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Dr. Charles Krauthammer Reflecting On His Father On Father’s Day Weekend

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HH: So pleased to welcome back Dr. Charles Krauthammer. Dr. Charles, welcome back, good to have you, and a Happy Father’s Day weekend eve do you.

CK: Thank you so much, Hugh, pleasure to be back.

HH: I want to talk mostly about your dad, and the fact that Things That Matter, now 27 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, would make a great Father’s Day present. But if I could, could I start somewhere else for a brief question?

CK: Absolutely.

HH: Imagine if you will, I understand that the House GOP politburo has met, and that they’ve anointed Kevin McCarthy. But just imagine that House Majority Leader Raul Labrador was elected, and he would appear on Telemundo and Univision daily, he would answer the MSM’s gotcha immigration questions in Spanish on Meet the Press or Face the Nation or This Week. Imagine a Puerto Rico born son of a single mom being asked about the one percent, you know, a former Mormon missionary who’s worked in the slums of Chile talking about religious liberty, a parent of five talking about the challenges of paying for college or raising kids in this culture, a guy from the west talking about the federal intrusion of states’ rights. I think Raul Labrador as the GOP House leader would be the boldest, best political stroke in a generation. What do you think?

CK: I think establishments are very hard to reform. It’s the reason Eric Cantor went down. For many people in the party, he was, he represented the worst of that. Although to be fair to him, when you’re in leadership, you always have a split loyalty, because you’re thinking of the party nationally. You have to think of appeasing factions in your caucus, and you can’t just devote yourself to the constituency and to their view the way you do when you’re a back bencher. So you know, it’s a common problem with officials. It’s one of the reasons, say, Mitch McConnell was endangered, because either you’re force, or you think it’s your role to do, to play a more middle of the road, more mediating role. But on Labrador, I’m with you. Look, I’m open to all kinds of suggestions. I really do think there’s a native timidity in leadership, simply…particularly in a year like this, Obama’s, I just saw Reuters has Obama’s approval at 37.5%. I don’t think people have experienced the world sort of collapsing all at once the way they look around everywhere – the border, Ukraine, obviously Iraq/Syria, all of this stuff caving in on a presidency, and burying it. And the natural instinct of a leadership is to say we’re going to play it totally safe. We’re not going to take any…now I would disagree, but I do think that’s what they tend to do. Let’s play it safe, let’s get our majority strengthened, majority in the House, get a majority in the Senate, and then we’re in the driver’s seat, because Obama would have to spend two years exercising the veto, which would make his popularity go much lower. And you could enact a lot of laws that would be on the books, vetoed, and ready to go if the Republicans come back.

HH: But imagine Labrador…

CK: No, I’m with you. I think there’s a big lack, there’s a total lack of imagination. There’s one other thing, Hugh. It’s sort of natural succession. They know each other. They worked with him. He was a loyal number three, and people tend to move up to number two. Should they do a stroke like that? Absolutely. Look, rather than pass insane immigration reform as a way to think you’re going to win the Hispanic constituency, showing them some understanding, some sympathy, some affinity and some welcoming in terms of the personality of the leadership is a great idea, Hugh.

HH: Yeah, it would seem to me that if Labrador was their leader, and McCarthy stayed the Whip, like House of Cards…

CK: Right.

HH: You would probably pick up the Senate easily, you’d get gains in the House, and you’d have this huge strategic advantage going into the negotiations over an immigration bill in 2015, and maybe even the presidential campaign.

CK: All right, Hugh, I’m going to offer you a Mitch McConnell-like compromise. Let’s do McCarthy at number two, and [Labrador’s] at number three. How about that?

HH: You mean Labrador? Labrador.

CK: I’m sorry. Labrador at number three, yeah. Labrador at number three.

HH: I don’t know. I still want Labrador at number two. But now, let’s go to the reason I really called you up today.

CK: Yeah.

HH: When we talked about Things That Matter we talked a lot about your mom and your brother, and only briefly about your father. And then subsequent to that, I read about your dad, and he’s an extraordinary human being. And I thought okay, it’s Father’s Day even, Things That Matter is a great Father’s Day book. Tell us about your dad in some detail.

CK: My dad is probably the most extraordinary man I have ever met, and he had a tremendous influence on me. And he had a life, 1903-1987, that basically is the story of the 20th Century, born in what was then Ukraine, Lviv, you know, Western Ukraine, where all the excitement has been for the last several months. He went to France at age 16 to seek his fortune. He went {yangja} as a young man, and spent his 20s and 30s in France, and these were the 20s and 30s, the calendar 20s and 30s, very exciting time, did very well. War comes, he’s in Geneva for a Zionist conference, returns to France, signs up for the Army, of course, thank God, he got the Italian front, or I might not be talking to you, Hugh. And then he comes back and decides that as a Jew, this is not a great place. He lived in Lyon, so he made his way to Cuba, over land, all kind of harrowing experiences, spent the war in Cuba. He had a diamond factory that he bought, that produced industrial diamonds for the U.S. Military, and would hire refugees as they came off the boat. Married in Havana, went to Rio after the war where my brother was born, went back to France in about ’46 or ’47. Those were very dark times, because there was rationing and scarcity. They applied for a visa to New York, and were the most grateful immigrants this country’s ever had. When they got in, around 1948-’49, I came along a year later. And he had this wonderful thing about him. He spoke nine languages, Hugh.

HH: Wow.

CK: But by the time he got, I came along late in his life. And by that time, he spoke them all at the same time. He didn’t give a damn. He got kind of, sort of lazy, and he just, but he was so funny. He spoke French and English together. We moved to Canada when I was five, in ’56, ’55, and he moved partly because French was his best romance language, spent his youth in France. English was his last, and his weakest, and when he went to Montreal, he fell in love with the place, he got involved in land development, and then he brought us up, because he was, up to Canada, because he was commuting so much. So he would speak this fantastic mixture of English and French, and unless you knew the two languages, you had no idea what the hell was going on. And if he needed a word, like he was short a word, he couldn’t quite get either in English or French, he would toss it out to you in Polish, German, Russian, maybe Spanish or Portuguese, which he picked up along the way, or whatever suited his fancy. I was the only person on Earth who understood him. So that’s where I think I got my language training. I used to walk around with my dad, and he’d say stuff, and people would look puzzled, and I would be his U.N. simultaneous interpreter into ordinary English.

HH: Now here’s the question. What was table like? Joseph Epstein wrote a wonderful few essays on what it was like to live with his dad. What was the dining room table like at Chez Krauthammer?

CK: Well, it was not what you’d imagine. Politics, even though he had an extraordinary life, and when he lived in Lyon, the mayor of Lyon was a man called Daladier. Daladier became prime minister. They were very good friends from the Lyon days, my father and Daladier. And remember, he was with Chamberlain and Hitler in Munich. So he, I mean, he was not a man who was unaware of politics. And in Cuba, he told me he was a friend of Batista with the word friend in quotation marks. This was in the 40s, because he said that whatever business you ran, Batista became your partner automatically, with a 10% cut. But he did say that Batista was the most honest crook he ever knew, because he never took a penny more than 10%. So there was some politics. There were a lot, I used to love to hear his stories, because of a truly epic life, through all these countries, all these events. But we were not politically, we were living in Canada where the main issue was French independence, which didn’t exactly touch on the, you know, Québécois independence as a separate province, which didn’t exactly, you know, inflame the heart one way or the other of an immigrant Jewish family.

HH: But how did he interact with your mother? Did they have nicknames for each other? Did he have nicknames for you and your brother?

CK: Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah, I was, I had a Yiddish nickname. And he caught me, whenever he was angry at me, he’d use Yiddish. So I know every derogatory word in Yiddish. I could deploy them at will. But my father and mother spoke French together. That was their best, she’s from Antwerp, so that was easy. And it was his best language. So they spoke, and we spoke French at home. And my brother and I spoke English. And then by the time we started going to school, we began responding in English as a kind of a protest, you know, I mean, we’re American, but we live in North America. We’re going to speak English like Americans do. But it was not, yeah, I mean, it was very, there was nothing formal about these relationships. And of course, family was the most important thing. The conversations would revolve around that, because my father and my mother had very large families, all of whom had survived the War, just about every one, a few were lost, and they were always coming out, and they were always a topic of conversation.

HH: But he wasn’t somber? He wasn’t somber? He wasn’t a cynic about what had happened to the Jews of Europe? He was a Zionist.

CK: Not at all. I mean, you see, I grew up in this, the idea of being somber of the Holocaust hanging over everything was so alien to me, I didn’t learn it until I was in college and began reading about it. It was a man of tremendous energy, and he internalized all the, look, he didn’t live through the worst of it. They had left Eastern Europe. He took all his brothers out of Ukraine in the early 30s, set them up in France, and then he sent them to Brazil. They were younger than him, and so that kind of trauma was not a great part of our lives. We knew about it, it of course had decimated friends and others, but I never felt it as a heavy presence. My father had this energy, optimism and spirit of he can go anywhere, do anything, confront anything and prevail, which he sort of inculcated in us. So there was never a sense of defeatist, and that was very important in my life.

HH: I’ll tell you, you don’t need any suggestions for books, but a book about your father and your mother would be extraordinary, because wow, what lives.

CK: Yeah, I’ve thought about that, a lot of ideas in my head for a next book, and that is, that’s sitting at the top , right now at the top.

HH: Charles Krauthammer, have a wonderful Father’s Day. Things That Matter is a wonderful book if anyone is looking around for the perfect book to give Dad this weekend, that’s a good one. And I hope you become part of the Labrador for Majority Leader caucus over the weekend.

CK: Well, maybe I’ll give you, let’s give them a co-two and a half leadership. We’ll put them in equal position in the middle, and everybody will be happy.

HH: You bet, you bet.

CK: Thanks a lot.

HH: Charles Krauthammer, have a happy Father’s Day yourself.

End of interview.

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