Krauthammer Piles On

When it comes to people’s political opinions, the ones I value the least are the ones that are the most clearly knee-jerk. You know what I mean; the people who can be counted on to reflexively support Republicans or Democrats (or, more generally, the right or the left) just out of ideological affinity. For example, the people who were doggedly defending Richard Nixon in 1974 as a “victim of the liberal media” or Bill Clinton in 1998 as a “victim of a McCarthyist witch-hunt”. In both cases it was clear that the leader in question had something to answer for; maybe not as much as their opponents made out, but definitely something. Their knee-jerk supporters, though, would just wish those issues away and hold tight to their man, no matter what.

In recent times one of the worst offenders in this category has been Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer has been a reliable knee-jerk conservative for as long as I can remember. Just this year alone he has explained the Enron debacle as a triumph of the free market, dismissed critics of the Administration’s war conduct as loony lefties, decried Presidents Carter and Clinton as modern-day Neville Chamberlains regarding North Korea, and so on and so forth. Never mind that in all these cases a reasonable argument could be made for the other side (Enron is hardly a vindication of the “free market”, since the cornerstone of a free market is reliable, accurate information; one can support war on al Qaeda without supporting indefinite detention of Americans in military prisons without access to family or counsel; Clinton can hardly be called dovish on North Korea when he took us to the brink of war with that country in the summer of 1994) — to Krauthammer, the only right argument has been the Right argument.

That’s what makes his column in today’s Washington Post so interesting. In it, Krauthammer does something remarkable: he not only condemns Trent Lott’s racist comments from Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, he actually calls on Lott to resign because his consistent support for segregation (he’s been saying things like this for decades) discredits his party and the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights pioneers.

Wow! I never thought I’d see the day when Charles Krauthammer would agree with me. But I’m citing this not so much to say “look, I’m right” as I am to say that it’s good to see Krauthammer take a position contrary to what you would expect off the cuff. As other conservative commentators (most notably Sean Hannity) have reflexively lined up to support Lott, Krauthammer’s article shows that he really is thinking about these issues, not just taking the party line. The last time I saw anything this striking among the commentariat was when Christopher Hitchens was essentially excommunicated from the left for having the gall to support war with Iraq — a position I don’t agree with, but I can understand Hitchens’ reasoning and feel that well-reasoned views I disagree with are always more interesting than knee-jerk opinions that are in line with my own. At any rate, kudos to Krauthammer, and here’s hoping more opinion leaders follow his lead of really thinking before they speak.