The Pacific Research Institute held its annual Baroness Margaret Thatcher Orange County (California) Dinner last week. The site was the Island Hotel in the coastal town of Newport Beach. The honoree was former California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon. The main speaker was syndicated columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer.
A dour man on camera, Krauthammer on stage is as funny as a comedy star, but a comedy star with a bite –- hilariously ferocious. He once wrote speeches for then Vice President Walter Mondale. “People ask, how did I go from writing for Mondale to the conservative I am now?” he said. “Simple. I was young once.”
But written speeches for a senior government official left Krauthammer with one of his defining strengths: he takes political oratory seriously. He looks carefully at what political figures say – particularly presidents of the United States and those who aspire to the position – and draws out the assumption and implications that infuse their rhetoric.
At the PRI dinner, he recalled Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address. It was the statement not of a traditional liberal but of a radical social democrat.
A liberal, Krauthammer joked, doesn’t care what you do so long as it is mandatory.
In that 2009 State of the Union address, the new president made clear that he intended to bring fundamental change to three areas of national life: health care, education and energy policy – the commanding heights of the economy and society.
Noting he was a psychiatrist before he was a pundit, Krauthammer told his audience, in one of his best lines of the evening, the occupations are very similar. In both you’re dealing with people full of paranoia and delusions of grandeur. The difference is, only one has access to nuclear weapons.
He recalled from his days in medicine how simple changes in nurse assignments on a ward floor could throw an entire department into chaos — one unintended consequence after another. Now after a campaign for Obamacare’s passage that we now know was full of deceptions, the administration is with breathtaking arrogance upending the entire healthcare sector.
So what are we seeing? An utterly predictable and ruinous cascading of unintended consequences. And how is the administration coping? With thirty-two extensions that are both cynical and lawless.
The president, Krauthammer said, is something we have not had in that office before — a true man of the left. He has forced on the country a great debate: equality v. liberty; the primacy of the citizen v. the state; the overturning of American exceptionalism.
After the speech, I found myself reflecting that Krauthammer’s laugh line about liberal politicians and delusions of grandeur was as serious as it was funny, and that it came right out of one of the great political philosophers of modern times. A pivotal insight of Nobel Prize economist Frederick Hayek concerned the limits of knowledge. The fatal conceit of the left, Hayek argued, was that central planners could never have sufficient knowledge to override the spontaneous order of society and have things turn out well. Only through all of the people following price signals and making their own individual and incremental adjustments – taking their own individual and incremental chances — could society make progress. Centrally mandated behavior would lead only to ashes.
Krauthammer was saying exactly that about Obamacare and the other excesses of the administration and its enablers in Congress. And since not one Congressional Republican voted for Obamacare and only a handful of Congressional Democrats voted against it, the issue here is not just Washington versus the country. Ideas matter and the parties are divided along intellectual lines as clearly as any time in our history.
There may indeed be, as some have argued, a ruling party and a country party in the United States today. But the country party has allies inside the capital city walls. One key to its ultimate success will be to recognize those friends. At last week’s PRI dinner it was clear that Charles Krauthammer is among them.