BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dr. Charles Krauthammer, what is a medical doctor doing writing a column and appearing on television?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I’ve been wondering about that. I’ve a very checkered, irregular career. I was once asked by an intern at The New Republic magazine where I used to work, how do I get to be a nationally syndicated columnist
And I said, well, first you go to medical school.
It was pretty unplanned, I had intended to be a psychiatrist. I practiced for three years. And then I just had a tug, a feeling that there was a wider world out there I wanted to get involved in. And I studied political theory as a graduate student and I went back, I came to Washington and one accident led to another and ended up doing what I’m doing.
LAMB: If we had to find about three big thinkers, books on your shelf, who would they be?
KRAUTHAMMER: I think the single most influential thinker when I grew up, which was late ’60s, early ’70s, the time of the student revolution, was a very short book by a political philosopher called Isaiah Berlin, an Oxford philosopher, called "The Four Essays on Liberty."
And one of them was two concepts of liberty in which he sort of made a distinction between what he called "positive liberty" and "negative liberty." And it was sort of a liberal credo. It was against the craziness, the left-wing radicalism of the age. And it was a very clear essay in which he stood up for what he called "negative liberty," which is how we understand it in the West, being left alone.
Whereas there were all these ideologies, Nazism, communism, socialism, fascism, which offered you a "positive liberty," which meant we were going to find your higher meaning being, but by regimentation, which was odd and paradoxical. And he kind of pierced that in that essay. And I’ve been sort of small "l" liberal every since, cured of any radical impulses. So that, I think, was the most the single most influential text, a single essay.
John Stuart Mill was my favorite political philosopher. Also his the famous "On Liberty." As you can see, liberty is a theme here. And a fiction writer, Borges, Jorge Luis Borges, who was an Argentinean short story writer, you can see I like the short form, who wrote rather mystical and magical, very short, fictional stories with deep philosophical roots.
And that’s if you had to have the three, that’s the three.
LAMB: When did you start reading
KRAUTHAMMER: Reading seriously or reading letters
LAMB: Either one. I mean, when did reading matter to you
KRAUTHAMMER: I think when I mean, I was at McGill, I’m the graduate and I read for my courses, but it wasn’t until I went to Oxford afterward and studied political theory with a philosopher called Jean Plamanat (ph) who made me read the great political writers, Hobbes, Locke, et cetera, one a week and writing him an essay every week.
I remember I handed him my first essay one week and I came in to see him and he said, Krauthammer, I don’t know about your creativity, but you’re certainly creative in your spelling. That kind of put me in my place. But reading with him for a year was my first sort of experience mind-expanding experience in political theory. And in a sense that year, year-and-a-half is what has stayed with me all this time.
LAMB: Were you serious when you went to Oxford
KRAUTHAMMER: No, but no American is serious when he goes to Oxford.
KRAUTHAMMER: You go there to have a good time. It’s always an interlude. You’re between undergraduate and whatever school you’re to go to after. Grades don’t matter. It’s a new country. The country is wonderful, it’s all new and you tend to go and have a good time.
LAMB: Now is there any distinction for you about going to Balliol College at Oxford?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it was where a lot of Americans had gone. It had it was rather specialized in political philosophy, which is what I was interested in. And it had a graduate dormitory, which in 1970, when I was there, was the only one in town that was coed, that was its highest distinction. And that’s where I met my wife who was a student at St. Anne’s.
LAMB: Is her name Robyn, is that…
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes, that’s right.
LAMB: And what profession is she in
KRAUTHAMMER: She was studying law. She practiced law for a while. And then in July of 1978, I quit medicine and she quit law on the same day. And she has been an artist, a painter and sculptor ever since.
You can tell our parents were somewhat disappointed with us given their investment in our professional education.
LAMB: What were your parents like? Are they still alive, by the way
KRAUTHAMMER: My mother is.
LAMB: And tell us about your parents, where did it all start for them
KRAUTHAMMER: It’s a rather epic story, my father was originally from Ukraine but he lived in France most of his life. A naturalized Frenchman, he was he went to law school there, was a lawyer.
During the war, World War II, he fought with the French army, you know that only lasted six weeks. Afterwards he went to Cuba and Brazil, back to France, America, where I born, and ultimately to Canada, where I grew up.
It’s an interesting story. By the end of his life he spoke nine languages, and by the real end of his life he was speaking them all at the same time. So he was I would interpret on his behalf. Whenever he needed a word he would pull it out of any language he could find, even if his interlocutor had no idea what he was talking about. It was very charming.
My mother is from Belgium, left on May the 10th 1940, which is the day the Germans invaded, made her way through France, ended up in New York working for the Free French, translating American Army manuals into French for the Free French. Met my father in Cuba, long story, and she now lives in New York and in Miami
LAMB: How did they meet in Cuba?
KRAUTHAMMER: My dad at the time was running a diamond factor, which was producing industrial diamonds for the U.S. military. My mom was visiting her parents, who didn’t get into America, didn’t have a visa, but ended up in Cuba, as a lot of Jews did. And she met him at the Hotel Internacional and the rest is journalistic history and a lot of other history.
LAMB: Did you have any brothers and sisters
KRAUTHAMMER: I have a brother, born in Brazil, lives in L.A., a physician.
LAMB: So what just start with all that background. What impact do you think that had on you
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think it had a lot of influences on me. It was a very worldly upbringing. My parents had been everywhere. Their friends in New York and in Canada had also been everywhere, not by choice, but sort of scattered by the war. And that sort of confluence of influences I witnessed, I grew up with.
The other thing is that you grow up, especially if you’re Jewish, you’re also post-Holocaust, you grow up with a sense of the tragic element in history. It tempers your optimism and your idealism. And it gives you a vision of the world which I think is more restrained, conservative, if you like, you don’t expect that much out of human nature. And you are prepared for the worst.
And the most interesting political aspect of that is you have enormous respect for the American political system which the founders had an equal skepticism about the goodness of human nature, and constructed a structure which would contain the impulses, good and bad, check and balance to produce a stable and a just society.
So in a sense, all of that ends up giving you a deep appreciation and even love of America.
LAMB: What were the politics of your parents
KRAUTHAMMER: None. They were beyond politics. There were life was involved in raising a family, trying to make a living, maintain your friendships. Politics was not central to our lives. In a sense I learned my politics when I left home.
LAMB: And when did you leave New York and where did you live in Canada
KRAUTHAMMER: My father moved us to Canada when I was five. I grew up in Montreal. I went to McGill until I was 20. I graduated in 1970 when I was 20. I went to Oxford and then I never returned to Canada.
I was always an American citizen because I was born here. I went to medical school in Boston and then later I came down here.
LAMB: Did you have a short time Johns Hopkins
LAMB: Somewhere I thought I read that.
LAMB: Your whole medical experience was at Harvard
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. And I was a student there and then I did a three-year residency in psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In my last year I was one of the chief residents, published a few papers on bipolar disease and then came to Washington in 1978.
LAMB: So what year did you get out of medical school
LAMB: If you’re a psychiatrist, are you first a medical doctor
LAMB: When did you choose psychiatry for your early years
KRAUTHAMMER: I chose it when I went into medical school. I went into medical school coming out of a couple of years of political theory, and I thought psychiatry would be the perfect compromise between the sort of the broad thinking of political philosophy, a philosophy on the one hand, and the practical aspect of life in medicine.
It wasn’t exactly what I it turned out it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped it would be so it’s one of the reasons I left.
LAMB: What impact has psychiatry had, the knowledge of it, on your writing
KRAUTHAMMER: None. There are no special insights that psychiatrists have into human nature. I you and I have the same capacity to analyze political leaders, their motives. People assume if you have a psychiatric degree you kind of a Delphic insight into what makes people tick.
What psychiatry does is it gives the knowledge about the mental illness. So when you deal with people who aren’t well, you do have insight that laymen don’t have. You also know how to treat it and drugs and all that. I have tremendous respect for psychiatry.
But analyzing political or social life, it’s of no advantage whatsoever. And I’ve tried not to pretend in my career as a journalist that it does. In fact, in the first years of my writing as a journalist, I didn’t hide the fact that I was a doctor and psychiatrist, but I never highlighted it.
LAMB: Can you remember the time when you said, I don’t want to do this, the day that you said, I’m not going to be a psychiatrist, I’m going to be a writer
KRAUTHAMMER: In my last year of residency, when I had to look at the future, which was the rest of my life in the field, and I said, no, that’s not what I want to do. I think I might have made a mistake here. I wanted to do something else.
LAMB: What year did you marry Robyn
KRAUTHAMMER: 1974. We’re married now 31 years.
LAMB: What year did you have your diving accident
KRAUTHAMMER: 1972. I was a freshmen in medical school in my first year and ended being hospitalized for a year and two months. But since it happened at Harvard Medical School, in one of the swimming pools of the hotels at the complex, I ended up doing my year-plus stint as a patient in Harvard teaching hospitals so that I was able to do my second year of medical school in the hospital as a patient
Even though I wasn’t able to attend any classes, I’d study at night. And they were very good at having the professors tutor me at night. Then I rejoined then I was released from the hospital, I rejoined my class for the third year. And then I graduated a year later.
LAMB: I don’t know about if you mind telling the story, but what happened in the diving accident.
KRAUTHAMMER: Very simple, I hit the bottom of the pool with my head and it caused no injury except a breaking of the spinal cord.
LAMB: And you spent and how long in the hospital
KRAUTHAMMER: Two months.
LAMB: What the reaction to that when it happened to you, I mean, during that time
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, being a medical student and that week studying neurology, which was rather ironic, the book I had with me when I was hurt was neuro-anatomy. I knew exactly what happened the second it happened. And I knew exactly what the consequences were and I knew what the future was. And I think that was a help to me, because I never had any illusions.
And a lot of my the bedmates I had on the wards where I was had a lot of illusions. And I didn’t have them, which I think was useful. So I knew you had two choices, you could give up or you could just pretend it hadn’t happened, or do you everything that you could to.
And what I resolved is I would never I would try never to let it change my life, or change the direction of my life. The irony is that I’d intended to a psychiatrist, which is about the one that and the radiology was about the only thing I could do. And that’s what I wanted to do, so I went ahead and did it.
LAMB: In that first year, what did you do to get through that period, anything special
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I was first I spent that year basically in physical therapy, exercising, regaining my strength. And it took a lot of time. That was whole day, eight hours a day, on the mat, training, weightlifting and all of that. And then in the evening I studied. So I my day was taken up.
LAMB: So since that time, what’s a day like for you
KRAUTHAMMER: It’s like your day except it’s a little bit harder. You know, all the routine stuff takes a little bit longer, life is a little more expensive, but ultimately it’s not that different.
LAMB: Do you drive?
LAMB: And how you deal with that, I mean, is there anything special
KRAUTHAMMER: I’ve got hand controllers. It’s pretty simple.
LAMB: Is it one of those special vans where you just roll into it
KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. It’s right outside in the parking lot right now.
LAMB: Is there anything that you think has been different about your life because of this condition
KRAUTHAMMER: Oh, I think everything. I mean, I and when I was in my teens I spent 80 percent of my waking hours doing sports. That doesn’t happen anymore. So I missed out on I mean, there are a lot of things that you lose, but on the other hand, Brian, everybody has their cross. Everybody has a cross.
Mine is a particularly obvious one, a difficult one. But, you know, I never asked the question, why me? I mean, why not me? Everybody else you know, we all have our tragedies. I got in mine early. In fact, as I age, and my friends are aging, some of them are in one way or other adjoining me. And I’ve had 30 years of practice. So I’ve got a head’s up.
I mean, look, I’m not looking at the upside here. Parking is easier and that’s about it. There’s not a lot of upsides. But, you know, you take the hand that you’re dealt with and you do what you can with it.
LAMB: If I read correctly, you have a son, Daniel, who’s at Harvard
LAMB: What’s he studying
KRAUTHAMMER: He’s studying political science and economics.
LAMB: Does he think like you
KRAUTHAMMER: He thinks better than me. He’s far more sophisticated intellectually and politically than I was at his age, partly, I think, because he grew up in this town and exposed to political ideas and thoughts from a young age.
But yes, he’s quite remarkable.
LAMB: Does he want to do what you do
KRAUTHAMMER: I don’t think he’s got a clue what he wants to do, except perhaps I think he knows he doesn’t want to be a doctor. That’s about the only thing he’s ruled out. Everything else is ruled in thus far.
LAMB: So your first major piece for a national audience was in what publication
KRAUTHAMMER: The New Republic.
LAMB: What year was that
KRAUTHAMMER: 1981 I joined The New Republic. I had written a few pieces as a freelancer from the outside in ’78-’79
LAMB: In ’80 or somewhere around there, you went to work for Jimmy Carter.
KRAUTHAMMER: I went yes, when I came to Washington, when I left psychiatry, I came here to work in the bureaucracy at NIMH, National Institute of Mental Health, as a director of psychiatric research. So it sort of a continuation of my expertise. And it was a non-political appointment.
But at the time through a series of accidents I ended up being asked to be a speechwriter for the vice president, Walter Mondale, and I did it. And then when they we lost the election in 1980 and I was unemployed, The New Republic, for which I had written a few pieces on the outside, invited to come to be a full-time editor. And that was the beginning of my journalistic career.
LAMB: Is there a label that you could have put on yourself in 1980
KRAUTHAMMER: Oh yes, at that point I was what you might have called a Henry Jackson Democrat. I was a Cold War liberal. I was a believer in the Great Society, but I was also a believer in a tough approach to the Soviet Union, which means I had pretty much of a home in the Democratic Party at the time.
You had Pat Moynihan. You had Henry Jackson, the great senator from Washington State. And later on that element of the Democratic Party shrunk to nothingness. And as it did, I was without a home. I remain generally without a political home.
But you could obviously fairly call me a neoconservative now.
LAMB: Now, because we talk a lot about the conservative/neoconservative, what’s the difference being a neoconservative and a conservative
KRAUTHAMMER: There are several distinctions. One has to do with personal history. Neoconservatives generally are people who started out as liberals, and as the dean of neoconservatives (INAUDIBLE), Irving Kristol, once said, was mugged by reality.
And they evolved in time into conservatism. So that’s number one. If you ask a neoconservative, how did you vote in 1968, a seminal year, he’d say, Lyndon Johnson. If you ask a conservative I’m sorry, in 1964, he would say, Lyndon Johnson. And a conservative would say, Goldwater. So that’s on distinction.
The second is that because of that, neoconservatives carry over some of the idealism, if you like, and objectives of liberalism; which means they want for instance, in foreign affairs, there is a critique by conservatives of neoconservatives which is that neoconservatives are too utopian, Wilsonian, if you like.
We want to revolutionize the world. We want to democratize the world, and the answer is yes. What distinguishes us from liberals is that we don’t rely on the institutions that liberals rely on: the U.N., treaties, and all that Wilsonian stuff. We believe in power, American power in particular.
But what distinguishes us from other conservatives, the more traditional conservatives, they are more likely to be realists. They’re not interest in the governance of other countries, if it’s a democracy or not. They’re just interested in how the government acts in relation to the United States.
They’re interested in national interest. They’re not interested in constructing democracies abroad. You might look at the traditional conservatives, the realists as people who believe in the billiard ball theory of international relations: other interact with each other, they knock into each other. And that’s what you care about.
Neoconservatives care about what’s inside the ball and how it governs itself because the idea is that if you can change the way a society governs itself, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Soviet Union, then the policies will change, and then you might have a safer world.
LAMB: Do you have a favorite president in history?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, the obvious ones, of course: Lincoln, Washington. But if we’re looking at recent history, I’d rank the 20th Century presidents: FDR number one; Reagan is number two; and Truman is three.
LAMB: Where do you put George W. Bush
KRAUTHAMMER: The current president history will determine. I think he ranks high now, but ultimately it’s I mean, I’ve always had a sense that you can argue all you want, you write all you want, but in the end history will decide who was right and who was wrong.
You can suggest in your argument that the war in Iraq was right, the war in Afghanistan was right. But we’ll learn in 10 years or so if Iraq was a success. I think it will be. And assuming that this Bush doctrine of changing the Middle East, changing the culture of the area as an answer to 9/11 and as a way to prevent a new 9/11, I think is correct.
But again, it’s a theory. It’s being tested on the ground as we speak. And I think if it is if it works out in Iraq and Lebanon and places like that, I think he’s be ranked very high, perhaps as high as Reagan.
LAMB: Why FDR number one for the current you know, the last century
KRAUTHAMMER: He saved American democracy internally in the age of fascism by softening it and by making it less harsh, capitalism and governance, number one. And secondly, he defeated the great enemy of that time, fascism. So without a doubt he stands head and shoulders above the others.
LAMB: What do you think of his social policy
KRAUTHAMMER: I think he did what you had to do. Social Security was a great triumph. It sustained a whole two generations. It took the elderly out of poverty. And the very sense of caring implied by all of those other programs, some of which worked, others did not, was necessary in an age where capitalism had created a calamity.
And where there were the siren songs of other ideologies, undemocratic ideologies in Europe ready to sweep America, they swept Europe but they never reached here because we had FDR who understood the threat, understood the need, understood the ideological challenge and chose a path in between of a compassionate government, which is absolutely necessary.
Now, you know, as you know, a lot of these programs I think are now outdated, but at the time they were completely necessary and they saved American democracy.
LAMB: Which mass publication, and I would that The Washington Post in that, was the first to recognize your writing and ask you to do something for them
KRAUTHAMMER: TIME magazine, two years after I started at The New Republic, asked me to do an essay once a month, which I have been doing ever since, on the back page.
The next year The Washington Post asked me to start a column. And the year after that it was syndicated nationally.
LAMB: When do you write and where do you right
KRAUTHAMMER: I write in one place, on one machine in one office. I don’t what it is, but if I’m anywhere else I can think but the writing is not going to happen. I write in my office which is in downtown Washington. It’s my own office. I set it up about 18 years ago.
And I write usually on Wednesdays. My column goes out to the syndicated newspapers Thursday at 11:00 and it appears in Washington and a lot of other places Friday morning.
LAMB: There is something called BrainyQuote, have you ever seen it
LAMB: The Web’s full of Krauthammer
LAMB: And there’s something and they pulled they just pulled quotes from you and they don’t even…
KRAUTHAMMER: Really? I hope I remember some of them.
LAMB: Well, I’m going to read some of them just to get your reaction…
KRAUTHAMMER: I’ll tell you if I still believe them when you read them, OK?
LAMB: The first one they put on here is: "A three-year diet of rubber chicken and occasional crow.
KRAUTHAMMER: I haven’t got a clue, what was the year of that?
LAMB: Doesn’t say. The second one: "After endless…
KRAUTHAMMER: Oh, oh, yes, I know what that must be, the ordeal presidential candidates have to endure to be crowned king.
LAMB: The second on: "After endless days of commuting on the freeway to an antiseptic, sealed window office, there is a great urge to backpack in the woods and build a fire.
KRAUTHAMMER: Sounds poetic but it doesn’t sound like me, unless I was headed somewhere with that.
LAMB: All right. Let’s try this one: "Every two years the American politics industry fills the airways with the most virulent, scurrilous, wall-to-wall character assassination of nearly every political practitioner in the country, and then declares itself puzzled that America has lost trust in its politicians.
KRAUTHAMMER: That one I recognize. It is true. I think in that column, I was righting that if the airline industries ran ad against each other the way the Democrats and Republicans do, they would highlight the crashes and all the crying and all this, nobody would ever step on an airplane.
But other industries know that that’s catastrophic. Politics is the only industry in which the competing sides just destroy each other on the air every two years and then people are puzzled when turnout is low and people are disgusted and alienated. That’s sort of built into this insane system we have.
LAMB: By the way, you didn’t tell me the time of day you write
KRAUTHAMMER: I write I usually write all day. I mean, I don’t have a specific I’m not one of those who wakes up at three in the morning, writes until seven and then goes off and fishes.
LAMB: Do you fuss over the language
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, the way I get around that yes, I’m a fusser. And I know it’s a problem. So what I do is I learned something when I was a psychiatrist at Mass. General, when you discharge the patient, you had to give a discharge summary. And it was very long in psychiatry, about eight single-spaced pages. And at Mass. General at the time, you would do it by picking up a house phone and speaking into a machine.
Now I never mastered how to pause or stop the machine. So I just had to go and it was really incoherent the first couple of months. But in the end I got the hang of it. And I liked dictating my first drafts, because I have a horror of a blank screen. The minute I start to type on a blank screen, I’m fussing and editing and I get nowhere.
So what I do is I think it out in advance, usually I put down an outline of a dozen or 20 words, so I know the structure. Once you’ve got the structure of anything, it’s done. Then I speak it as if I were explaining it to you or anybody or my friends, and then I have it all down on tape
It gets instantly transcribed, it ends up on my screen. And then I’m just editing. And as you know, editing is easy, writing is hard. So then I’m editing myself and I spend hours and hours. You go over it and you make it right. And I like to polish. And that’s how I do it. But I don’t sit there and compose. I just say it and then I’ll work it from there.
LAMB: Have you written a book?
KRAUTHAMMER: No. I did a collection 20 years ago. I wasn’t very happy with how it turned out. I’m working on a book coming out of a speech I gave last year. We sort of tried to set out my ideas on foreign affairs called "Democratic Realism." And I think I’ll probably have that done by the end of the year.
LAMB: Let’s take a very brief, one-minute break, and we’ll be right back.
KRAUTHAMMER: Great, thank you.
LAMB: Let’s try another quote: "In the Middle Ages, people took potions for their ailments, and in the 19th Century they took snake oils. Citizen of today’s shiny technological age are too modern for that, they take antioxidants and an extract of cactus instead." You remember that one
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. I think I was writing about the fads in medicine, particularly over-the-counter stuff. I think it was an attack on holistic medicine. I’m rather skeptical about all that stuff. I believe in traditional medicine. So that must be what that one was about
LAMB: A couple more. This one is kind of awkward, but you’ll remember it, I’m sure: " In the old days, one merely gawked at these unfortunates, Donahue’s genius is to get them to talk."
KRAUTHAMMER: I remember that one. It was first major piece for The New Republic. It was a cover piece. It must have been 1981 or ’82. It was called "The Cult of Confession." And I was writing about the fashion, which, of course, at the time was new, Donahue was a sensation at the time, of getting people to come out, in public, and to talk about their sins, basically, or at least sins is the word you would’ve used a few hundred years ago.
And to do it as a kind of public display, which I found a very interesting phenomenon, very odd, sort of a twist on it was kind of a secular version of confession. And, of course, now it’s completely commonplace and if wrote about it, people would wonder why I found it strange.
LAMB: One last quote, this is something called BrainyQuote. I have no idea what it is but your quotes are all over the place: "Post-Watergate morality by which anything left private is taken as presumptive evidence of wrongdoing.
KRAUTHAMMER: I’m not sure what the context was, but I have been worried for many years, I hope not too piously, about the invasion of privacy in public. It scares away a lot of good people. It also judges people in private lives in a way that’s unfair. All of us have our sins and our foibles. And if you highlight anyone’s, you can destroy him or here very easily.
And I find it too easy a sport. You see it going on in hearings on the Hill. You see it going on when candidates run for office. Again, it’s part of that cult of confession where on the one hand you’ve got people who step out and want to make spectacles of themselves as a way to become public figures.
On the other hand, you’ve got public figures of who we are making spectacles by going into their lives. And I think for a democracy it’s extremely unhealthy. We ought to have a realm in which people you just people on how they act in public. I’m glad that we didn’t know anything about FDR’s inside life, interior life. At the time we might have lost FDR when we needed him, and Churchill and all the others.
So I’m not sure there is any advantage or gain to a democracy in having this microscope on their interior lives.
LAMB: Has your life as a columnist changed since the Internet came along
KRAUTHAMMER: Oh, absolutely. Research is different. It’s instantaneous. It’s almost infallible. You can get everything you want very quickly. I used to have to send my research assistant to the Supreme Court to wait outside as decisions were actually handed out. And he’d have to race back to get it to me in time for me to read it and analyze it and write about it for the next morning. Now you go online, you have it instantly.
E-mail, instant reaction from your readers, and the blogs, which to some extent are a very good check on the mainstream media. On the other hand, they are an echo chamber for possible innuendo and falsehoods. So like everything, every new invention, from the jet to nuclear weapons, there is an upside and there is a downside.
LAMB: TIME magazine, The New Republic, The Washington Post, when did you do first television
KRAUTHAMMER: I don’t remember, but it was in the ’80s. I think I was asked to go on what was called "Agronsky & Company" at the time, which then evolved into show called "Inside Washington," the same show which I have actually been on as a regular since actually since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
My life is sort of pegged to events that triggered events in my own life. At that time they asked me to go on the show, which was the summer of 1990. And I’ve been on that every week ever since.
LAMB: When did you decide or when were you asked and then decided to go on FOX?
KRAUTHAMMER: I don’t remember exactly, but I did a lot of the cable shows, CNN, MSNBC, and FOX, for several years, just on an irregular basis. And then I was asked whether I wanted to do FOX regularly. And I have and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
LAMB: Of all the platforms you’ve had, which one do you get the most reaction from
KRAUTHAMMER: The most reaction from is probably a tie between FOX, because it’s national, and The Washington Post because it’s read in Washington. You know, it’s the high school bulletin board for Washington.
So here everybody who’s involved in politics. And it’s you know, politics is to Washington as steel was to Pittsburgh. It’s a one-industry town. If you’re involved in politics, you read the op-ed page and you would read me on Fridays. So I get a lot of reaction.
LAMB: Is there a column that you’ve written that has gotten the most feedback
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, if you write about dogs, you’re guaranteed to get enormous reaction. I once wrote in defense of the border collie which was under assault by the American Kennel Association. I’m a little bit hazy on the details. But I became a hero to dog lovers all over America, offered a lot of honorary positions.
The most recent heavy reaction was when I wrote a column very critical of "The Passion of the Christ," the film. I got 2,000 e-mails. I remember my research assistant told me by about 5:00 in the afternoon on the morning it came out, that I’d had about 800 e-mails and they were running rather negative.
So I asked him, what was the ratio of the positives and the negatives? And his answer was, I’m still looking for the positives. But that was an avalanche.
LAMB: What’d you say
KRAUTHAMMER: I thought it was a terrible movie. I thought it was I didn’t criticize it aesthetically, but I think politically and religiously, I think it was objectively anti-Semitic. And I tried to point out where it deviated from the Gospels in being rather negative towards the Jews of the time.
And I had the impression it was deliberately so. So I wrote it. And of course, being a conservative, I have a constituency that was rather shocked by that. And they expressed their shock in numbers and in intensity.
LAMB: You a little note in a column that you wrote about the pope. And I just wanted to ask about this, and I have it in quotes: "not much of a believer." Is that about your own religion.
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. That’s me.
LAMB: Can put a little bit more on those bones
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I mean, whenever you talk about your own theology, it sounds grandiose, so I’ll try to be as modest as I can. I grew up in a Jewish tradition, Orthodox home. I very strongly Jewish.
In terms of my theology which, luckily, Judaism does not insist on theology. Judaism is a religion of good works, not of belief. You don’t have to have a belief to be saved, et cetera. So it’s a religion that doesn’t demand a lot in terms of that.
And it doesn’t demand a lot and I don’t give it a lot because I’m a skeptic. I’m not at all an atheist. I mean, of all the possible theologies, atheism is the least plausible. I mean, you’ve got to explain the existence of the universe, and to assume it invented itself or created itself is rather odd.
I mean, the only important question, the most important question is why is there or can there be anything, and how can there be consciousness? Atheism is not an answer that is plausible in any way to me.
But then short of that, I guess I’m a skeptic in the way that, say, a Jefferson was, in the sense that I don’t accept the accepted accounts. I suspect there is something out there mysterious, sort of the Einsteinian mystery. And beyond that, I haven’t a clue
I once said to a friend, I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly. So I’m rather impressed by the fact that the universe is inexplicable in any terms in which we understand. So there is something out there that we don’t
That induces a little humility. And that’s theologically I try to remain humble because I don’t understand it.
LAMB: Do you take a risk when you say something like that with your conservative constituency?
KRAUTHAMMER: I’m not worried about risks. I’ve always when I went into journalism, I decided this is what I wanted to do. The point of it was to say what I believed and I didn’t really care one way or the other how people would react, otherwise I’d still be doctor. It’s an easier life and I don’t have to take those risks.
LAMB: One of the things on your bio sheet that I wanted to ask you to give some more background. You say your founding board member of Washington’s, and I may not pronounce it right, Shoresh Hebrew High School. Is that right, that’s the way to pronounce it?
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. Shoresh.
KRAUTHAMMER: It’s the Hebrew word for "roots" or "foundation." My son was in after school in high school to learn about his religion and tradition. And I was extremely unhappy he wasn’t learning anything. So I met two other dads who had the same concern. And set up a tiny little school where they would go on Sunday evenings and they would learn text, liturgy, the Bible, Jewish history, and rabbinics and the commentaries on the Bible.
But text, instead of schmoozing and talking and Jews in Hollywood, it may be interesting but it ain’t important. So that’s the courses that we established. We set up this little school and then it turned out there were other parents who wanted their kids to actually learn something. And the school now is up. It’s got a five-year program and it thrives.
LAMB: And then in addition, that you serve chairman of Pro Musica Hebraica, a society founded by your wife Robyn
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, that’s a fledgling enterprise in which the idea that she had, which was that there are some sort of lost traditions of classical Jewish music, not religious, not folk, not klezmer, not the kind of stuff people know, but classical works written by Jews.
For instance, there was a group of students of Rimsky-Korsakov at the turn of the 20th Century who wrote in the Jewish tradition, Russian composers, which was mostly lost. It was known as the St. Petersburg School.
So our idea is the retrieve the works, have them performed in Washington. We’ve gotten some help from the Kennedy Center, and we’re trying to put together programs that over time will expose that kind of loss to music and others to a general audience.
LAMB: Over the years, how often has a president reached out to you for any reason
KRAUTHAMMER: Very rarely.
LAMB: What was your relationship with Ronald Reagan, did you know him at all
KRAUTHAMMER: Not really. I had close contact with him really once. I mean, I saw him at work as a journalist. He had me and two other journalists to lunch once in the mid ’80s. That was the closest I ever got to him.
My theory is not with presidents, but with people in government, you don’t want to be that close personally because it makes it hard to be objective and critical. So I’m not one who depends on sources a lot if you read my column. Obviously I’m making it all up and I find it’s a lot easier that way because you maintain your distance which I think helps if you’re commentator.
LAMB: When you sit down to dictate, who do you have in your mind that you’re trying to talk to
KRAUTHAMMER: I used to think I’m talking to my son, explaining things to him when he was, say, in his early teens. That way I would try to be clear and well-structured. Well, he’s a big boy now, so now I basically think that I’m talking to friends at dinner and telling them what I think about a certain issue. So that way you’re more informal and the language is less stilted.
LAMB: Do you have anybody that gives you immediate feedback after your column runs in The Post or someplace? I mean, do you have regular people that call you up and say, good, bad, indifferent
LAMB: Are there days when you never hear a thing
KRAUTHAMMER: There are weeks, there are months when I never hear a thing. I’m shooting arrows in the air all the time and I haven’t got a clue where a lot of them land.
LAMB: What about feedback from appearing on FOX several times
KRAUTHAMMER: Get a lot of e-mail. So that gets through FOX, and I’m sent a lot of that, which I read. But again, it’s irregular.
LAMB: Is FOX "fair and balanced"
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. I think so. I think the reason that it has raised the ire of so many people in the country is because it offered an alternative to the mainstream, which for a generation were just obviously and clearly liberal.
I once said, in fact, I’m quoted in The Economist, I’m not sure how they got the quote because I said it in private to a friend that the genius of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch was that they discovered a niche in broadcast journalism, half the American people; meaning that you had half of the country it’s rather evenly split between liberal and conservative, at least half who simply did not like the diet of news they would get through an obviously liberal filter.
There’s nothing wrong with having a liberal filter, but it’s not good if that’s the only if that dominates the airwaves. And by establishing a channel in which you a different filter, I think it had a huge response and it’s a very, very necessary component the diversity of outlets people have available to them. .
LAMB: Why did so many people in the media business get so irritated with FOX
KRAUTHAMMER: Because of its success
LAMB: Just because of its success
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. If it had if it wasn’t successful, it would be ignored. But it commands an audience. People hunger for that kind of approach. It has a lot of influence. And that’s the monopoly that the mainstream, the old style media had, the liberal media had, was broken. People hate losing monopolies and this is the classic example of a monopoly shattered.
LAMB: You were born in 1950.
LAMB: What do you want to accomplish for the rest of your life that you haven’t done
KRAUTHAMMER: I want to write the book on foreign policy. I’d like to write not a memoir, but a pastiche of some of the incidents in my childhood, particularly of my parents’ generation, which was a very picaresque and very interesting generation.
And also you want to live as long as you can because you want to see how things turn out. That’s the real downside of dying. You just you don’t find out, you know, what’s going to happen in the Middle East, what’s going to happen with all the things you care about in the world. So I’m hoping to hang in there and learn how what history is going to say to us.
LAMB: If I remember, it was 1972 when you had your accident
LAMB: Diving accident. Has the fact that you are you basically a paraplegic
LAMB: All your life, has that had any negative impact on your health
KRAUTHAMMER: No. I’ve generally been healthy all the way through. In other words, other than the normal stuff, you’d have aging with a few minor exceptions, it’s had no impact on my life in terms of health. And it probably will not an impact on life expectancy.
LAMB: And your father died at what age
KRAUTHAMMER: He was 83
LAMB: And how old is your mom
KRAUTHAMMER: She’s 83 and doing well.
LAMB: Live here or in Canada
KRAUTHAMMER: She lives in no, we all left Canada in the ’70s. She lives in New York and Miami. She’s a snowbird.
LAMB: I think it was 1998, correct me if I’m wrong, you signed the letter, the Project for a New American Century.
KRAUTHAMMER: I don’t think I did.
KRAUTHAMMER: I’m pretty sure I didn’t, Brian, I’ve heard that a lot.
LAMB: Maybe I was yes, maybe it’s in the database, so somebody thinks you did.
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, that database has been, I think, incorrectly I mean, I’m not defensive about it…
LAMB: Would you have signed that if you’d…
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, tell me what it was about and I’ll tell you.
LAMB: It was basically the letter that was signed by a lot of the officials in this current administration that said, go get Saddam. I mean, that’s really shorthand.
KRAUTHAMMER: I truly believe that I didn’t. If I did, it will be interesting. There’s nothing wrong with having done that. It was the 1998 was the year with which the Congress passed the law precisely to that effect and President Clinton signed the law, which was the regime change act in terms of Iraq.
So it was already national policy, the only question was how you were going to do it. And there wasn’t anybody in ’98 who envisioned invasion as a way to do it. There wasn’t anybody in 2001 who envisioned invasion until 9/11
I mean, that’s what changed things and it made it a priority, it made it urgent, and it made the risk of not acting very high, which is why I think we ended up with invasion. But nobody advocated, as far as I know, invasion at the time
The most I heard, and it was from John Kerry who proposed it once, speculated about it, and Wolfowitz, who also speculated about it, was the idea of having an insurgency in the south of the country where the Shiites are, supported by the United States, which would establish a free Iraq in a part of the country and wage a war against the government.
That I think was the farthest anybody was thinking of a military engagement. So the short answer is, I’m quite sure I never did, although if I did, I would be interested to learn about it. Secondly, if I had, there would be nothing remark (ph) about it
And thirdly, the idea that this is the kernel of some conspiracy that was hidden in the depths of the body politic waiting to emerge is ridiculous. Conspiracies hardly act in the open, and open letters are about as open as you get.
LAMB: It really wasn’t even suggesting a conspiracy, but the question…
KRAUTHAMMER: But others have who have talked about that.
LAMB: But I was interested in whether or not if this isn’t, from somebody’s standpoint, a success story, where you have a lot of people who did sign that letter who obviously think alike on this issue, who managed then to pull it off
KRAUTHAMMER: But I’m not sure how central it was. If 9/11 hadn’t happened, it would never had happened. 9/11 changed everything. I mean, who would we have invaded Afghanistan in the absence of 9/11, no? Would there be a revolution in the absence of 9/11? No
I mean, all of this is because the world changed on 9/11 and we had to rethink how to look at the world and what we had to do. And I think the administration’s response, which was that we had understand that the origins of 9/11 had to do with the political dysfunction in the Arab world, the fact that uniquely, compared to Latin America, East Asia, Europe, Americas, it had been left behind, hadn’t developed and was really a cauldron of intolerance and dictatorship and ultimately hatred of America that was a result of that.
You had to change that. And that’s why all of this happened. So I’m sure that this is a success story. I think there was a change in history which allowed all of this to happen. But I’m not sure the Iraq question was the most important question in the world before 9/11
LAMB: Had you been at the right hand of the president of the United States planning all this, would you have advised him any differently about how to deal with the public? I’m getting at the obvious, the weapons of mass destruction and all that, selling it.
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I wasn’t at his right hand, but I did have a right hand writing, and I wrote about it. And I wrote in TIME a month before the invasion that the real reason to do Iraq was not weapons of mass destruction, it was to as I explained just a little earlier, to change the culture of the Middle East, and which was a risky endeavor.
There was no question about it. I never said it was a slam dunk, to change that culture in order to change the conditions which had led to the terrorism, al Qaeda, 9/11. So I was not very happy that we pinned it all, or at least a lot of it on weapons of mass destruction. I understood why that was, because we needed U.N. support, and all of that hinged on a legality about the weapons of mass destruction.
But I’ve written about international law for years. I’m a great skeptic about international law. I think it’s worthless in almost every important issue outside of the fisheries treaty with Canada. So I was not impressed by the necessity of U.N. action or all of this explanation.
I understood why the president had to do it, because a lot of Americans worship at the church of the U.N. and wanted U.N. action. Thus we had to have the WMD issue. But I thought it was risky and it was a mistake, and it turned out that it was a mistake.
LAMB: You write often about Syria, or recently about Syria being an important part of this puzzle, why
KRAUTHAMMER: It’s the last remaining bad actor in the entire region, from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean. You’ve got Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, a new Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, all democratizing to one degree or other, all rather tolerant, heading in the right way.
Syria is the bad actor destabilizing everybody, destabilizing Lebanon, supporting the terrorists in Palestine and in Israel, working to help the insurgency in Iraq. And if it changes, which I think it could, if it’s humiliated in Lebanon and withdraws precipitously, if the regime there is changed, I think it would be it would completely change the complexion of that region and would secure it for the kind of democratization that we really want.
LAMB: How big a supporter are you of Israel
KRAUTHAMMER: I believe in its right to exist. I believe it has been unfairly attacked over the years, starting with the Zionism is racism. It has been a target of the international left, which is a scandal. I think it’s a shame to the international left. And I think if Israel were ever destroyed it would be on our conscience in the West for generations like Holocaust.
LAMB: How important is it to us, and how much more money can this country spend on Israel
KRAUTHAMMER: We don’t well, I mean, the aid that we are spending on Israel is mostly military. And Israel’s economy is becoming stronger and stronger. And I think ultimately perhaps within a few years it will wean itself off the money.
I don’t think the money is the real issue. The issues is it causes a lot of Arabs to be angry with America. And I understand that. But the answer is not to throw your friend into the sea. I mean, the Chinese are angry with America over our defense of Taiwan. The answer is not to throw Taiwan into the sea, but it is to try to find some accommodation.
And I think we have tried very hard to do that. I really, for the first time in many years, I’m an optimist on the fact that that might happen. I thought the Oslo agreements were a fraud and a deception from the first day they were signed. And in fact, they turned out to be.
But there is a new realism in understanding the issue. And I think that over time, if we can find some accommodation, which I think the Arabs may be getting ready to do, that will help to improve our relations with all of the Arabs.
LAMB: The issue you’re most concerned about for the future of this country
KRAUTHAMMER: I think for the next for our generation it’s the war on terror. No question that the problem today, the threat today is that these guys will get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction and they will kill a million Americans in one day. That’s an existential threat to the United States. That is without a doubt the issue of our time.
I think we will prevail, I think because of what we are now pursuing in the Middle East, the Arab spring that we’re seeing. Our generation may be able to manage this issue and solve it. And then the rising issue will be China
China is the second issue, but it is not immediate, it’s a long-range issue, it will be the issue in mid-century. Luckily I’ll be gone and others will have to deal with it. China today to the world is what Germany was 100 years ago, a rising have-not power that’s looking for its place in the sun.
And if we mismanage it the way that Europeans mismanaged it a century ago, we’re going to have real problems.
LAMB: Only have a couple of minutes left. You are serving on the Commission on Bioethics
KRAUTHAMMER: Because I believe that domestically that is a very interesting problem, difficult problem, and important. And it’s neglected. We’re beginning to get a mastery of the human genome and even human consciousness that is going to scare us to death in a decade or two or three. And this council to think about what the problems are, how we might address them.
LAMB: Are you on the same wavelength as George Bush
KRAUTHAMMER: On these issues
LAMB: And stem cell research and things like that
KRAUTHAMMER: No. I’ve written publicly that I believe his restrictions are too strict. I would allow the use of human embryos discarded by clinics, which would open a vast amount of material for stem cell research.
And I suspect that the line the president drew, which was a lot stricter, is not going to hold.
LAMB: When you look ahead to 2008 in politics, any sense in your own mind of what Republican would make it through the filter and then what Democrat
KRAUTHAMMER: I haven’t got a clue how it will work out. It’s going to be extremely interesting because it’s a rare this is an extremely election. Two-term presidents always have an heir, the vice president. Eisenhower had Nixon all the way through to Clinton had Gore.
Well, it’s not going to happen because Cheney is not running. So it’s wide open. I like Condi Rice. But she apparently wants to be the commissioner of the NFL instead.
LAMB: You wrote somewhere, when you’re writing about Condi Rice being confirmed, you said: "Who has the politics of this right? My guess, Hillary, as usual.
KRAUTHAMMER: I think she will be the Democratic nominee as she heads towards the center. And she will be a very strong candidate.
LAMB: And you say she’s got she understands the political game
KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely. She is extremely smart and clever and knows how to position herself.
LAMB: What kind of a president would she be
KRAUTHAMMER: Probably a disaster, but I’ve been wrong before.
LAMB: On that note, Charles Krauthammer, thank you very much for joining us.
KRAUTHAMMER: It’s a pleasure.