Saturday I had the pleasure of again attending the Claremont Institute’s annual Winston Churchill Dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, one of the more impressive conservative events on the West Coast. It seemed more crowded than usual. The line to be photographed with this year’s honoree was longer even than the very long one for the last year’s winner, Senator Ted Cruz, stretching this time almost out the door of the hotel onto the gilded streets of Beverly Hills. The person being honored must be popular indeed. And he was. It was Charles Krauthammer, the man many regard as America’s premiere conservative intellectual.
The group I was with grinned at the sight and almost spontaneously said to each other: “Why not Krauthammer for president?” And why not? He probably knows the issues better than any possible candidate on either side of the aisle and could discuss them more coherently. And when it comes to a life story, does anyone contemplating running for president have one even roughly the equal of Krauthammer’s? In 1971, just returned from studying politics at Oxford and about to enter Harvard Medical School, he had a diving board accident that put him in the hospital for fourteen months and left him paralyzed for life. And yet he was able to graduate from Harvard Med with his class and become a psychiatrist. (He now describes himself as a “psychiatrist in remission… doing very well, thank you.”) Soon enough, however, he branched into politics and became a speech writer for Walter Mondale. (His wry explanation: “I was young.”) Eventually he become the conservative columnist, best-selling author and Fox News fixture we all know.
But could such a person — a pundit, even — plausibly be president? Although he wouldn’t be the first POTUS in a wheelchair, it sounds absurd. But the Founders did not intend our country to be governed by lifetime politicians, as it has been. And what were Madison, Hamilton and John Jay in the first place when they wrote the Federalist Papers? Basically, pundits. Why not Krauthammer? A flurry of excitement has recently built around Dr. Ben Carson as a candidate from outside but some have said he is not ready on the issues. That would never be a problem for Charles. And would you rather have Charles Krauthammer or Donald Trump? Get serious.
Nevertheless, I admit, it’s a long, long shot. Still, listening to Krauthammer’s witty, riveting address at the Claremont Institute, I wish it wasn’t. Sometimes I wish we lived in a different world — like Seneca’s Rome — where the brightest of our society were involved in our politics instead of the consistently middlebrow bores we currently have that make us think not at all. It’s embarrassing, really. That people actually believe Barack Obama is a good public speaker makes the head spin.
But more important at this moment was the content of Krauthammer’s speech. He pointed out that as bad as Obama’s domestic policies have been, they can be corrected, some of them almost instantly, by a Republican president. The foreign policy catastrophe we are experiencing is a wholly different matter. It will take decades to correct this, Obama having left the world without American leadership and in a horrifying state of entropy. Because of this expanding global disaster Krauthammer believes the coming election will focus more on foreign policy than it has in some time. Needless to say, he didn’t propose himself as a candidate, but he did comment on some of the others. (“Bush should change his name.”) He liked Scott Walker, but at the moment appeared to be leaning toward Marco Rubio, citing the Florida senator’s impassioned speech about the Middle East last week. It was clear, however, that winning the election was everything.
(Thanks to Prof. Scott Soames of USC for suggesting this post and to Katherine and Frank Price for once more hosting Sheryl and me at the Claremont dinner.)