It’s hard to think of a more important contemporary standard-bearer of American fusionist conservatism — small-government domestic policy coupled with a muscular and liberty-advancing presence abroad — than Dr. Charles Krauthammer. Over the last two-plus decades, he has been an almost singularly influential columnist; and of late, he’s also been a ubiquitous cable-news presence, with a rare complement of insights that makes him equally comfortable proffering ground-level political analysis and grand first principles. Perhaps rarer still is that he is widely respected by both the Right and the Left — he has made frequent contributions to The New Republic, and Bill Clinton recently called him “brilliant.” A Pulitzer Prize and National Magazine Award winner, Dr. Krauthammer is by all appearances at the peak of his powers, which makes the sole lacuna in his formidable résumé somewhat jarring: He has never written a book-length work of original material.
But that’s set to change. This morning, Crown Forum will announce that Krauthammer is working on a new book, set for release in the months ahead of the 2012 elections, detailing his prescription of a “minimalist domestic policy” and realist-grounded democracy promotion abroad as the way forward for an America limping through the second (and perhaps last) decade of its unipolar moment.
Why did it take so long? In a one-on-one call with National Review Online, Dr. Krauthammer gives a surprising answer: “I’ve thought about it for 25 years,” he says, “and I guess I never thought I was ready.”
For the prolific columnist, it wasn’t a worry about the scale of the undertaking, but about its quality. He calls it a “maybe excessive respect for hard covers.” “I have this sort of platonic ideal of what a book about politics should be,” he says. “It has got to be very special.” At the same time, he adds, there is a futility in aiming for timelessness, as precious few political books can transcend their time and place. With this in mind, Krauthammer will attempt to strike a balance between setting forth first-order principles with broad applicability and engaging the debates of the moment. Though the book will be released in the midst of the presidential-election frenzy, he won’t be doing any retail election analysis or handicapping of Republican presidential hopefuls — if any are mentioned in the book at all, “it will be accidental.”
But it will be an attempt to resolve an epochal debate that was inaugurated, more or less, alongside our current president.
“We’re at the midpoint of a four-year-long, incredibly interesting, heated — but also sophisticated — and great debate about the nature of the American experiment, about the nature of the American social contract,” Krauthammer says. The choice is between a welfare state “tending toward the European, which is the Obama agenda” or a return to a “constitutionalism [of] more circumscribed, enumerated powers,” which is how Krauthammer describes the pushback at both the elite and grassroots levels to the president’s post-election “overreach.”
“That’s a fundamental debate about the nature of American democracy, and that’s glorious; you don’t get debates of that depth and scope and importance in one’s lifetime; this is a special moment.”
Krauthammer tells me he had been thinking of writing a book on foreign policy for years before finally deciding to focus on the nexus between America’s conduct abroad and its government at home. “They’re obviously so closely linked,” he says. “The future of the country hinges on doing both, right? You cannot conduct serious foreign policy unless your house is pretty much in order, and how you order your house domestically in the end determines whether you can have a real foreign policy.” Along with Mark Steyn, Robert Kagan, and others, Krauthammer has been a prominent proponent of the theory that Europe’s development as a collection of largely social-democratic states was biconditional on the provision of an American security umbrella. The United States, Krauthammer will argue, cannot afford itself the luxury of expanding the welfare state while withdrawing as the prime protector of liberty abroad — there is simply no one else to which we can outsource the responsibility.
Though Krauthammer tells me he doesn’t intend to write “‘another x’or ‘another y,’” there is one other political work to which he invites comparison. When I asked if he had a working title for the book, he replied in jest: “I’m going to call it Krauthammer’s Politics. Isn’t that what Aristotle called his book?”