Charles Krauthammer on the amazing pushback at Barack Obama on race, and health care debate advice for Republicans
HH: Joined now by Fox News all star and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, what a day for the news. What do you make of the President’s extraordinary appearance in the White House today to try and put the Gates-Officer Crowley matter behind him?
CK: Well, I think his folks realize they made a pretty big mistake. You know, it hearkens back to the old Democratic stereotype of Democrats, which actually was quite accurate for half a century, of soft on crime, and the flip side of that is tough on cops. And they just don’t respect the people of the thin, blue line between us and barbarism. And that’s what came out. Here was the president of the United States not knowing the facts, taking the side of a professor at Harvard over a cop who has an incredibly good and clean record of being respectful, particularly on issues of race, and secondly, accepting the narrative, that’s the word that the left loves, the narrative that the reason for the altercation was racism, for which there is no evidence. And I think the turning point was when the Cambridge Police Department held that press conference. It’s a multi-racial police department. They’ve got support from surrounding police departments saying that this simply wasn’t right, the President had got it wrong, that the police had acted correctly. That’s when they understood they did not want to stay in a confrontation with cops. That is really bad politically for Democrats, for all kinds of reasons, historical and political. And that’s when he had to beat a retreat.
HH: You know, Charles, when I saw that press conference, I said this is going to be far more significant than the incident, because it’s an example of people pushing back against the Obama administration, and against the President himself. No one’s really done that in that kind of a context thus far. I mean, people have tried, you know, DeMint got into it on the Waterloo thing, and other people have had tête-à-têtes with him, but no one stood up and said you’re not going to bully us, we’re not going to be intimidated the way that the Cambridge cops did today. And I think that may have a long-lasting effect on opposition to the President.
CK: And I think you’re right, and I think it’s even more significant that the issue on which the pushback came was on race. I mean, after all, go back to the Philadelphia race speech the President gave last year when he got in real trouble over Jeremiah Wright, a speech in which he basically blamed everybody, black, white and grandmother for racism except himself, and in which he refused to renounce Jeremiah Wright. Well, I thought it was an outrageous speech and a fraud, and yet you remember how the mainstream media heralded it as a second coming of Abraham Lincoln. I think Gary Wills wrote it should be taught in schools along with the great speeches of Abraham Lincoln. It was absurd. So he must have thought well, if he got away with that, which was truly scandalous, he’s untouchable on issues of race, and he can sort of freelance. And this is what he did when he answered that question at the press conference. So the fact that the pushback is on this issue, in which he must have thought himself invulnerable, must have been an amazing shock to him.
HH: As I also note, and you made me think about this, most of the press analysis of what happened today has been that the President wanted to get back on message about health care, which is to a certain extent helping him camouflage what is a rapid retreat from a confrontation with police as you spelled it out. But I don’t think that’ll last over the weekend. I think this is going to be played again and again, and that there’s going to be more analysis of what happened here. And I think probably your analysis, your take, is going to be the dominant one. What does that mean for like the next week and the following weeks? What’s the message for opponents of Obama policies and confrontations in this exchange, Charles Krauthammer?
CK: Well, I think first of all, in terms of this particular story, it will have legs if the Cambridge police release the 9-11 tapes and if you actually get an airing of the eyewitness accounts and all that. It’s going to need a little more fact to maintain itself. But I think you’re right. The fact that the President was sort of caught on this, had to push back, I’m not sure it’s necessarily going to carry over into everybody piling up on him on other stuff. I think what’s going on is his policies themselves are so weak, the cap and trade energy thing is a disaster. People oppose it now. The health care, you know, when he talked about it in the abstract, who’s against improved health care expanded coverage, well, as soon as it gets written into legislation, people see what an abomination it is, how you know, completely off the wall it is in terms of spending, and how it’s going to sort of get in the way of anybody’s freedom of choice. So it’s the reality and the facts and the details of the legislation he’s proposed that is now beginning to pull him down. He still has the personal aura. I think he got a nick on the Gates affair. He still has that personal aura. But what’s dragging him now is reality trumps rhetoric at the point where you begin writing legislation.
HH: Now Charles, yesterday Glenn Reynolds on this program, the Instapundit, professor of law at University of Tennessee, marveled at how ill-informed the President is when he speaks about the specifics of medicine. He brought up the question about the pacemaker being treated with Vicodin or painkillers. He brought up the red pill/blue pill, and pointed to the fact that he’s just not that well informed on medicine.
HH: You’re a doctor. Has the same thing struck you?
CK: Yeah, especially on the tonsillectomy stuff. I mean, that’s stuff from the 1950s he might have heard growing up somewhere, or you know, in a bull session in Harvard Law School. The real problem with Obama is he’s extremely intelligent, but he’s even more arrogant. And he trusts his own intelligence to get him through anything, even with a lack of knowledge. And it is amazingly arrogant. He’s standing up there, and he’s saying that there are doctors out there who will rip out a kid’s tonsils in order to make some money, without even knowing what are the indications for a tonsillectomy, and what’s not. He sort of made it up as he went along. You’re right. He operates on what he thinks he only needs, a minimal level of knowledge. He has quite a lot for a president. Remember, he has to know everything from Afghanistan to North Korea to health care and all that. He can’t just specialize. But still, you should have respect for how little you know if you’re a generalist like a president, and not a specialist. And to go after the docs on that, the way he went after the cops on the Gates thing, just shows this man’s supreme self-confidence, which far outruns his knowledge.
HH: How did you grade his overall performance at the press conference?
CK: Well, I must say, I was in the minority. I thought, given the brief he had, which was to defend the indefensible, after all, what’s he proposing? Health care, expansion of coverage, secure coverage, lifetime coverage, portable coverage, everybody has that coverage, you can’t be denied that coverage, which is a huge increase in this entitlement at no cost. So that’s his brief. That’s what, you know, a couple of millionaires will pay a little income tax surcharge, but nobody else is going to pay…that’s absurd. That’s sort of a contradiction in terms, and yet he’s up there for an hour, and I thought he defended the indefensible rather well. You know, after 20 minutes, had I been up there defending a proposition like that, I would have turned myself in on grounds of fraud.
HH: (laughing) Now looking ahead, today Nancy Pelosi announced we’ve still got the votes, and Henry Waxman says we’ll bypass the committee. Do you think they do, Charles? And dare they, do they think they can intimidate the blue dogs? And will the blue dogs potentially take a lesson from the Cambridge police about pushback?
CK: You know, I almost hope the Democratic leadership tries this stunt, and goes around the committee and tries to stiff the blue dogs. There are 52 of them. They only have about a 40 seat majority. If 40 of the blue dogs resist, and a lot of them are really angry today over the threat of the bypass, they accused the chairman of that committee of lying to them. If they lose 40, they would actually lose a vote in the House. And when you have an 80 seat majority in the House, and you control the rules, it’s like the Supreme Soviet. You ought to be able to pass anything you want with the waive of a gavel. If they were to lose on that, it would be catastrophic.
HH: Now in terms of the White House’s tactical approach to the Republicans in the Senate, I had James Inhofe on the program, it’s now all over Think Progress and ABC, because he said very obvious things, which is you know, we can beat this, we can do this, and we’ve got to do it. They’re trying to turn political opposition to the health care disaster that is looming into some sort of an attack on the American creed, or the way that business is done in Washington. Is that working, Charles?
CK: Well, I wouldn’t give it a chance to work. You know, the cardinal rule in Washington, when the other side is in the middle of a civil war and committing suicide, get out of the way. I don’t want to hear a Republican Senator saying that if Obama loses this, we break his presidency. Of course it will destroy his presidency. Just don’t say it. Don’t give them the ammunition to make it into a partisan issue, because the reason it’s going down is because of Democrats. And the reason that Democrats are opposing it is because the numbers don’t add up. So let the reality work itself out. Let the Democrats be the ones to bring it down.
HH: What about the need, though, to get the GOP base back in the game, not just for this, but for other issues of importance, not political importance, but policy importance?
CK: Look, you can quietly state your opposition, and say that you support alternatives, that this thing is a disaster. But you don’t have to turn it into a contest about Obama. The minute you do that, you get accused of playing politics. Whether that’s okay or not is irrelevant. I’m talking about the public relations aspect. Why would you do that? Why would you open up yourself to an attack that it’s a political issue, it’s a way to destroy Obama? It’s a way to say we’re not going to saddle American health care with a terrible idea and stop right there.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, a fascinating conversation, thanks for the time, great column on health care by Charles today in the Washington Post.
End of interview.