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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Things That Matter’

- - Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THINGS THAT MATTER: THREE DECADES OF PASSIONS, PASTIMES AND POLITICS
By Charles Krauthammer
Crown Forum, $28, 400 pages

If you had to name the top conservative writers or thinkers in today's society, Charles Krauthammer would surely be on that list.

The American-born physician and former Democrat, who was raised in Montreal, has gradually become one of the country's leading conservative intellectuals. He writes a weekly syndicated column for The Washington Post, which is carried in more than 400 newspapers, and appears on Fox News' "Special Report with Bret Baier" and PBS' "Inside Washington."

Mr. Krauthammer's strong support of limited government, lower taxes, free markets and more individual rights and freedoms are commendable. His powerful positions on foreign policy and the war on terrorism — he coined two popular terms "Reagan Doctrine" and "unipolarity" — have made him a must-read for defense hawks. Yet his position on certain domestic issues isn't always to the right. He leans pro-choice on abortion and opposes capital punishment, for example. Most small "c" conservatives have learned to look past some of these (shall we say) indiscretions as a result of their immense respect for his knowledge, breadth and depth on most issues, however.

In his new book, "Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics," we find out just how well Mr. Krauthammer's columns and essays have stood the test of time. The author acknowledges a few minor grammatical changes "for the sake of uniformity," and some tiny edits and typo corrections "for reasons of obscurity, redundancy or obsolescence." Everything else "remains untouched" and "stands as it was on the day it was first published: imperfect, unimproved, unapologetically mine."

Indeed, no columnist's body of work (even my own, alas) could ever be described as perfect. Yet the mark of a successful writer is to create theses, devise arguments and defend them with intelligence and eloquence. The times will change, economic situations will transform, and the political winds will surely blow in different directions. But the power of Mr. Krauthammer's written words prevail, even though that moment in time has passed.

"Things That Matter" has 16 chapters containing 88 columns, magazine pieces and essays. The materials are divided into four sections: personal, political, historical and global. The book has no chronological order, meaning readers can freely move in and out of chapters at their own discretion. My sense is they will find Mr. Krauthammer's selections from The Washington Post, Time, The New Republic and The Weekly Standard almost impossible to skip over, whether they agree or disagree with him.

Here are a few of my favorites, based solely on sentence structure and literary style:

Mr. Krauthammer regarded Time magazine's Person of the Century, Albert Einstein, as "an interesting and solid choice. Unfortunately, it is wrong. The only possible answer is Winston Churchill." In his view, "only Churchill carries that absolutely required criterion: indispensability. Without Churchill, the world today would be unrecognizable — dark, impoverished, tortured."

Mr. Krauthammer took a unique position on swearing in public, "I am sure there is a special place in heaven reserved for those who have never used the F-word. I will never get near that place. Nor, apparently, will Dick Cheney." He also wrote, "The Federal Communications Commission just last year decreed that the F-word could be used as an adjective, but not as a verb. Alas, this Solomonic verdict, fodder for a dozen Ph.D. dissertations, was recently overturned. It would not get Cheney off the hook anyway. By all accounts, he deployed the pungent verb form, in effect a suggestion as to how the good senator from Vermont might amuse himself."

Mr. Krauthammer brilliantly argued "the Angry White Male is a myth, an invention of political partisans who wish to rationalize and ultimately delegitimize the election of 1994. After all, neither anger, nor whiteness, nor maleness is a coveted attribute these days."

Mr. Krauthammer's trip to Washington's Holocaust Museum led to this analysis: "I know more about the Holocaust than I want to. Here I learned even more. ... As this generation passes, the memory of the Holocaust will fade. This museum — immovable, irrefutable — will do much to guard the memory."

The imperfections Mr. Krauthammer perceives in his work are, therefore, the perfections that few could ever attain. His writings remain as fresh, intelligent, compelling and thought-provoking as they were when he first wrote them. While he may write for the competition, his support for conservative ideas, intelligent discourse and a more robust Republican Party makes him a true political friend rather than an ideological foe.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.