Friday, September 09, 2016

Things That Matter

The few times that I have been exposed to network news yielded the even fewer times that I have heard the commentary of Charles Krauthammer. But those few times have made me think more deeply about the topics at hand. So I borrowed my mom's copy of Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics by Krauthammer (Crown Forum (Penguin Random House), 2013).

Krauthammer's duo of complimentary gifts is witty concision and brilliant incision. He cuts to the quick, as a physician of ideas and therapist of words, to find the core and source of the issue at hand. And though his book touches on various and sundry topics--science, ethics, and baseball for instance--the "driver of history" is, for Krauthammer, politics.

He is a dedicated, wise, and articulate conservative. "Conservative" here refers not to a sweeping desire to keep things the same, but holding fast the twin anchors of individual liberty and limited government. Krauthammer's conservatism draws from his pen--ever more starkly evident in this book as the pages turn--stinging criticism of the Democratic party and American Liberalism, especially the kind he sees in the Obama administration. (Given Krauthammer's clear capacity in the book to praise strong individuals, I am surprised at the lack of support for the Bush presidencies. Perhaps he did that more in other venues.)

Krauthammer's articulate demarcation of the boundaries and ideals of conservatism and liberalism have forced me to examine my own values. I don't know whether to call myself a liberal or a conservative (socially, politically, or academically). But now I must wrestle with Krauthammer's compelling arguments. They are arguments which, like all the best arguments, call attention as much to their premises as to their conclusions. And just as the assertion that "politics is the driver of history" is an article of faith, liberty as greatest good and American exceptionalism (historical and existential) are articles of faith. What do I believe about human liberty, and a nation's role with respect to liberty? Is the United States of America exceptional in a meaningful sense? What is the character of its exception? And how does that shape my actions as a citizen?

Most importantly for my current position in the global scene: For whom do I vote in November?

I am weighing a thought that occurred to me as I finished the last essay in Things That Matter: perhaps a good (or the best?) criterion I can use as a voter is not whether I agree with all the policy and personality traits of a candidate. Perhaps a better, or more fundamental, criterion is whether a candidate believes the way I do about what America is supposed to be.

These are beginning thoughts. More to come, I'm sure.

~ emrys

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