What I took issue with was Dr. K’s assent to some of the Left’s central premises. Pace Ron, I do not believe that is a model strategy for debating liberals. That was my point about the choice of forum – not that a conservative should refuse to appear on a left-leaning program, but that if a conservative harbors some affinity for progressive principles, it is more likely to surface in a progressive forum than in interaction with his usual conservative audience.
To be sure, Krauthammer challenged a number of Stewart’s “liberal shibboleths”; but, contrary to Ron’s insistence, not all of them. Krauthammer concurred in Stewart’s claim that being a conservative has meant being anti-government. Now, as I made clear in my column, Krauthammer did indeed reject Stewart’s assertion that contemporary conservatives are anti-government. He maintained, however, that Stewart’s statement would have been a fair indictment against conservatives until the New Deal. That is simply wrong. It would be a vast overstatement even if, as I assume from the context, Krauthammer meant conservatives could fairly be accused of being anti-welfare before the New Deal.
Dr. K went on to proclaim, moreover, that conservatives came to accept “the great achievements of liberalism – the achievements of the New Deal” – which he specified as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are not “great achievements”; they are pillars of an ambitious dependency edifice erected by statists and controlled by Washington’s career politicians, just as its architects intended. These programs have bankrupted the country. Their combined accrued obligations, plus the accumulating (and inevitably inflating) interest on the astronomical debt that finances them (because they cannot finance themselves), is already several multiples of our roughly $16 trillion gross domestic product, outstripping the nation’s total existing wealth (around $70 trillion).
(Ron also says Charles and I disagree about liberal programs to “end child labor.” I never mentioned the subject; if Charles mentioned it, I don’t recall that; and, other than Ron’s fertile imagination, I don’t know where this supposed dispute comes from.)
Now, as anyone who has followed my work over the years knows, I hold Charles Krauthammer in high esteem. I do not agree with Ron that he is “America’s most well known and highly regarded spokesman for conservatism.” Though Charles defies easy labeling, I see him more in the neoconservative tradition. As Charles points out in his fine new book, Things That Matter, the term “neoconservative” is sometimes used “invidiously”; however, I am speaking of the great tradition of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. And, in fact, Charles refers to those legendary thinkers, as well as to Ronald Reagan (who, he reminds us, started out as a “New Deal Democrat”), in describing his own journey from Left to Right.
It is not my intention to quibble with Ron on this point. Charles is a hugely influential voice on the Right, and deservedly so. I’ve been privileged to consult with him at times over the years on national-security issues. When he speaks, I almost always learn something, as we all do. What I most admire is his rigor: he tries hard to get the facts right and willingly alters his conclusions when his understanding of facts changes – which is bound to happen now and then to anyone who, like Charles, is daily asked to opine publicly on major news, often before critical details have come to light.