Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, essayist, and author George F. Will delivered a rousing keynote address on Thursday, Feb. 9, during the 2012 AAOS Annual Meeting. The self-described “gloomy conservative” railed against everything from Republicans’ lack of attention to the growing contingent of Hispanic voters to problems with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Joking that the only reason he writes about politics is to “support his baseball habit,” Mr. Will lamented that his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, is “in the one hundred and fourth year of its rebuilding effort,” not having won the World Series since 1908.
AAOS Now: What has surprised you about the race for the Republican presidential nomination so far?
Mr. Will: The process itself has been surprising, as has the central role of debates, which is both good and bad. Debates are bad in that they let some people who have no business being on stage take advantage of free media—Herman Cain, for one. On the other hand, you like to have a process with low barriers to entry so that someone like Rick Santorum can start out just using shoe leather and have a chance to break through.
I’ve been astonished by the depth of resistance on the part of the American majority to the front-runner. Mitt Romney has to be the weakest frontrunner at this stage—in February—that I can remember.
AAOS Now: And yet, would you say that Mr. Romney is the “inevitable” Republican candidate?
Mr. Will: Beware the word “inevitable.” Romney just got clobbered [in Republican voting contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri]. He did not win a county in Minnesota, lost in 16 of the 62 counties in Colorado, and got beaten 2 to 1 in Missouri.
AAOS Now: Were you surprised by the support for Mr. Santorum in Colorado, considering that Mr. Romney won the 2008 Republican caucuses in Colorado with 60 percent of the vote?
Mr. Will: No, because caucuses reward those who care enough to get out of their homes and go to a meeting—that’s why Ron Paul does well in caucuses. They require a kind of intensity that the Romney people don’t have. Romney just hasn’t connected.
AAOS Now: What would a Romney presidency look like?
Mr. Will: It would be managerial, and it would try to improve things at the margins. He’s not the man for people who think there’s something fundamentally out of whack in Washington, and that is why he’s having trouble. I think Mr. Romney gives the impression that he thinks what’s wrong in Washington is that he isn’t running it.
AAOS Now: If Mr. Romney wins the presidency, what do you think would happen with health care, given the parallels between the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) signed into law by President Obama and the plan enacted under Mr. Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts?
Mr. Will: If Romney is the president, Congress still makes the laws. In the first place, he has pledged to repeal PPACA. You’ll never again get 60 votes in the Senate to do what President Obama did.
AAOS Now: If it were up to you, what would you do with the money freed up by troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Mr. Will: I’d spend more on some things than the government is spending, such as infrastructure—roads, airports, and such. If there was any money left over, I would pay down the debt.
AAOS Now: You’ve written that PPACA “leaves states this agonizing choice: Allow expanded Medicaid to devastate your budgets or abandon the poor.” Can you elaborate?
Mr. Will: Medicaid is a so-called “voluntary plan.” When states signed on to Medicaid, they had no idea this was coming down the pike 40 years later. But now they’re stuck—there’s really no way to extricate themselves.
AAOS Now: In late March, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of PPACA and other issues pertaining to it. What will the implications of the ruling be?
Mr. Will: It’s huge. It’s not just the individual mandate—it’s the Medicaid coercion of the states that’s being litigated. They have set aside 5-and-a-half hours for oral argument, the most in 40 or 50 years. [Editor’s note: On Feb. 22, the Supreme Court added another 30 minutes to the time scheduled for arguments on PPACA, for a total of 6 hours.]
There’s the question of severability, that is, if you strike down one portion of the law, does the whole law go down? And whether or not they say it, if you strike down the individual mandate to have health insurance, the whole law does go down, because that’s the linchpin.
AAOS Now: What is a logical alternative to PPACA?
Mr. Will: Basically, John McCain had it right, which is interesting because domestic policy isn’t that interesting to him. Give people more ownership of their health care. Let them compete across state lines in buying healthcare insurance, and give them a large tax credit to turn them into shoppers, which, by the way, will make them conscious of how much of our healthcare bill is optional, in the sense that it’s the result of known risky behaviors—the way we eat, smoke, and drive—all of that.
AAOS Now: Switching gears, how are the Cubs going to do this year?
Mr. Will: Terrible. Thank God for Houston.
AAOS Now: What do you think about the recent acquisition of Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations, who was general manager of the Boston Red Sox when the team won its first World Series in 86 years in 2004?
Mr. Will: Theo Epstein is worth the millions of dollars they’re paying him. It’s going to take him 4 or 5 years, but they will get there. They need better players—it’s not complicated.
AAOS Now: So there’s hope the Cubs will win a World Series at some point?
Mr. Will: “At some point” takes in a lot of territory. I would say sometime within the next 104 years.
Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com