George F’in Will
May 3rd, 2012

Like watching Mantle in his prime:

Jon was born just 19 years after James Watson and Francis Crick published their discoveries concerning the structure of DNA, discoveries that would enhance understanding of the structure of Jon, whose every cell is imprinted with Down syndrome. Jon was born just as prenatal genetic testing, which can detect Down syndrome, was becoming common. And Jon was born eight months before Roe v. Wadeinaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies.

This era has coincided, not just coincidentally, with the full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby. So today science enables what the ethos ratifies, the choice of killing children with Down syndrome before birth. That is what happens to 90 percent of those whose parents receive a Down syndrome diagnosis through prenatal testing.

And then:

This year Jon will spend his birthday where every year he spends 81 spring, summer and autumn days and evenings, at Nationals Park, in his seat behind the home team’s dugout. The Phillies will be in town, and Jon will be wishing them ruination, just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball.

It amazes me that George Will is still capable of writing like this, after thirty-plus years of filing two columns a week. I think it’s pretty clear that he’s the best columnist of his generation–this isn’t even a close call, to my mind. But I wonder where he ranks on the all-time list. It has to be very, very high.

Update: Galley Friend M.W. passes along something I don’t think I’ve ever seen: SNL’s “George F. Will: Sports Machine.” Don’t drink anything while watching. Being. And becoming.


  1. ChrisinTampa May 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for posting…I’m going to check out the rest of that article…

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  3. Galley Wife May 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    One of the best closing lines of an essay I’ve read in a long time.

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  5. Ben May 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    As a writer, Will ranks atop the list of political columnists. The only people superior in my view are in different arenas of work.

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  7. Galley Friend L.B. May 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Best columnist of his generation, no doubt. There are others who shine brighter in particular areas — e.g., the late Bob Novak’s shoeleather reporting, Charles Krauthammer’s relentlessly logical demolitions of the latest liberal talking points. But none can match Will’s combination: the force of his arguments, the breadth of his subject matter and interests, and the concentrated power and elegance of his prose. To use a baseball metaphor that Will would appreciate, he is the columnist’s version of the “5-tool-player.”

    One thing I’ve always admired about his writing, and what helps him to achieve such powerful effects in a mere 700 words, is his liberal use of allusion — invaluable to anyone working under such a strict word count. Alas, this approach requires a readership with a baseline of common literary references; I recall seeing Will lament the growing lack of this somewhere not too long ago. Case in point: 15-20 years ago, he wouldn’t have felt the need to explicitly identify Blanche DuBois/Streetcar when using the phrase “depend upon the kindness of strangers” as he does in this column.

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  9. gfaw May 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    He’s no Matthew Yglesias.

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  11. Mike May 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I bet he’s not even on Twitter.

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  13. Dr. Jonathan Crane May 5, 2012 at 4:44 am

    I’ve never even seen Will in a fury of rage.

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  15. Galley Friend J.E. May 4, 2012 at 11:03 am

    It’s safe to say that his prime has lasted a magnitude longer than SNL’s. Every show now is Willie Mays falling down in the Mets’ outfield.

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  17. gfaw May 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    “It’s safe to say that his prime has lasted a magnitude longer than SNL’s.”

    People have been saying that ever since the 1908s. Twenty years from now, people will complain that SNL peaked with Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen, and that it just hasn’t been the same since.

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  19. Nedward May 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Nobody will admit that the show actually improved at the tail end of the 90s. This was demonstrable under lab conditions because about half of Comedy Central’s schedule was formerly given over to SNL re-runs (other 1/2 was Kids In The Hall re-runs). Of course it has since worsened again.

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  21. gfaw May 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    OK, since the 1980s. I exaggerated slightly with the “1908s” bit.

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  23. Galley Friend J.E. May 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Well, people saying something doesn’t make it true. One significant reason that it’s so bad now is the number of commercials. In the earliest days, the 90 minutes were 65-70 minutes of show. Now the ratio seems inverse, which makes it difficult to establish a rhythm in either the performing or watching. Imagine a standup comedian whose act was interrupted every eight minutes for a commercial.

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  25. Nedward May 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I don’t especially care for his arch prose style but he’s compelling and readable more often than most. I think it comes from his evident perk of not having to write on the topic du jour. Very few can excel at summarizing ephemera every week and it’d be better for everyone if, e.g., David Brooks stuck to subjects that interested him.

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  27. Cal May 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    It was a wonderful article, but the worst thing about it was that I vividly remember reading about Jon’s 21st birthday, in another wonderful article, so I am very, very old.

    I haven’t been able to find an online source for that piece; does one exist?

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  29. Galley Friend A September 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    I shouldn’t have watched that while sitting in a library…