At BYU, George Will decries 'decadent democracy,' worries with LDS about religious liberty

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 22 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, discusses The Political Argument Today at a Brigham Young University forum Oct. 22 in the Marriott Center.

Marcos Escalona, BYU

PROVO — George Will felt old Tuesday as he prepared to speak to students at BYU about limited government, financial responsibility and family disintegration.

The renowned columnist and familiar television face felt old because he'd been to BYU before, but no one could remember when exactly he was here, not him, not his office, not BYU officials.

"It was the late '70s or early '80s," he said as students arrived for Tuesday's speech. "I may have talked to their parents."

But feeling old doesn't bother the fit, vibrant 72-year-old. "I like being in my 70s. There's a kind of calm that descends. You're not as excited by every ripple in the pond in Washington."

Even ripples as large as the recent government shutdown and the showdown over the government debt ceiling. Considered national crises by many Americans, neither event changed the trajectory of what is happening in the nation's capital, Will said.

Will applied his age-related calm, his 40 years as a nationally syndicated columnist and the broad context of history to make the argument that Washington is not broken but engaged in a major debate about the role of government in the lives of Americans.

"For all the talk about the discord in Washington," he said, " … the temperatures are high because the stakes are high. For all the argument about that, America's biggest problem today is a consensus that is as broad as the Republic and as deep as the Grand Canyon, and the consensus is we should have a large, generous, omnipresent, omniprovident welfare state and not pay for it. Everyone's agreed on this. The costs should be fobbed off on future generations."

Speaking for 43 minutes from notes on a few cards to an audience of 2,245, the Fox news contributor argued for limited government, the opposite of the current Washington trajectory he said will lead to financial and moral problems.

"What we are practicing today is a kind of decadent democracy," he said. "We used to run deficits to borrow for the future. We borrowed to win wars for the future, build roads, highways and airports for future generations. Today we borrow from the future, to finance our own current consumption. This is a fundamental immorality, if you will, burdening the unconsenting and unpresent future generations with the costs of our appetites. The problem is that we are 'wealing' a network of dependency, making Americans more and more dependent, in more and more ways, on government we really are not paying for."

Walking back and forth across the stage on the floor of the Marriott Center, Will used baseball stories, quotes and data — 49 percent of Americans receiving a government benefit — to make his points.

"The problem is the government is putting in front of the American people an increasingly rich menu of temptations," he said, "de-stigmatizing dependence on the state in an attempt to change first social norms and then our national character."

For example, he pointed to what he called the two largest financial decisions the average American parent makes — to get a mortgage and to get a tuition loan to send children to college — and pointed out that "these are now transactions with the federal government."

He said the United States is nearing a tipping point "at which a majority of Americans are related to the government either as the government's employees or the government's clients," and at which the private sector is suffocated.

Will said government needs to rein in health costs, fix Social Security by indexing it to life expectancy and simplify the tax code so tax returns can fit on a postcard.

He also talked about income inequality and tied it to the disintegration of the family.

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