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Who Is the Real Charles Krauthammer?

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I have long found Charles Krauthammer one of the more fascinating figures on the neoconservative right. He’s intellectually and analytically gifted, so much so that I often read through one of his columns and come away suspicious. He’s too smart to actually believe this vacuous drivel. And he’s from French-speaking Canada to boot but he writes as if he hailed from the American heartland. But then who knows? I don’t know Krauthammer personally.

On the other hand, Rick Hertzberg does. He has a post up at The New Yorker that makes for a fascinating read and confirms a lot of what I long suspected about Krauthammer’s political trajectory.

In 1978, when I first met Charles, he had recently left the practice of psychiatry and was in the process of landing a speechwriting job with then-Vice-President Walter Mondale. Charles’s political views back then? I’d estimate them at 70 per cent Mondale liberal, 30 per cent “Scoop Jackson Democrat,” i.e., hard-line on Israel and relations with the Soviet Union.
During the nineteen eighties, Charles and I were colleagues at the New Republic. By halfway through the decade, he was 50-50: still fairly liberal on economic and social questions but a full-bore foreign-policy neoconservative. Since foreign policy was all he really cared about, he might as well have been 70-30. We argued a lot. The whole staff argued a lot. The quality of the arguments was fairly high. I have to say this for working for TNR: it was intellectually bracing.

Nowadays, as best as I can make out, Charles is a pretty solid 90-10 Republican. He continues to believe in science, including evolution, but after twenty-plus years of conservative cosseting he seems to have made his peace with Republican economics—tax breaks for the rich, a generally negative attitude to what Lady Bracknell called “social legislation,” and so on. He endorsed and voted for McCain. George W. Bush, too, if memory serves.

As an undergraduate at McGill University in the late sixties, Charles was friends with Bob Rae, later the first New Democratic Party premier of Ontario—the NDP being the Canadian affiliate of the Socialist International. (Rae is now a leading Liberal Party parliamentarian, shadow foreign minister under Michael Ignatieff.) Charles used to tell me that if he still lived in Canada he’d vote NDP or Liberal and if there were no such thing as foreign policy he’d be a standard-issue liberal Democrat.

Which leaves me wondering to what extent Charles Krauthammer has shaped the forum of political opinion in Washington and to what extent is he now himself a product of right-wing group think?

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