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Krauthammer's Tactical Advice For The Republican Party

Oct 24, 2013
Originally published on October 24, 2013 12:17 pm

Long before he was a conservative writer, Charles Krauthammer was a psychiatrist. He tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that he changed career paths because he didn't buy into popular beliefs about a psychiatrist's power: "There is a mystique about psychiatry," he says, "that people think that you have some kind of a magical lens ... Superman's X-ray vision into the soul. One of the reasons I left psychiatry is that I didn't believe that."

In his new book, Things That Matter, Krauthammer presents selections from over 30 years' worth of columns on politics and culture. It seems like rich territory for applying some of the knowledge from his former career, but Krauthammer insists his journalism is not influenced at all by the things he learned as a doctor — though, he jokes, he's been using his real-life powers of hypnosis during his television appearances.

Krauthammer talks to Inskeep about the "battles internal" of the Republican Party, his tactical advice about debt ceiling negotiations, and why he doubts a budget compromise is in America's near future.


Interview Highlights

On the divide in the Republican Party today

I would say the analogy is to the anti-war movement among the Democratic Party in the late '60s, early '70s. Remember, the Democrats were very Cold War hard-line, with Truman and Kennedy, and then comes the anti-war element. Now, the integration of these sort of insurgent, energetic movements is always very rocky. So I think it does cause the battles internal as we saw during the shutdown, but I see these ... far more as tactical arguments as this coalition tries to meld together than anything fundamental.

On what the Republican majority in the House wanted to achieve during the recent government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis

What they wanted was the repeal and abolition of Obamacare ... the whole reason that this insurgency took over at the time of the shutdown and at the time of the debt ceiling was over Obamacare. Had it only been about the budget I think it would have been resolvable much earlier on.

And I think the veterans, the establishment so-called, the cocktail-swilling RINOs [Republicans In Name Only] of which I have now become appointed an honorary member by the Tea Party types — if you've been around here you know that this wasn't going to work. If you control one house of Congress you cannot abolish something like Obamacare, no matter how much pressure you apply.

On the reaction to his 2011 column saying it would be counter-constitutional to use a House majority as a governing authority

Negative ... major negative, the same way I've gotten a hugely negative reaction to my opposition to the tactic of some Republicans to shut down the government or threaten to and threaten the debt ceiling over Obamacare. I mean, it's not that I think they are literally anti-constitutional. You can be a blocking element — that is exactly what Madison intended — they liked gridlock. But it's designed for minorities to be able to block, but not for minorities to be able to govern.

On a recent column urging Republicans to give up the shutdown but press the president on the debt ceiling

This was tactical advice. I was absolutely sure — I remain absolutely sure — that neither the Republicans nor the president would allow a breach of the debt ceiling. That never was an issue. I just thought, as a tactic, there was no question that shutting the government down, or even threatening to, was a 100 percent loser for the Republicans. So as a tactic, what I was saying: Don't do the shutdown; press the president on the debt ceiling. And I think had they done that, they might have gotten something.

On whether the Republican Party is willing to reach agreement with the Obama administration on the budget

I'm not sure that right now we're going to see an agreement on the budget. I don't see it in this presidency. We are at a kind of crisis in the history of the welfare state, and Obama, I think, very strongly represents the social democratic elements in the party, who want to see an expansion of the welfare state, and again, as I wrote in the book in talking about the Tea Party, I do see them as this kind of constitutionalist element who are devoted to the idea of returning to a more limited form of government, and the only way that we're going to get anything done — expansion of the welfare state or curtailment — is going to be when the country decides one way or the other on Election Day, and gives all the power to one party.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The conservative writer Charles Krauthammer used to be a psychiatrist.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: There is a mystique about psychiatry that people think that you have some kind of a magical lens, you know, Superman's X-ray vision into the soul. One of the reasons I left psychiatry is that I didn't believe that.

INSKEEP: Now that he's a columnist and a fixture on TV, Krauthammer says his journalism is not influenced by the tricks he learned as a doctor.

KRAUTHAMMER: For example, when I was at Mass General, I learned to do hypnosis, believe it or not.

INSKEEP: Well, I would think you could have used that hypnosis technique when you're on television. That could be a very effective thing to do to people.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's exactly what I've been doing for the last 10 years.

INSKEEP: And I didn't even know. Apparently it worked.

KRAUTHAMMER: You blew my cover on national radio.

INSKEEP: Krauthammer's book "Things That Matter" compiles three decades of columns. Lately he's thinking of the Tea Party movement, which jolted the Republican Party and was a force behind the recent government shutdown. It makes him think of an earlier political insurgency.

KRAUTHAMMER: And I would say the analogy is to the anti-war movement among the Democratic Party in the late '60s, early '70s. Remember, the Democrats were very Cold War hardline, with Truman and Kennedy, and then comes the anti-war element. Now, the integration of these sort of insurgent, energetic movements is always very rocky.

So I think it does cause the battles internal as we saw during the shutdown, but I see these, Steve, as far more as tactical arguments as this coalition tries to meld together than anything fundamental.

INSKEEP: Although it can become a fundamental difference if nobody can quite agree on what it is that they want. That maybe was one of the scary moments in the debt ceiling crisis, is realizing that the majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans, could not even settle on demands even if they were able to negotiate with the president.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, no, I think I would disagree on that, Steve. What they wanted was the repeal and abolition of Obamacare, and to anybody...

INSKEEP: On the budget, on the continuing resolution, yes, but on the debt ceiling they couldn't find any demands to even vote on.

KRAUTHAMMER: No. But the whole reason that this insurgency took over at the time of the shutdown and at the time of the debt ceiling was over Obamacare. Had it only been about the budget, I think it would have been resolvable much earlier on. And I think the veterans, the establishment so-called, the cocktail-swilling RINOs of which I have now become appointed an honorary member by the Tea Party types, if you've been around here, you know that it wasn't going to work.

INSKEEP: You wrote a really memorable column in 2011 during that debt ceiling crisis, which was more or less addressed to House Republicans in which you said you had every sympathy for their cause, which at that time was trying to radically cut the budget, but that it would be, in your words, contra-constitutional to try to turn the House majority in one House of Congress into a governing authority. What reaction did you get to that column at that time?

KRAUTHAMMER: Negative. Major negative, the same way I've gotten a hugely negative reaction to my opposition to the tactic of some Republicans to shut down the government or threaten to and threaten the debt ceiling over Obamacare. I mean, it's not that I think they are literally anti-constitutional. You can be a blocking element, that is exactly what Madison intended. They liked gridlock. But it's designed for minorities to be able to block, but not for minorities to be able to govern.

INSKEEP: I was surprised then to see in this most recent crisis a couple of weeks ago, you were urging the Republicans to give up their shutdown strategy but then negotiate on the debt ceiling, go ahead and press the president on the debt ceiling. Is there a contradiction there?

KRAUTHAMMER: No, not at all. This was tactical advice. I was absolutely sure that neither Republicans nor the president would allow a breach of the debt ceiling. I just thought as a tactic there was no question that shutting the government down, or even threatening to, was a 100% loser for Republicans. So as a tactic, what I was saying, don't do the shutdown, press the president on the debt ceiling.

And I think had they done that, they might have gotten something.

INSKEEP: Do you think that there's a willingness now in the Republican Party to cut some budget numbers, make whatever agreements can be made with the administration and move on?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not sure that right now we're going to see an agreement on the budget. I don't see it in this presidency. We are at a kind of crisis in the history of the welfare state, and Obama, I think, very strongly represents the social democratic elements in the party who want to see an expansion of the welfare state. The only way we're going to get anything done, expansion of the welfare state or curtailment, is going to be when the country decides one way or the other on election day and gives all the power to one party.

INSKEEP: Charles Krauthammer is the author of "Things That Matter," a collection of his newspaper columns. Thanks very much.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

INSKEEP: And you're hearing him on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.