Saturday, December 21, 2013

Things that Matter

Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passion, Pastimes, and Politics
© 2013 Charles Krauthammer
400 pages



Things that Matter collects articles spanning at three decades, largely culled from The New Republic, giving voice to psychologist-turned-cultural observer and journalist Charles Krauthammer as he watches the ebb and flow of America’s fortunes at home and on the global scene.  Although he opens with essays of a more personal note (commenting on the pleasures of ‘taking in’ baseball, especially when rooting for a perennially losing team), politics undergirds most of the collection. He describes himself as a conservative, though one whom today's standards would judge a centrist, and the body of articles bears that judgment out.

 Although Krauthammer's  opinions fall within a broad enough spectrum that he can't be dismissed as an ideologue or a reactionary (he is baffled by resistance to gay marriage, for instance, and derides Social Security as a Ponzi scheme even while proposing a way to make it financially stable),  he's liable to take the most flak for his acceptance of the notion of American Empire, and his approving attitude toward interventionist schemes in other countries. Of course, he writes, they could have been better managed --  we're always so wise after the lives and money have been wasted, aren't we? Of note is Krauthammer's various pieces concerning Jews and Israel; he sees the tiny nation-state as Jewry's best hope, but says this with a hint of anxiety, for it seems to him of his fellow Jews' putting all their eggs in one vulnerable basket. With the abiding hope of Jews for centuries past now realized,  what will the Jewish people make of their future? Will Israel sustain them, and their identity, or will some future crisis  ravage them again...perhaps permanently? It has happened before, he says, reminding readers not versed in biblical history that once there were two Hebrew kingdoms, Israel and Judah, and Israel was destroyed, its people scattered to the winds:  the children of Judah, now gathered as Israel, can be broken again.   Aside from his attitude toward war, Krauthammer is never politically obnoxious, and in fact frowns on the nature of politics today. In going negative, he offers:

      Delta Airlines, you might have noticed ,does not run negative TV ads about USAir. It does not show pictures of the crash of USAir Flight 427, with a voice-over saying "USAir, airline of death. Going to Pittsburgh? Fly Delta instead."
     And McDonalds, you might also have noticed, does not run ads reminding viewers that Jack in the Box hamburgers once killed two customers. Why? Because Delta and McDonalds know that if the airline and fast-food industries put on that kind of advertising, America would soon be riding trains and eating box-lunch tuna sandwiches.
      Yet every two years the American politics industry fills the airwaves with the most virulent, scurrilous, wall-to-wall character assassination of nearly every political practicioner in the country -- and then declares itself puzzled that America has lost trust in its politicians."

Things that Matter is an interesting, thoughtful collection of miscellaneous pieces,  presumably of interest to Americans who have heard of him. (I hadn't, but have a weakness for reflective essay collections.) 


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