Thirty Years of Krauthammer

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Publishing Group; 416 pp.)

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics by Charles Krauthammer (Crown Publishing Group; 416 pp.)

Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer-prize winner and nationally syndicated columnist, released in 2014 his book entitled Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, a hand-picked collection of articles amassed over his career. Krauthammer’s work is a timeless testimony to the power of astute inquisition, his honest analysis now especially relevant to the politically-minded as the country enters the 2016 election year. Things That Matter contains the best articles of one of the most influential conservative thinkers in the country. Arguing that politics is ultimately the most important social entity, Krauthammer gives due inquiry to the affairs that are fundamental to the nation’s political health. His writing elegantly and tactfully discusses issues inadequately examined or perhaps undeservedly presumed. Looking through a lens that pointedly challenges convention, Krauthammer distills complex subject matters such as abortion, immigration, and war into the basic factors that can often be overlooked after years of debate. The book delightfully includes lighter commentaries on notable affairs in science, pop culture, history, and even chess—a topic of characteristic interest to the author himself. Things That Matter is a recommended read for all Krauthammer fans, the politically-informed, and those merely seeking a thought-provoking, credible, and concise outline of, well, things that matter.

Krauthammer began his writing career as editor of his college newspaper, the McGill Daily, and later began studying political philosophy at Oxford. He decided to study medicine at Harvard Medical School, and after years of practicing psychiatry, somewhat serendipitously, ended up in Washington D.C. as a journalist. In Things That Matter, Krauthammer shares why he left a life of medicine in pursuit of a career in journalism. In an explanation resembling Milton Friedman’s popular argument, Krauthammer asserts that the freedoms and joys possessed by a particular individual are subordinate—indeed, irrelevant,—if the politics aren’t right. He finds evidence in post-World War I Europe, World War II Germany, and China post-Cultural Revolution—aggravating models of nations whose history, culture, identity, and values were swept away by periods of political folly and transgression. Krauthammer’s selected writings emphasize pertinent matters of culture, values, history, and politics, often dwelling on topics towards which mainstream society has become dangerously blasé.

The book’s highlights are the several distinguished essays – on Zionism, bioethics, and America’s global role—that have each had their own influence on national policy. The four categories—“Personal”, “Political”, “Historical”, and “Global” – give insights into topics ranging from Winston Churchill to the Martin Luther King monument, from global warming to Iraq, from baseball to the Hayden Planetarium. Many articles relate back to American politics, though Krauthammer does not write from a right-leaning ideology (he was a centrist in college who evolved into a nineteenth century liberal, in line, now, with modern conservatism), but from a standpoint of logic and rationality that he honed and developed along his own educational journey. The pieces reflect expositions and proposed solutions to problems stemming back from the ’80s, but which remain unresolved today. Krauthammer cuts neither party slack, criticizing mainly the modern political climate that all too easily disregards the history of both the nation and the world.

For young readers in search of some direction in the way of approaching and understanding the pressing issues facing our country during this election season, Krauthammer provides an insightful introduction to the true roots of many of the conflicts most often forgotten in partisan rhetoric. He expertly captures the nature of a variety of controversial issues and has a remarkable capacity to lay out their broader implications. In his essays, he reflects on the complexities of issues ranging from stem cell research to relations with Israel, describing our decision making processes clearly from beginning to end. Krauthammer once again proves himself as an exemplary political thinker in that, while he honors history, he has the critical judgment to recognize the danger in sacrificing a stable future for an expedient solution.

A poignant highlight exemplifying Krauthammer’s capacity as an impressive political thinker is a piece entitled “Going Negative” found in “Chapter 7: Citizen and State”, which calls out the now conventional political campaign strategy of slandering one’s opponent. American politics is the only industry that advertises in a way that denigrates the whole industry itself. Krauthammer compares political campaigns to airline and fast food companies, who know that if they were to negatively advertise their opponents’ products, they would ultimately drive customers away from their own industry. By the end of the campaign process, the political industry itself has been undermined; whichever candidate wins has been severely discredited. Whoever becomes the state representative is a “liar.” Realizing this, Krauthammer expresses little surprise at the American people’s general distrust in politicians and, by extent, their government.

For the typical college student, “Ambiguity and Affirmative Action,” in Chapter 7, strikes a chord, commenting on the general public support for the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold affirmative action in 2003, which to Krauthammer, was a fundamentally flawed one. In the more current Fisher v. University of Texas case, the climate remains similar. Krauthammer goes as far as to deem the Court’s stance on the issue as morally ambiguous and intellectually incoherent. Furthermore, he calls out the hypocrisy of the policy for being fundamentally discriminatory and even promoting inequality. He lays out the social costs of such a policy that no one has dared publically discuss, namely, the adverse effects on race relations and the attack on the constitutional principle of equality. However, Krauthammer does not encourage the expedient solution of court action on this matter, instead adhering to the principle that national policies should be decided by citizen vote and legislature. Krauthammer’s firm values prevail on this stance – one of the many reasons his work receives recognition which spans across the entire political spectrum.

In another article, “The ‘90s: Serenity”, Chapter 13, Krauthammer discusses the modern phenomena of a wide-spread desensitization to America’s remarkable general wealth. He calls out the country for its tendency, as a prosperous nation, to seek out “bad news” and to inflate situations until they reach a news-worthy standard.

Perhaps the book’s most impressive segment is the collection of three essays, adapted from lectures, which comment on America’s power shift as the global landscape transformed through the Cold War, the Iraq War, and a series of technological advancements. Krauthammer shares a disconcerting vision of how the world’s future might look if the United States’ global democratic presence continues to recede, as new schools of isolationist political thought emerge. Krauthammer acknowledges that Americans are justified in feeling uncomfortable as the super power in a unipolar world, but he emphasizes that the role the U.S. has played on a global scale is by no means an active quest for hegemony. Rather, he invokes a traditional view of American exceptionalism: that the nation’s foreign intervention is a “burden,” but one that is “just as noble,” and “just as necessary” as all of its other influences. As long as the United States acts with limited, narrow intention, it can honorably fulfill its duty of spreading democracy and ensuring liberty. He views the matter of U.S. foreign power as a decision: The U.S. has the capacity and the resources to be a dominant force of stability—it must simply accept its position. Krauthammer’s reasons that if the U.S. fails to fulfill its role as both a stabilizer and a soldier of democracy and liberty, what other nation has the means to do so.

For young readers, Things That Matter is a reminder that the world’s present issues have often been recycled from decades past, their backgrounds more complex than what is generally acknowledged in present discussion. Influencing a political arena where there are seemingly few drawn conclusions, it serves the young generation well to give due inquiry to the depth of the nation’s pressing concerns.