Dr. Charles Krauthammer, author of the best-selling non-fiction book of 2014, Things That Matter, opened the program today with a review of the events in New York and of the charges and counter-charges flying about:
HH: On the day Joe Cocker dies, Joe Cocker is, well, a legend. And I’m curious whether my first guest, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, was actually at Woodstock. Hello, Charles, how are you?
CK: No, I wasn’t. I wish I’d been, and I love Joe Cocker.
HH: He’s an amazing character.
CK: He was great, and I just, I mean, when he sang, he made the rafters shake. He was amazing.
HH: It’s interesting to be talking about him today, because I’m about to play for you a clip of William Bratton, the New York City Police Commissioner, where he was talking about the 70s. And of course, that’s the decade of Joe Cocker. It’s the decade of abandonment of all. And you talk a little bit about that in Things That Matter. But what were you primarily doing in those years, Charles? You were injured in those years as you write about in the book, but did you begin them in Canada?
CK: No, I began them in England. I was studying at Oxford. I was a graduate student there. And then I went to medical school in 1971. So my 70s were spent, the 1970s for me, were in medicine, four years as a medical student, then three years as a resident, and then chief resident at the Mass General Hospital. So that was my 20s, and that’s where the 1970s, and it was in a wholly different world.
HH: It is, and that’s why, and in fact, Bratton began his police officer career in 1970 in Boston.
HH: And I was at Harvard from ’74-’78. Listen to what Bratton said this morning on the Today Show.
WB: 1970, when I first came into policing, my first ten years were around this type of tension. Who would have ever though déjà vu all over again, that we would be back where we were forty some-odd years ago? I think this one is a little different, though, in the sense that social media capabilities to spread the word constantly, we had, now, this is the seventh incident in which two police officers have been killed together in New York in the last forty some-odd years. In the 70s, we saw three incidents like this in a very short period of time. But we are in a change moment, I think, is the term, here in the United States. And the idea is to take out of this crisis, find opportunity to move it forward. And I think that can happen. It’s why I came back into the department a year ago. And we will seize on this tragedy, and we’ll seize on all of these issues, and we’ll move forward.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, are we back to the70s, because that would be a very bleak thing indeed.
CK: I think it would be. In fact, I was in Boston in those years. I lived in a pretty rough part of town then right near the medical school hospitals. And that was during the busing riots in Boston. I remember there was one a couple of days in the apartment building I was, which was just on the fault line between neighborhoods. There were riots all over right outside our street. It was a pretty rough time, and the miracle is that we had assumed 70s and 80s that we were on a downward trajectory. There was no way we were going to reverse, crime was increasing, this sort of disillusion of civil order was decreasing. The cities were unlivable. And then we had this, as you know, this amazing turnaround. New York City, the major cities in the U.S., a radical decline in crime, I think the murder rate is less than half today what is was twenty years ago. And this was, I mean, people are still trying to figure out what happened. But in part, it was a large part because of this changed policing, and the sort of broken windows phenomenon, where you didn’t allow even the slightest disorder if you could, and you tried to give a sense to the community that the police, that the society was in charge and not the bad guys. And that became a virtuous circle. The question is, is the advent of some of these new liberal regimes in the big cities going to reverse that? And we’ve already seen hints of it with the way de Blasio was denigrating the police department after these incidents, as a kind of a symbol of the turn in the high officialdom about the kind of policing, that it kept the peace for twenty years.
HH: Now do you think de Blasio has responsibility in any part for the assassination of these two policemen over the weekend, as has been argued by the head of the Police Benevolent Protective Association?
CK: I can understand the emotions running, but I think it’s a mistake to make that causal connection, and one of the reasons is that the killer, who clearly was at least in part motivated by the anti-police hysteria gendered up, ginned up by many of these radicals, was nonetheless a very mentally disturbed guy. I put him sort of on the part with that Australian lone wolf guy. There’s a certain point, this is a guy who attempted suicide, had been mentally ill. His mother, own mother was afraid of him, estranged from his sisters. He was a failure at everything. He’d already been in and out of sort of custodial care forever. He was lucid enough, that is true, to go ahead and commit the murders with premeditation. But you know, I wouldn’t attribute it to any one person or any one event. I just do think he got his purpose in some way by the events, and he did obviously what he did. But I think it’s a little bit of an exaggeration. It is true to say that many officials and many demagogues, from Al Sharpton on down, have been whipping up this anti-police sentiment. And to me, Hugh, what’s remarkable is this. Just a few years ago, the NYPD were rightly considered heroes. They were the heroes of 9/11. We even developed a new phrase, you know, first responders, and they were considered truly heroic, as they are the ones who go into a burning building when everybody’s running out. And then all of a sudden, we flip from this worship of these folks who deserve it for the sacrifices they make to the villains of society who go around hunting black folks because they enjoy killing them? I found that turnabout remarkable. And anybody who contributed to it, truly reprehensible.
HH: Now Rudy Giuliani said this morning, we’ve had, I’m quoting now, we’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the President that everyone should hate the police. I don’t care how you want to describe it, and that is what these protests are all about, the protester being embraced, the protester being encouraged, the protest, even the ones that don’t lead to violence, and a lot of them lead to violence, all lead to the conclusion the police are bad, the police are racist. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community, America, are the police, New York City and elsewhere. They are the ones, not Al Sharpton, who are putting their lives on the line to save black children. Let’s unpack that. First of all, Rudy goes after the President for putting out four months of propaganda. Do you agree with that?
CK: I don’t think the President was putting on anti-police propaganda. The President was trying, as always, to walk this fine line to please everyone, to talk out of both sides of his mouth, to try to assuage and in some way appease the demonstrators, while at the same time realizing he’s the chief law enforcement executive in the country, essentially. He appoints the Attorney General. He’s the man we look for to faithfully execute the laws. At the same time, he has to, you know, tell people that they should have respect for the law. I mean, I think he’s interjected himself in these situations where he didn’t really need to. I’m not sure it was helpful. I think it was probably unhelpful. And now that two policemen have been shot, he issues a statement without appearing out of Hawaii. You know, he did make some public statements on Ferguson and Staten Island, and I think he owes the two cops at least the same respect of making a public statement on their behalf. But no, I’m not going to lay the blame at the feet of the President. I lay it at the feet of the real demagogues that were going out there, and even, you know, some members of Congress doing the hands up, don’t shoot, when apparently from the evidence, that never happened. It became a kind of metaphor. And the implication is that the police enjoy, or will go out and shoot people with their hands up, because they’re black. And when you’re a leader, you should not be propagandizing that in the country. It is dangerous. It creates tremendous amount of tension. And it gives you mobs shouting, you know, there were mobs shouting for the blood of police. What do we want? When do we want it? We want dead cops, and we want them now. I don’t blame them for this particular incident. But I do think that you cannot whip up these atmospheres at a leader and then pretend that somehow you have no connection to what will follow.
HH: Charles, a week ago, and we’ll come back after this break, LeBron James, near and dear to my heart, because I’m a Clevelander, wore an I Can’t Breathe shirt, and the President praised him for doing so. And that’s, I think, what Rudy Giuliani is talking about. Is that consistent with the President’s job to praise LeBron for wearing the shirt that sends the message you just articulated?
CK; Look, for LeBron to wear the shirt, and I was asked about this on Special Report, is perfectly okay. He’s allowed to express himself on whatever the hell he wants, and whether these are fine judgments or not. That’s not the point. We have free speech in this country, and unless you’re doing a documentary or a comedy on North Korea, you’re allowed to say whatever you want in this country. Whether the President should have weighed in on that, he weighs in on a lot of stuff he probably shouldn’t. But I mean, that’s not a high crime and misdemeanor. I think we ought to sort of look at this in perspective. Athletes, celebrities often express themselves. They usually, as a norm, have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. And we don’t take them seriously for that reason. I don’t think we seek our political wisdom from basketball players.
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HH: We were talking about the 70s with Dr. Charles Krauthammer. He is of course Fox News analyst, author of Things That Matter, the bestselling book of nonfiction in 2014, which I’m still kind of amazed by, Charles, as I assume you are as well.
CK: I really am. You know, I wrote this, I was asked why I did this when we passed the million mark, and I said you know, when you write a column that comes out on Fridays, and is wrapping fish on Tuesdays, the reason you do something like this is so that if you get hit by a bus, you’ve left something behind. That was my intent. And instead, it seems I seem to have won the lottery.
HH: You know, Christopher Hitchens, a late, great friend of this program, wrote a column once. My God, it’s a bestseller, about his God, anti-God book. And he was surprised that he touched this nerve in America. But there’s a seriousness in the country right now, and I want to go back to that, because I lived in New York in 1980 for, I went there with Richard Nixon when he moved from San Clemente, and I was horrified by the city. It was a terrible place. The 70s destroyed it, and I lived in Boston during those same riots you talked about. I don’t want to go back. There’s no one in their right mind that wants to go back nor did I actually think many people seriously believed that racism in this country was as bad now as it was then. Do you think they seriously believe that, Charles? Or is it simply a pose from which to profit?
CK: It’s a pose from which to profit. Look, nobody, no sentient person over the age of nine is not aware of the fact that this country has radically changed. For God’s sake, we have a black president, a black attorney general, a black head of homeland security. 50 years ago, the blacks were being legally segregated in parts of the country. I mean, this country has changed itself more, and in a better way, in race relations than any country in the history of the world. And I think it’s a remarkable achievement. And I think these people who are whipping up this sentiment, they know that is true. But after all, they live off race hatred. They live off racial tension. They blackmail. They raise their money. That’s how they do what they do. And they will continue to make it the case as long as they can get away with it.
HH: Should the President continue to pal around with Al Sharpton?
CK: No, that’s a disgrace.
HH: Okay, now let me move to the other major story of the weekend, which was rightly overwhelmed and overshadowed by the assassination of two police officers, but which I still want to talk about, which is Cuba, and behind that, the Republican presidential race. Marco Rubio was everywhere yesterday – on Meet The Press, on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Do you think he’s running for president against his buddy and mentor, Jeb Bush, Charles Krauthammer?
CK: I think he would like to run for president. I think this is the most wide open race on the Republican side in many, many a moon. I don’t know personally whether, in other words, as a relationship with Bush, Jeb Bush, that would make it impossible to run. I suspect he would fun nonetheless. I’m sure that Jeb is running. I think that’s, in my mind, that’s a 100% proposition. He’s not exploring. He’s already reached the North Pole. He’s there. He’s done his exploration. I think Rubio probably will run. And this has to do, I don’t, I would not attribute any cynical, political motive here, although everything a politician does is political, in some sense. Marco Rubio would have exploded had this happened 12 years ago, of this had happened in ten years in the future. He cares, I mean, you can just see it on his face. This is an issue he not only knows, he feels. This is in his blood and his family, and his own history. And this is a guy who is extremely passionate about this, sees this cause for which many, many courageous human rights fighters in Cuba have been tortured and died. And he sees it betrayed. So I give him 100% points for sincerity on this, and not at all political coloring to it.
HH: Now we have not heard in recent weeks from Chris Christie, who is the other, if I for want of a better term, establishment Republican figure out there besides Jeb Bush. And on this program on Friday, Chuck Todd said Jeb’s just killing him in the money department. Does Christie have any room to run left in this race?
CK: Well, it’s pretty early. I think Bush made a very smart, strategic stroke in declaring early, earlier than people thought, declaring unofficially, but everybody knows the gun has gone off in this race. I think it puts Christie in a little bit of a disadvantage, but I do believe this race is much more fluid than people think. And I think this is a race that will be decided on the field. This will not be decided by history, by experience, even by money, although money will be very important. I think it’s going to depend on how people do in debates, whether or not they make gaps, how inspiring they are on the campaign trail. There’s going to be, this is going to happen on the field, meaning it’s going to depend on things that haven’t happened, yet. So even though the odds will be stronger for one candidate or another, it remains extremely wide open.
HH: It’s the Monday before Christmas, Charles. Does Christie have to get going? When the starting gun goes off, if you stay on the sidelines, people lap you. Does he have to get in…
CK: Everybody has to now, they have to get in to the extent as they have to begin to tell donors and political operatives that they’re in and they’re ready, and they’ve got to start collecting supporters of all kinds. So I think what Jeb’s decision does is it moves up the calendar a little bit for those decisions, for those who might have done it in March or April. I think there will be a lot of news January, February.
HH: Do you have a favorite, with our two minutes left in our last conversation of 2014, do you have a favorite going into 2015?
CK: I do not, really. I mean, I don’t have, I think I like the field infinitely better than the 2012 field. I think we have a very strong bench, and they’re going to be out there playing. And I’m willing to watch how they do, what their stats are, and whether anybody can really throw a good curveball.
HH: Can anyone play the ’68 card the way that Nixon played ’68 against this backdrop that we began the hour talking about – the Mayor having a press conferences, the charges flowing out about his culpability, the Rudy Giuliani attacking the President for propaganda. This is a very 1968 feel. Does anyone have sort of Nixon’s giftedness at exploiting tension?
CK: I think these things are far lower level than they were in ’68. I lived through it, as you did, although I hate to be flippant about this, but given the news laws in Colorado, you do remember what they say? If you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there?
HH: (laughing) You weren’t there.
CK: Well, I was there, and I sort of have this fuzzy memory of it. But look, that was a time when there was blood in the streets, and it was, I mean, it wasn’t just, you know, some lunatic shooting two policemen in a crazy rage. This was the whole country on fire, and that’s not what’s going on here.
HH: But what we do have going on is Pakistan, we’ve got one minute left, the Taliban going and shooting a hundred kids in the head. I mean, we do have…
CK: Oh, the world’s on fire, but not America domestically. That’s the distinction I’m drawing.
CK: The world is on fire. Our own Secretary of Defense said so. It’s exploding all over, and that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, by the way. But no, this is nothing like then. This is a far more benign period. We like to dramatize our time, but if you really want to read about the hard times, pick up my book, and you’ll read about the 70s and the 80s and the 90s.
HH: Things That Matter. Charles Krauthammer, thank you, Happy New Year to you, talk to you in 2015.
End of interview.