Have you ever noticed that George Will is essentially unchanged from the way he looked forty years ago? The years have definitely taken their toll on the interviewer, but Will's appearance, like his politics, is essentially unchanged. George is a conservative rock, unmoved by the chaos raging around him.
When President and Mrs. Reagan came to dinner at Will's house, which they did with some regularity, it marked the near-perfect intersection between Republican power and conservative ideology.
Today, Will said, "conservatism is frankly a persuasion without a party," he said. "Now, there are worse things. It's not the terrible orphan in a windy, cold world. It's a proud profession. And it will find new advocates."
None more devoted than Will. Although he would be the first to acknowledge that the political winds, especially within the Republican Party, have shifted. "I have written approaching 6,000 columns since 1973," he said. "And if power is properly defined as the ability to achieve intended effects, I've got no power that I can see. The country resolutely refuses to do what I tell it to do!"
What Will has told the country in this country is not to vote again for Donald Trump.
Koppel asked, "So, if you're not gonna vote for Donald Trump, who's left?"
"In the binary choice – and it will be a binary choice in 2020 – it seems to me if you're a conservative, and if you can assume, and it's a rash assumption, you know, Republican control of the Senate, so that not much will happen – it seems reasonable to begin to heal our political culture by replacing the current president."
Will concedes that the president has appointed some solid, conservative judges, but gives him little or no personal credit.
"Well, there's the 'But Gorsuch …' side, which is, 'OK, he's this, this and this, but they got some Supreme Court justices,'" said Will. "No small thing. But it's really not his judgment. He outsourced that to the Federalist Society, of which I am a proud member, and they produced the kind of list they would produce for any Republican president. And he, in an almost unprecedented act of good judgment, decided to follow their lead."
Koppel asked, "You're gonna question the motivation, or you're gonna relish the results?"
"Relish the results," Will replied.
"There you go."
George Will has persisted, over the years, as a complicated personality with a curious appeal even to those who've never read his column or have any clue as to what he's talking about.
For as long as most people can remember, Will has crafted his twice-weekly, 750-word columns on issues small and great. And he rarely equivocates; you know exactly where he stands.
Koppel asked, "Are there any reasons other than the life of the mother that is threatened that in your mind would validate abortion?"
"Rape, incest, life of the mother," Will replied.
It's not just an academic issue for Will. He has a particularly clear memory of the day his son, Jonathan, was born: "Jon was born on May 4th – my birthday – in 1972. The next day, the doctor came in and said, 'You have a Down syndrome child. The first thing you have to consider is, are you going to take him home?' And his mother and I said, 'We thought we would – that was sort of an American tradition, take children home from the hospital!'"
In 1972, the life expectancy of a child with Down syndrome was about 20 years. Jon has recently turned 47.
Will said, "I'm bound to say that most people, when they become pregnant with a Down syndrome child today get them aborted, which I think is a shame. I think the world would be a nicer, sweeter, happier place if there were more people like Jon."
Jon has a job these days working in the clubhouse of the Washington National's baseball team. You may have heard: George Will likes baseball. On the wall of Will's office is what he might consider an improvement on Michelangelo's famous painting in which God is conveying the gift of a divine spirit to Adam. In this version the gift is, of course, a baseball.
Koppel said, "That sort of reflects your insanity, doesn't it, George?"
"Yes. I've said so often that I only write about politics to support my baseball habit, which is really, it's severe. My wedding ring, which I designed myself, has the major league baseball logo on it."
"How does your wife feel about that?"
"It was part of the deal," he smiled.
Before or after? "Before!"
Every twenty years or so, Will takes Koppel to a major league ballpark in a futile effort to turn him into a baseball fan.
When asked if he'd ever played the game himself, Will replied, "Briefly, and very badly, for the Mittendorf Funeral Home Panthers, a Little League team in Champaign, Illinois. Our color was, needless to say, black.
Will insists that the common theme, linking baseball and democracy is the opportunity for argument. "If you don't like to argue, you're not a good American. Get two baseball fans and you'll have an argument about anything. 'Who's the best left-handed pitcher from northwest South Dakota?' It'll be an argument."
"And that excites you?" Koppel asked.
"Well, I love to argue. I'm paid to argue! It's my vocation, is argument."
Argument! Animating democracy and baseball, the twin passions bubbling just beneath the surface of this seemingly placid man.
Koppel said, "Which actually raises a question I meant to ask you before anyway. Your notion of God. Are you a believer?"
"No," he replied.
"Atheist, or agnostic?"
"I have described myself as an amiable, low-voltage atheist," Will said.
"But you have no sense of eternity in that?"
"No. No, this is enough."
"This is it?"
"That's right! 750 words and I'm outta here!" he laughed.
For more info:
- George F. Will at The Washington Post
- "The Conservative Sensibility" by George F. Will (Hachette), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon
Story produced by Dustin Stephens.