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Archive for Friday, December 18, 2009

Columnist watches power ebb, flow

December 18, 2009

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— Twenty-five years ago this week, I wrote my first column. I’m not much given to self-reflection — why do you think I quit psychiatry? — but I figure once every quarter-century is not excessive.

When Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield approached me to do a column for The Washington Post, I was somewhat daunted. The norm in those days was to write two or three a week, hence the old joke that being a columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac — as soon as you’re done, you’ve got to do it again.

So I proposed once a week. First, I explained, because I was enjoying the leisurely life of a magazine writer and, with a child on the way, I was looking forward to fatherhood. Second, because I don’t have two ideas a week; I barely have one (as many of my critics no doubt agree).

The first objection she dismissed as mere sloth (Meg was always a good judge of character). The second reason she bought. On Dec. 14, 1984, my first column appeared.

Longevity for a columnist is a simple proposition: Once you start, you don’t stop. You do it until you die or can no longer put a sentence together. It has always been my intention to die at my desk, although my most cherished ambition is to outlive the estate tax.

Looking back on the quarter-century, the most remarkable period, strangely enough, was the ’90s. They began on Dec. 26, 1991 (just as the ’60s, as many have observed, ended with Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 9, 1974) with a deliverance of biblical proportions — the disappearance of the Soviet Union. It marked the end of 60 years of existential conflict, the collapse of a deeply evil empire, and the death of one of the most perverse political ideas in history. This miracle, in major part wrought by Ronald Reagan, bequeathed the ultimate peace dividend: a golden age of the most profound peace and prosperity.

“I recently told an assembly at my son’s high school,” I wrote in 1997, “that they were living through a time so blessed they would tell their grandchildren about it. They looked at me uncomprehendingly ... because it is hard for anyone to apprehend the sheer felicity of one’s own time until it is gone.”

I concluded with “golden ages never last.” Throughout the decade, and most especially as it began to wane, I returned to this theme of the wondrous oddity, the sheer impossibility of an age of such post-historical tranquility.

And inevitable ennui. So profound was that tranquility, so trivial the history of that time, that George Will and I would muse that if this kept up — an era whose dominant issue was a president’s zipper problem — he might as well go back to the academy and I to psychiatry.

Of course, it didn’t keep up. It never does. History is tragic, not redemptive. Our holiday from history ended in fire, giving birth to a post-9/11 decade of turbulence and disorientation as we were faced with the unexpected resurgence of radical eschatological evil.

Which brings us to the age of Obama, perhaps — mirabile dictu — the most exhilarating time of all. There is nothing as bracing for democracy as the alternation of power, particularly when it yields as serious, determined and challenging an ideological agenda as Barack Obama’s. This third wave of transformative liberalism — FDR, then LBJ, now Obama — is no time for triangulation. This is not incrementalism. We’re not debating school uniforms. When Obama once declared Ronald Reagan historically consequential and Bill Clinton not, he meant it. Obama intends to be the Reagan of the new liberalism.

It’s no secret that I oppose nearly everything Obama has proposed. But after the enervating ’90s and the tragic 2000s, the prospect of combative and clarifying 2010s, of sharply defined and radically opposed visions, is both politically and intellectually invigorating.

For which I’m tanned, rested and ready. And grateful. To be doing every day what you enjoy doing is rare. Rarer still is to be doing what you were meant to do, particularly if you got there by sheer serendipity. Until near 30, I’d fully expected to spend my life as a doctor. My present life was never planned or even imagined. An intern at The New Republic once asked me how to become a nationally syndicated columnist. “Well,” I replied, “first you go to medical school. ...”

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

" This third wave of transformative liberalism — FDR, then LBJ, now Obama — is no time for triangulation. This is not incrementalism."

What is Krauthammer talking about? Has he slept through this entire year, and this column is merely what he dreamed that Obama would do? Obama has been the centrist's centrist, and in a US political landscape that's primarily controlled by and for corporate interests, that's fairly right of true center.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Yea, Tom that is the really scary part about this. Voters may be so disappointed in Obama that they decide to do something really desperate and stupid-- like elect Palin president.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Oh, you funny man, Tom.

But what's funniest is that the disappointment with Obama isn't following the script that you want it to. The disappointment is that he's governing more like a Republican, and not the moderate to liberal Democrat that he ran as.

But you and your cohorts just soldier on with your clueless diatribes about what a socialist he is.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Obama and the Democrats had a very strong mandate to move decisively away from failed Republican policies. They didn't, and the reason is that they prefer the power that doing the bidding of corporate power gets them, which in the MSM is labeled as "centrist," even though it's really closer to fascist.

devobrun 5 years ago

Bozo, the proximate trouble of health care and global warming political failure shows that Obama is having trouble leading. If he had his way, health care would be transferred to the government. Energy policy would shut out the private sector as well. This following the takeover of the automotive industry and the bailing out of the financial industry.

I think Obama has found out that our current system of government-funded-by-taxation can't support itself while it tries to take over the businesses who provide the tax money. If profit provides government money, and government policy stifles profit, how are you gonna pay for the government? This is why he released the grip on the financial industry.

It isn't his fault. We're in the transition between capitalism and socialism. Until the left has sufficient power to change tax code away from business and to things like carbon, Obama will not be able to complete the transfer of wealth. He needs a new tax paradigm and it ain't easy. Now, when Walmart is nationalized, things will be different. When newspapers are controlled......

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Well, I could give your analysis a bit more credence if they had actually taken over the automotive, financial or health industries (none of which have been providing much in the way of taxes recently.) What they did was prop them back up so they could resume business as usual-- which is corporate control of government, which is fascism, not socialism.

jayhawklawrence 5 years ago

Like many, I have a hard time understanding where Krauthammer is coming from. He is a brilliant writer and has a hugely successful career.

He was a speech writer for Mondale and worked under Carter. He is now supporting conservative causes for the most part.

I think fiction writer describes him best, masquerading as a conservative columnist. A successful opportunist.

Congrats Charlie. You have made a lot of money but I have no respect for you.

bad_dog 5 years ago

"I think the past several weeks indeed have brought clarity as to just why the hard-left is obsessed with Palin. She may not be the runner, but could she lead the charge? Her $$$ raising abilities don't say, “what a dummy”. And she's not even really trying all that hard–-yet."

Tom, if anyone appears "obsessed" by Palin, it seems to be you. I don't think the "hard-left" is obsessed with her so much as they just don't care for any facet of Palin or her spoon-fed policies; much as you and the "hard-right" don't agree with anything Obama. Given the hard-right's disdain and suspicion of Obama's fund raising validity shouldn't you be equally concerned with the who, what and where of her contributions? Is it merely "dummies" throwing good money after bad; sensing charisma over substance? Is there some darker agenda driven by a corrupt hard-right cabal?

As for the editorial, only a self-serving Krauthammer would consider "..the prospect of combative and clarifying 2010s, of sharply defined and radically opposed visions, is both politically and intellectually invigorating" preferable to "...the enervating ’90s." And he justifies this by claiming it is "both politically and intellectually invigorating". I can't speak for everyone, but who wouldn't want continuous dissent, unrest and the inability to find common ground in every facet of your lives?

Think I'll go tell my boss he's making the wrong decisions running the business, pick a fight with my wife and kick the dog. That's invigorating! Then I'll write a letter to the editor about how perpetuating this behavior makes for a great life-at least for me...

bad_dog 5 years ago

Thanks for the reminder Obama is President, Tom. Good to know you got my back.

I still must disagree with you regarding your belief the "far-left/left" is obsessed with her. Palin certainly isn't reluctant to inject herself and her family into the media maelstrom. In fact you might say she is obsessed with the need for attention, but, whatever, I really don't much care what she does or says as she does not pose a threat to me. If, however, she publicly does or says something others disagree with, why should a response come as a surprise? Just as you have the right to opine on all matters, so does everyone else on all things Palin. Voicing contradicting opinions about Sarah Palin doesn't constitute an obsession. It's just a response to an annoying stimulus-much like swatting flies.

Hmm. Commenting on online blogs incessantly 24/7/365 might be perceived as an obsession to some. Nah, what was I thinking?

weeslicket 5 years ago

re: "the far left/left obsession" with sarah palin, according to tom shewmon

given repetetive statements like these, i often like to go back and read the article and the posts, and see just who "obsessed" the topic (in this case, sarah palin) into the conversation to begin with.

and the answer came rather early on: 18 December 2009 at 7:33 a.m.: "I think the past several weeks indeed have brought clarity as to just why the hard-left is obsessed with Palin. She may not be the runner, but could she lead the charge? Her $$$ raising abilities don't say, “what a dummy”. And she's not even really trying all that hard–-yet."

give yourself a treat, and go back to find out who really has this particular obsession.

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