Charles Krauthammer, Things That Matter (New York: Random House, LLC, 2013) 387 pages (hardback) $28.00
As a political pundit, Charles Krauthammer is one of the best. His syndicated column is published in 400 newspapers worldwide, and he is a nightly fixture as one of the talking heads on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. In short, he is very well known, well spoken, and consequently very successful. And when he is right, he is spot on, and someone you definitely would want to have on your debating team.
Therefore, I picked up his latest book, Things That Matter, with eager anticipation, expecting to be blown away by is erudition. The book, which is a compilation of essays going back three decades, I found to be rather uneven, and at times, exceedingly boring. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not, and never have been, a fan of essay compilations. Rather than developing a coherent theme with a start, middle and end, essay collections are, by their very nature, all over the map. Thus, when Krauthammer reflects upon the great game of baseball (The Joy of Losing) I am enthralled because I’m a baseball fan. But when a few pages later he waxes eloquent on Fermat’s Last Theorem, I have to ask myself if he is totally out of touch with his readership, where this essay “Fermat Solved” first appeared in a popular, mainstream national news publication; i.e. The Washington Post.
Now I suppose if Krauthammer was ever to respond to this review, he would conclude that the author is some kind of a rube who doesn’t understand the earth shattering significance of Fermat’s Last Theorem. And he would be right. The point is: know your audience and get yourself published where your writing will have an impact. Therefore, essays on Fermat belong in scientific journals where it can be read by people who can do something with the information and/or opinions offered.
Another problem with essay collections, aside from their inherent unevenness, is that they are an exceedingly lazy way to get a book published. Rather than come up with a new theme or issue which requires book length treatment, it is all too easy for an author with an extensive body of work, to just pull together what he or she thinks is the best stuff they have written (in this case over the past thirty years) slap a title on it, and presto! Watch the royalties roll in.
Nonetheless, essay collections can be valuable and, in the case of the baseball essay, very entertaining, provided you are a baseball fan. Ditto for his essays on Chess or a whole slew of other esoteric subjects that the reader may or may not have an interest in. Therefore, the title itself is misleading. Rather than Things That Matter, I would have preferred a more honest title, like Things That Matter To Me And Which Might Matter To You, Depending On Your Interests and Inclinations, although I can’t imagine such a title would do much to enhance sales.
One thing the book did succeed in doing was to get me to understand the real Krauthammer. Before reading it, I was under the impression that he was a stalwart, uncompromising, fiscal conservative, albeit somewhat of a foreign policy hawk. I got that impression by an essay where he was very complimentary towards Ron Paul, and where he delivered a sterling defense of the tea party movement at a lecture he delivered under the auspices ofHillsdaleCollege. Alas! I was wrong. The real Krauthammer is an inside the beltway Conservative who has made peace with the welfare/warfare state. For example, in discussing social security (“Of Course It’s a Ponzi Scheme”) he describes it as “the most vital, humane and fixable of all social programs.” Really? Since when is intergenerational theft on this massive scale in anyway vital or humane? When collections into the system go to cover and enable massive deficit spending, and when the return on collections (notice I didn’t call it an “investment”) is a mere fraction of what it would have been if invested by individuals in the private sector, then there is nothing remotely humane about it. On the contrary, it is a vast criminal enterprise which will hold future generations in financial bondage.
His solution to the fiscal precipice that social security is heading, is to raise the retirement age (makes sense) change the cost-of-living measure (also a sensible reform) and means test it for richer recipients, which essentially is a wealth re-distribution measure which would make Karl Marx smile. Those that have contributed the most would receive the least, based upon the measure of success they – the rich – have achieved. But what the heck. They don’t need it anyway, and besides, each according to his ability, each according to his need.
I was surprised that he didn’t even suggest that younger people be given the option to opt out of the system, and allow for a portion of collections be permitted investment in the market. It is almost inevitable that that would yield a greater return over time, and would be a huge boost to the job creating private sector, instead of covering, as it does today, the debt of the federal leviathan that squanders life and treasure with reckless abandon. I suspect, however, that offering such a radical solution would not sit well with the political class inWashington, and could even lead to a dramatic fall off in cocktail party invitations.
Krauthammer’s love of FDR is similarly off-putting, and cements my view that he has come to terms with the welfare state edifice that FDR created. It appears that he stops short with him and Truman, and does not lavish similar accolades for LBJ, for which I am grateful.
And then there is Krauthammer, the neocon’s neocon. He goes to great lengths in defending Israel’s every deed and action, without even a semblance of recognition that maybe driving people from their ancestral homes that they occupied for hundred of years (and building settlements on occupied lands) is not OK, and that the United States should not be a party to it. If Krauthammer has any doubts as to the brutality of the occupation, I recommend he watch the documentary Five Broken Cameras.
In his essays on foreign policy he is dismissive of what he calls “the isolationists,” and claims they are a relic of an irrelevant past. Unfortunately for Krauthammer, the millions who voted for Ron Paul in the 2012 primaries is proof positive that non-interventionists are anything but a relic. We have learned the lessons of Vietnam and unwarranted interventions in Iraq and elsewhere, and are fully prepared to press our case and insist that foreign nations take responsibility for their own security, and end the destructive policy of attempting to be the world’s policeman.
On that, Krauthammer is unequivocal. In describing the role that theU.S.should play in a unipolar world, he states that we should be “unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them.” What can one say to that? I am speechless.
Yet despite my misgivings, Krauthammer is a very thoughtful and forceful advocate for his point of view, and liberty minded folks will find themselves more in agreement with him than not. And where one does disagree, he challenges you, as Ayn Rand demanded of her followers, to “check your premises.” Things That Matter is an opportunity to do so.
Lance Lamberton is the founder and chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, which works to reduce taxes and government spending in Cobb County Georgia, a major suburb of Atlanta. He served as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Policy Information during President Reagan’s first term. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.