The Insights of Charles Krauthammer
One Sunday night in early November I watched Bret Baier's Special Report in which he interviewed Charles Krauthammer. In responding to a question about his inclusion in his book, Things That Matter, a 2007 column about baseball player Rick Ankeil's fall and return to the major leagues, Krauthammer responded with a reference to a line from that article: "...the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter. Every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether -- and how -- we ever come back."
Several hours later, I had a terrible accident. As it was occurring, my awareness that something bad was about to happen brought that line front and center in my consciousness. And Krauthammer's words -- more precisely, his life story -- inspired me to make my injury a defining moment from which I would recover and proceed to focus on the "things that matter."
Krauthammer explained in a 2011 column that "...if we don't get politics right, everything else risks extinction." Simple yet poignant; he could have started and ended the book there. But as I lay in bed reading Things That Matter, something struck me. Out of almost every piece included in the book (88 columns spanning three decades), there was a thought or statement that is just as relevant today as when first written.
As we ring in yet another year of disaster under the Obama administration, and predictions for 2014 from pundits and journalists taken to engage in such predilections overwhelm our inboxes, Krauthammer's prescient insights and sheer brilliance scream from each page. Here are some of my favorites (in the order in which they appear) and why I believe they are relevant today:
● Krauthammer's disgust with domestic terrorist Katherine Ann Power (who turned herself in for the murder of a policeman and father of nine "in order to live with full authenticity in the present" rather than out of remorse) is apparent as he observes
In an age where the word sin has become quaint - reserved for such offenses against hygiene as smoking and drinking... surrendering to the authorities for armed robbery and manslaughter is not an act of repentance but of personal growth.
Krauthammer wrote that column in 1993, 15 years before Barack Obama would saunter into the White House due, in part, to Americans ignoring his relationship with unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.
● In writing about the brouhaha over Rudy Giuliani's threats to shut down a 1999 art exhibit that celebrated the "blasphemous, the criminal and the decadent," Krauthammer recognized that
Self-respect is a hopelessly bourgeois value. The avant-garde lives by a code of fearless audacity and uncompromising authenticity. And endless financial support... Why are we being forced to subsidize willful, offensive banality?
Krauthammer not only points out the moral decline of a culture that today breeds endless reality TV shows in which the Kardashians' and Desperate Housewives' public displays of dysfunction are commonplace while Miley Cyrus twerks her way to stardom. He is also offended that taxpayers are often financially responsible for behavior they find immoral (today, in the form of Obamacare's contraception and abortifacient mandates).
● "The Inner Man? Who Cares" written in 1999 just after new Nixon Watergate tapes were released is highly pertinent in light of an electorate that became enamored with a man they deemed their messiah based on empty rhetoric. Addressing the Nixon bashing that took place after his private thoughts became public, Krauthammer stated:
To think that one can decipher the inner life of some distant public figure is folly....
"Know thyself" is a highly overrated piece of wisdom. As for knowing the self of others, forget it. Know what they do and judge them by their works.
Had Americans taken Krauthammer's advice, Obama's postage stamp-sized resume, mysterious past, and questionable associations would have prevented him from winning the primary let alone the presidency.
● In 1983, Krauthammer published a column forTime entitled "The Mirror-Image Fallacy" in which he addresses "plural solipsism" -- the belief that the whole world is like me. In the age of obsession with political correctness, "Coexist" bumper stickers, and a president who believes his dynamic personality can heal the planet, Krauthammer's insights ring true. People suffering from this solipsism are the very ones who elected Obama on the basis that
If people everywhere, from Savannah to Sevastopol, share the same hopes and dreams and fears and love of children..., they should get along. And if they don't then there must be some misunderstanding, some misperception, some problem of communication.
If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran is taken over, Americans are bewildered....
Other messages from exotic cultures are never received at all. The more virulent pronouncements of Third World countries are dismissed as mere rhetoric. The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow...
Krauthammer reasons that the U.S.
might have spared itself [certain humiliations in the Mideast] if it had not in the first place imagined that underneath those kaffiyehs are folks just like us, sharing our aims and views.
Those who have long held a mirror to the world and seen only themselves are apt to be shocked and panicked when the mirror is removed, as inevitably it must be.
The problem today is that by the time the mirror is removed by those in this administration who believe that Iranians, Syrians, Palestinians, and the like want peace with Israel, America and the West, it will be too late to reverse and contain the damage.
● Krauthammer observed in a 1985 column that Halley's Comet is "the grandest reminder that an individual can behold of the constancy of nature. This because of its cycle; It returns about every 75 years, once in a lifetime." (Is this cycle any different than that of the evil that consistently rears its ugly head throughout history?) He then promises, "The ice age will be back too." Al Gore conveniently ignored this column when peddling his global warming fear mongering.
● Krauthammer made a 2007 prediction that "If [Bush's] successors don't screw it up, within 10 years NASA will have us back to where we belong -- on other worlds." Five years later, he observed, "Is there a better symbol of willed American decline" than the voluntary "interment" of the space shuttle program. This is all the more poignant as China celebrates its first lunar landing (something to which Krauthammer ironically alludes in his final essay written four years ago), Iran brags of its second launch of a monkey into space, and Obama, clearly screwing it up, has relegated NASA to reaching "out to the Muslim world... to help them feel good...."
● In another 2011 column Krauthammer recognized that Martin Luther King Jr.'s
leadership, moral imagination and strategic genius... turned his own deeply Christian belief that 'unearned suffering is redemptive' into a creed of nonviolence that he carved into America's political consciousness.
Contrast this with Obama's own ("Goddamn America") church experience and "leadership" of an America in which racial tensions have soared and relations have been set back decades.
● As John Kerry heads back to the Mideast on his Don Quixote-like quest for peace, it would serve him well to read Krauthammer's 2011 column entitled "Land Without Peace." This is relevant with regard to the brokering of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians as well as the recent Geneva Agreement with Iran. Krauthammer reasons that if the Palestinians were to accept a deal with Israel, it would require them to "sign a final peace agreement that accepted a Jewish state on what they consider the Muslim patrimony." He continues:
The key word here is final. The Palestinians are quite prepared to sign interim agreements, like Oslo Framework agreements, like Annapolis. Cease-fires, like the 1949 armistice. Anything but a final deal. Anything but a final peace. Anything but a treaty that ends the conflict once and for all -- while leaving a Jewish state still standing.
As the administration pressures Israel to commit "national suicide" on behalf of the Palestinians, it simultaneously ignores the fact that the Iranians will never sign a final deal relinquishing their right to enrich uranium. In doing so, it is helping the country that has sworn to annihilate the "rabid dogs" in their midst achieve that goal.
● In 2006, Krauthammer took to task liberal American Jews who "are seized with the notion that the real threat lurks deep in the hearts of American Protestants, most specifically southern evangelicals." He concludes "it is a sign of the disorientation of a distressed and confused people that we should find it so difficult to distinguish our friends from our enemies." This column was written two years prior to those same Jews helping Obama win -- two times.
● On the serenity of the '90's, Krauthammer shared,
I recently told an assembly at my son's high school that they were living through a time so blessed they would tell their grandchildren about it. They looked at me uncomprehendingly....
With every passing month of such profound tranquility and prosperity, the implausibility of these times becomes all the more striking.
Golden ages never last.
● In the face of Obama's Geneva Agreement with Iran, Krauthammer's 2004 essay recognizing that "an Agreed Framework on plutonium processing with the likes of North Korea is not worth the paper it is written on" is a must read. One of the best lines pertaining to a foreign policy based on realism is "America is the land mine between barbarism and civilization."
● Krauthammer's final essay entitled "Decline is a Choice (2009)" has the disadvantage of having been written prior to Obama's second win. America has chosen decline and it did so by voting for American passivity, retreat, and failed leadership after a four-year record of "empirical evidence" (the stuff that led to Krauthammer's evolution from a Democrat to a Republican and what has led any thinking person to follow in his footsteps) proving what Obama's critics have been saying for years. But Krauthammer did recognize that
Facing the choice of whether to maintain our dominance or to gradually, deliberately, willingly and indeed relievedly give it up, we are currently on a course toward the latter.
Krauthammer observed that Obama's foreign policy is one
designed to produce American decline -- to make America essentially one nation among many. And for that purpose, its domestic policies are perfectly complimentary.
But he recognized that the Europeans
can afford social democracy without the capacity to defend themselves because they can always depend on the Untied States....
Europe can eat, drink and be merry for America protects her. But for America it's different. If we choose the life of ease, who stands guard for us?
He concludes his book with a bit of advice which, based on his foresight over the decades since we have been blessed with his wisdom, is certainly worth serious consideration:
Resist retreat as a matter of strategy and principle. And provide the means to continue our dominant role in the world by keeping our economic house in order.... And finally, ..."...Don't do what [we] are doing now."
What are the things that matter? Each of us has our own personal passions -- for Krauthammer they consist of "science, medicine, art, poetry, architecture, chess, space, sports, [and] number theory" to name just a few. But "in the end, they must bow to the sovereignty of politics." Krauthammer, like all those who have contributed to America's exceptionalism, recognizes that great societies have been created -- and endured -- due to the selfless passions of those whose perspective transcends their personal gratification. Does it take that one moment, the fatal encounter, to create such individuals? Perhaps not in such a dramatic fashion but easy street is certainly not the path to greatness. A society of self-entitled, indulgent, and narcissistic personalities focused on progressive dreams has proven to lead to decline. A society of citizens focused inward, blissfully ignorant of human nature and the evils determined to destroy them, is doomed to be banished to the annals of history. But history's lessons are at the fingertips of all who are open to learn. Reading Things That Matter is perhaps a cheat sheet -- the Cliff Notes version -- for those interested in helping the greatest nation in the history of mankind endure.