An exclusive Q&A with Charles Krauthammer
Dr. Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, prominent Fox News television panelist, best-selling author, conservative commentator and die-hard baseball fan, is in a position to ponder the imponderable.
“Every year, the [St. Louis] Cardinals on paper have no chance and every year, the Cardinals do it,” Krauthammer said recently in an exclusive interview with Mid Rivers Newsmagazine. “How they do, nobody knows.”
Krauthammer will be the keynote dinner speaker on Friday, Jan. 29 at the Educational Policy Conference to be held in the Ambassador Ballroom at the Hilton-St. Louis Frontenac. There, he will discuss the Middle East, Israel and the United States.
Krauthammer’s views on national politics, domestic and foreign policy, science, religion and a myriad of other topics have been a staple in the pages of newspapers and magazines since the late 1970s. His weekly column now runs in more than 400 newspapers.
During the December interview with Mid Rivers Newsmagazine, Krauthammer discussed his views on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues ranging from the Middle East to the ongoing presidential campaign, to, yes, even baseball.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: How does the United States combat terrorism at a time when the nature of the threat seems to be changing?
Krauthammer: Ultimately, there is no way to eradicate Islamic terrorism from the world – that will await an Islamic reformation. But to reduce the level of threat to a minimal one, meaning the level of, say, the early 1970s, it seems to me that the flag bearers for the cause have to be beaten back and, if possible, humiliated. This is very much psychological. Radical Islam grows when it’s winning, as all Messianic movements do, and the fatal turning point for them is when they start losing. Then it’s a vicious cycle – they lose that élan, they lose the spirit and they lose the recruits – and then they go into a spiral as they get weaker. You can see this if you look at the history of other Messianic movements [such as] communism, fascism. Now, this can go on for decades, but ultimately ISIS is going to have to be pushed back, shrunk and [made] to look like it’s in retreat. And that begins its fatal spiral. But we must not forget that means that there will be more space for Iran, with its more careful and less indiscriminate form of radical Islam. They are twin threats, not single threats.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Has the United States, for now, abrogated its leadership responsibility in the Middle East?
Krauthammer: [President] Obama’s overriding goal in the Middle East since he came into office has been to get us out. Everything else is a subset of that objective. The fact that we are back in to some extent is merely a stubborn, partial reaction to reality. He doesn’t really want to have the 3,500 troops in Iraq. He had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the bombing campaign in Syria. We know what happened when he drew the red line. This is all a president acting with tremendous reluctance. He doesn’t think it matters anywhere near the degree that the country seems to feel, and he thinks there is nothing but trouble there for us.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Does this harken back to a bit of an isolationist bent?
Krauthammer: I think it’s less coming out of a grand isolationist philosophy than it is a reaction to recent history.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: You seem to be less than enthusiastic about the presidential campaign so far. You wrote in September that “one party [Democrats] is knowingly lurching toward disaster, marching inexorably to the coronation of a weak and deeply wounded presidential candidate [Hillary Clinton]. Meanwhile, the other party [Republicans] is flamboyantly shooting at itself and gratuitously alienating one electoral constituency after another.” How do you see the campaign changing as the primaries begin and people start to actually vote?
Krauthammer: I don’t think anything will change on the Democratic side. That’s already decided. It’s been known from the beginning who the nominee was going to be and Bernie Sanders was a kind of amusement, nothing more than that.
On the Republican side, they have wasted six months where they should have been training their fire on the Obama administration and its legacy, and posing the question: “Do you want four more or eight more years of this?”
Instead, they’ve been engaged in the very personal, internecine warfare, triggered mostly by Donald Trump. They have not only have wasted four or five months, but I think have actually damaged the brand where they have far less chance of winning the general election than they did before the campaign began.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Do you see the possibility of a brokered convention given the results of the primaries?
Krauthammer: I wouldn’t call it brokered because we don’t have party bosses. But I do think an open convention is possible in the sense that nobody has a majority or even a near majority. And then, for the first time in living memory, we have to work it out at the convention.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: What does the rise of Donald Trump say about the nature of our politics and our times?
Krauthammer: It’s a good question. It’s a form of extreme populism. When he announced, in reaction to his announcement speech, I said that was a demonstration of know-nothing xenophobia. It seems to have been very effective. That has been true for six months – of scapegoating and blaming our troubles on Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese and Muslims. It’s been effective. That does not speak well for the country.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Do you think he will be the nominee?
Krauthammer: No, but right now there are three major candidates left – [Trump, Ted] Cruz and [Marco] Rubio – and he has the better chance among the three. That doesn’t mean that he’s going to win the nomination, but I think his odds are greater than anybody else right now.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Will he do well in the primaries?
Krauthammer: I don’t know, I know that’s the belief – that people are going to say “yes” to a phone call from a pollster, but they won’t go out to vote for him. I’m not sure if that’s true.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: What do you expect in terms of leadership from the next president? What should that president’s priorities be?
Krauthammer: We all know what all the major problems are – we need entitlement reform, we need tax reform, we need some kind of more aggressive policy abroad. It’s so obvious what we need and it’s not that hard to come up with ways to address them. That’s all I’m asking for in a new leader, a new president. Whether we’ll get it, I have no idea, but it’s pretty clear what we need to do.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Has the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court ruling that is allowing more spending in political races, had a lasting and detrimental effect on national and local politics?
Krauthammer: I wouldn’t say detrimental. I’m now of the school that the more speech, the better, the more participants, the better. What it [the decision] does do is help keep marginal candidates in the race longer because they have outside PAC [political action committee] money. I don’t know if that has a decisive effect on any campaign. I’m not terribly troubled, we’ve always had money in politics from the beginning of the republic and we always will. And the schemes to get it out seems to me, both doomed on the one hand, but second, if you take money out then you’ve got an incumbent protection system. Money is how an unknown candidate becomes known; otherwise the only people who can run are incumbents, celebrities or self-funded billionaires. That’s a pretty weird pool to draw your national leadership from.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Do you see a need or a shift toward reviving city and state governance because of the gridlock in Washington?
Krauthammer: I don’t actually see that. I think we’re becoming progressively more centralized and Washington-based. We’re not getting stuff done because Obama has an agenda that the country generally doesn’t support. So it gets blocked as it should in Congress, which is how the democracy ought to function. People think getting [things] done means new laws. I think we have quite enough laws as it is.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Is the nation’s politics addressing the major questions facing the country?
Krauthammer: I think when you have a president out of touch with the mainstream political philosophy in the country not a lot is going to get done, not a lot should get done. So I’m less alarmed than most are about that.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: What do you think about the changes in journalism? Are there too many voices out there?
Krauthammer: We have very many. We don’t have gatekeepers anymore. With the Internet, everybody is a player. I think that’s very healthy to have a very, very wide-open system that we have now. People complain that people are only getting their news only from where they want. I think that’s healthy. People can find their own voices that speak to them and there are near infinite number of voices now.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Do you worry about the quality of journalism?
Krauthammer: The quality declines when the quantity increases. But, on the other hand, the freedom and range increases. So, you’re not just getting the so-called golden age of broadcasting. You had three networks and they were all liberal and people were all upset. They gave you the same news delivered essentially in the same way. But now [you] have a diversity of voices. You’re trading off some quality for diversity. I think that’s a reasonable tradeoff.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Who influenced your writing and work, and who are you reading these days?
Krauthammer: That’s a hard question, “who has influenced my work.” I never intended to be a writer, I never thought of myself as a writer until I started writing. I didn’t really start a career in journalism until I was 30. I don’t have any conscious influences.
I like to read histories – Andrew Roberts on Napoleon, I just finished Niall Ferguson on Kissinger. I’m reading a book called “Sapiens” [“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari] on basically a history of the human species – a rather ambitious book. I’m interested in knowing what happens. I’ve always advised students not to go to journalism school, but to study history. That’s the raw material of journalism.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: What’s your opinion of columnist Thomas Sowell and his work?
Krauthammer: Tom Sowell is the best of the best. He’s sharp, he’s analytic, he’s not afraid and he’s incredibly learned. He’s brilliant.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine: Will the St. Louis Cardinals beat out the Chicago Cubs and make it to the World Series in 2016?
Krauthammer: Every year, the Cardinals on paper have no chance and every year the Cardinals do it. How they do, nobody knows. They seem to be able to fill in parts. You lose your Adam Wainwright as if nothing happens. So on paper, the Cubs should club the Cardinals. In real life, I’ll be curious to see it.
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The “Securing a Strong America” conference will feature topics involving family, education, economy and national defense issues and is sponsored by the Constitutional Coalition. The conference will include a possible presidential candidate forum on Jan. 28, followed by speakers and topic sessions on Jan. 29, and a day-long session on Saturday, Jan 30. For more information and to register online, visit www.epcconference.org or www.constitutionalcoalition.org.