THE SPINE MAY 20, 2009
Charles Krauthammer is once again now in the public eye as the most trenchant critic of the president on the right; the most trenchant and the most civilized. Ben Smith has done a modestly-sized but smart piece in Politico about the doctor, some pluses, some minuses, overall more than fair. These days, how can you write an article about anyone without taking at least one swipe?
I don't much agree with Krauthammer's views on Barack Obama, certainly not on what the president is trying to do domestically, which is both brave and analytically supportable. I also don't think that there is a hidden hand in capitalism except for the one that robs from the middle class and the poor. On the other hand, socialism is a big lie and a big fist, at best.
Krauthammer worries most about the president's foreign policy views. Everybody grasped from the start that Obama wanted to unlock the dispositional rigidities of the last administration, although as far as Russia and even China were concerned, George Bush was rather dewy-eyed himself. Obama would not have behaved differently from Bush over the nuclear deal with India. Obama has also committed more to Afghanistan and Pakistan than the previous administration ever did. This commitment includes armed men and women. The fact is that you can't commit your country's soldiers to a dangerous war without a single idea behind the commitment. I agree with Charles: we don't know what that idea is. Or how strong our belief in it is.
Joe Klein has now entered the fray. This is not exactly a big moment. Joe is one of those people who pretends that it takes bravery to beat up on Israel when what it does is get you invited to the smuggest soirees in New York and Washington. Joe, you are a success. But you haven't had a single idea half as interesting as those that drop off of Charles' lips twenty times a day.
So here's what Klein told Smith about Doctor Charles. He said he was smarter and wrote better than the rest of the neo-cons. This is something that Charles's mother (still alive and thinking sharply at 88) was just waiting to hear, that her son had more brains and talent than Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter.
Still, so far so good. I imagine Joe thinking to himself: "Now, I am going to say something brave. I am going to set his ideas in the context of him being a quadrapalegic." Yes, Charles is confined to a wheelchair and has been since his freshman year at the Harvard Medical School. "There's something tragic about him, too... His work would have had a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he's writing about." The word "nuance" coming from someone who writes not with a pick-axe but with a sledgehammer is merely comic. But the suggestion that the view from a wheelchair distorts perspective any more than the view from a bar stool is more than vile.
UPDATE: Political or ideological differences sometime makes zealots of us all. An earlier version expressed differences with my colleague Chris Orr. They are real, but obviously they have nothing to do with his movie criticism, which makes TNR.com a richer site for our readers. I'm sorry I went off-message.