Where do you go to find optimism when you've played Little League baseball in a black uniform for the Mittendorf Funeral Home Panthers?
If you're Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will, you look within yourself. "I always speak until I can think of something cheerful to say," the 66-year-old Will said Sept. 25 as the guest speaker at the 26th annual University of Nevada, Reno Foundation Banquet.
A Washington Post columnist for 33 years and founding panel member of the popular, quarter-century-old This Week series on ABC television, Will entertained his audience at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks with political and economic observations focusing on the rapid changes transforming the United States. He also found time to sprinkle in occasional baseball anecdotes, nurturing a first love that prompted him to joke, "My wedding ring has the Major League Baseball logo on it."
Will said protecting capitalism and the economic assets it produces are paramount for the United States.
"We have problems in America, but none that we cannot solve," Will said. "The year 2008 will be the first year in American history that the health care expenses of Fortune 500 companies will be larger than their profits.
"Capitalism does not just make us better off. It makes us better," he added.
Will, wearing a pinstriped suit jacket and gesturing occasionally as he walked back and forth across the Rose Ballroom stage, told several baseball stories, explaining he writes about politics to support his baseball habit.
"When it comes to political philosophy, I subscribe to the Zeke Bonura philosophy," he said of the slow-moving, strong-hitting and long-forgotten White Sox, Giants, Senators and Cubs outfielder of the 1930s and '40s. "You will not be charged with an error, if you do not touch the ball."
That credo kept Will from making a spontaneous prediction on the outcome of the 2008 presidential race, a contest he called "a clarifying election" for the country. However, he was quick to observe, "Americans like to change parties controlling their government. It's going to be a close election and the stakes are high. Neither party seems to be addressing that."
Before Will's speech, Bourne Morris, a professor at the University's Reynolds School of Journalism since 1983, said that she and her husband, Bob Buss, were optimistic about the speaker.
"I hope he'll be provoking thought," she said. "I know he loves baseball and he loves politics. I'm more interested in politics, so I hope he will talk about that more."
Buss said he could relate to Will's point of view.
"He is the most factual man that appears on that program," Buss said of Will's Sunday TV work on This Week. "I think he's a very thoughtful guy. On the program, he balances the right side of the spectrum and, in my estimation, he seems to have more facts than anybody else."