We’re Off to See the Wizard – Charles Krauthammer Revealed

by Harvey Asher, Ph.D. on January 13, 2014

in BOOKS, POLITICS, REVIEWS

krauthammer things that matter cover Things That Matter, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer’s latest series of essays, for the most part previously published in the Washington Post, soared to the top of best seller lists in 2013. The collection’s popularity rides on his record of being stylistically engaging, sometimes humorous, and seemingly compassionate, logical, and objective. For admirers like conservative blogger Tom Tillison, now Senior Writer/Editor at BizPac Review.com, Krauthammer is “arguably the sharpest conservative mind in politics today.”

Sharp he is, but more is involved than intellect. Krauthammer is quite clever in presenting himself as thoughtful and objective. He’s willing to criticize positions taken by other conservatives – Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck among them – who are given to high emotion, ideological rigidity, and mean-spiritedness. But in the end, Krauthammer turns out to be a wizard creating illusions of wisdom from behind a curtain of questionable premises and inconclusive facts.

Among the columns included in this latest book is a 1990 essay, “The Real Message of Creationism,” in which Krauthammer acknowledges that creationism “which presents Genesis as literally true, is not science,” and that the teaching of creationism “has no part in the science curriculum of any serious country.” Having thrown a sop to advocates of the scientific method, he then changes course, condoning the decision of the Kansas Board of Education to eliminate the teaching of evolution from the state science curriculum. This decision, he explains, was based not on ignorance, but on resentment at the absence of religious values in the schools. Hence, creationist lobbyists are understandable in seeking a ban on evolution because they are using that approach as a back door to restoring religion to its rightful place in the curriculum.

Krauthammer concludes that “a healthy country would teach its students about both evolution and the Ten Commandments.” One could almost allow him that, but then comes the clincher: Values eroded in the first place, he opines, because secularists used biology as a back door to inculcating their anti-American values, specifically by deceptively pushing for sex education classes. In the blink of an eye Krauthammer has moved from rejecting creationism as bad science to empathizing with Kansas anti-evolutionists for waging the good fight against the forces of darkness. The ends justify the means, and, anyway, nyah-nyah-nyah, they cheated first!

Another example of Krauthammer’s sleight of hand can be seen in “Decline Is a Choice,” a column that first appeared in 2009. Again, first comes the nod to those critical of capitalism as a distribution system: “There’s much to be said for the decency and relative equality of social democracy.” Then it’s down to business. The cost of some sort of social democracy — that is, greater focus on the needs of the poor — is too dear, he insists, because we live in a Hobbesian state of nature, a world of continual war and violence. Social democratic programs, however desirable they may be, exact too high a price “on our primacy in space, on missile defense, on energy security, and on our military capacities and future power projection.” Moreover, “at a time when hundreds of billions of dollars are being lavished on stimulus and other appropriations in an endless array of domestic programs, the defense budget is practically frozen.”

And so, by an act of legerdemain, Krauthammer shows us the needs of the poor and then makes them disappear. Military expenditures must not be curtailed if we wish to preserve our benign hegemon which keeps the international community stable. An expanded domestic agenda is not a “peace dividend”; in a world without peace, it is “a retreat dividend.” And “if we choose the life of ease [his phrase, apparently, for greater economic equality], who stands guard for us?”

In short, poverty is lamentable, but the poor simply have to be sacrificed to keep us safe.

Krauthammer is not without compassion, though. One of his essays laments the genetic ruin of border collies and another celebrates the miraculous resurrection of the baseball career of Rick Ankiel, the failed pitcher who reinvented himself as a successful outfielder.

Launching into a recent column entitled “Massacre at Newtown,” Krauthammer tells us he supported the 1994 Congressional ban on assault weapons. Then comes the switcheroo. Turns out that unless “you are prepared to confiscate all existing firearms, disarm the citizenry, and repeal the Second Amendment, it’s almost impossible to craft a law that will be effective.” He explains that the problem with gun control is not just NRA opposition. Equally, if not more, at fault are groups like the ACLU whose objections to censorship legitimized glamorized violence in the world of entertainment. Hence, the NRA and the entertainment industry bear similar responsibility for gun violence.

But has anyone ever been shot by a movie?

Throughout his essays, Krauthammer repeatedly misinterprets facts or clings to falsities despite clear evidence to the contrary. Just a few more brief examples:

* George W. Bush allowed only 22 lines of existing stem cells, many of them contaminated, to be used in research, yet Krauthammer considers Bush to be a generous promoter of federal funding for stem cell research, a conclusion at odds with the judgment of all experts in the field.

* Despite revelations that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Krauthammer continues to believe in the wisdom of the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam, who, in his words, held “the threat of mass death on a scale never before seen in the hands of a madman.”

* “Whatever their misgivings about the cost and wisdom of these wars (Iraq and Afghanistan),” he asserts, “the American people know how deep and authentic is the American devotion to liberty.” Well, sure, but should devotion to liberty trump all costs and wisdom?

I don’t think Krauthammer is being cynical in putting forth his arguments. I think he believes he sees all sides clearly and draws the “right” conclusions. (Pun intended.) And although the Wizard of Oz was eventually revealed to be a small man behind a curtain, he was still the one and only Wizard of Oz. By the same token, in no way are my observations meant to challenge Charles Krauthammer’s reputation as “the sharpest conservative mind in politics today.”

Consider the competition.

Harvey Asher

After receiving his doctorate from Indiana University, Harvey Asher taught a variety of courses in history and interdisciplinary studies for thirty-five years at Drury University, a liberal arts school in Springfield, Missouri. His articles on themes in Russian history, American history, and the Holocaust have appeared in the Russian Review, Kritika, the Journal of Genocide Research, the Russian Dictionary, the SHARF Newsletter, Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia, and Lessons and Legacies of the Holocaust. He is also the author of The Drury Story Continues, an informal but thorough history of the school.

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