the Central Arizona Project. Barry would be horrified by today's Kookocracy and Donald Trump in the White House, but he let this nihilistic monster loose on America.
• Ducey. Will roasts the governor's chestnut that "he cheekily calls California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown 'my partner in growing Arizona’s economy,' because California’s business climate is a powerful incentive for firms to relocate in Arizona." In fact, California's economy is among the strongest in the nation, the home to Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego (see, for example, this). Arizona is a back-office backwater that underperforms by virtually every measure of economic and social health (see Arizona's Continuing Crisis), especially given its size. This is the consequence of conservatism applied to a state.
Doug Ducey has helped ensure that Arizona has one of the nation's worst school systems, having difficulty attracting teachers while the Kooks get rich off the charter school racket. They also enrich themselves off the private-prison racket. He had his hand out for Obamacare, hardly the "conservatism" Will has in mind. On the other hand, his presiding over the cruelest public assistance program in the nation has done nothing to help Arizona's large population of working poor "bootstrap themselves" into north Scottsdale affluence. Meanwhile, climate change is bearing down in the state with catastrophic consequences — and Ducey is doing nothing.
Last year, Will famously left the Republican Party over the Short-Fingered Vulgarian. Few followed him. As Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine:
The point is not at all to gloat at the failure of anti-Trump conservatives, but to explain the source of their error. You can’t heal an illness you’ve diagnosed improperly. Anti-Trump conservatives deluded themselves about the source of conservatism’s electoral appeal. Trump’s long list of deviations from party orthodoxy — on health care, abortion, support for the Clintons — would have destroyed a normal candidacy, the way Rick Perry’s support for humane treatment of undocumented immigrants killed his candidacy in 2012.
Why did Republican primary voters forgive Trump’s heresies? Because the power of the charge of un-conservative behavior is the implication that you are not really on our side. Trump proved to the party base he was one of them through his racism, sexism, and blunt nationalism.
Now Will, a snappy dresser at least, is casting about for the True Faith in its birthplace. The trouble is, the reality of Goldwater conservatism has ruined Arizona. It's a wreck, a model for nobody.