Getting the Politics Right

Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist I’ve had the (mostly) displeasure of reading over the past 30 years in publications from The New Republic to TIME Magazine, to the Washington Post, is a writer with whom I almost never agree and I generally find neither compassionate nor insightful. Imagine my surprise – shock even – when I saw him on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week and he articulated, better than I ever could, my own philosophy.

Krauthammer just published a collection of selected essays from his 33-year writing career. Initially he planned to focus on, as he said, “the fun stuff, the interesting stuff, the elegant and the beautiful stuff in the world” including “the innocence of dogs, the cunning of cats, the beauty of a perfectly thrown outfield assist. There’s a column on the proper uses of the F-word.” While I know many political writers and pundits share my love of baseball (what is the connection between politics and baseball anyway? It’s amazing how many political junkies  share a passion for baseball), I was surprised to hear that his top four topic mentions were frighteningly close to what mine might be. (And by the way, the only good use of the F-word is as an adjective ending in

But as he began putting his book together, he realized he couldn’t omit what really mattered. He felt compelled to include his thoughts on a force that drives the ultimate direction for our lives, our country, and our world.

“…I realized you can’t do that, because all these things,
all the beautiful and elegant things, in the end depend on
getting the politics right. You can have the most flourishing of cultures,
you get the politics wrong, and you’ve got Germany 1933,
you get China during the cultural revolution…in the end,
politics is the…wall which keeps away the barbarians.”

Politics is the wall that keeps away the barbarians. It’s also the philosophy that moves us toward helping those in need, educating our children, ensuring citizens have access to adequate housing and health care, and guaranteeing that we all share the benefits of equal rights and equal opportunities. Or it can be the philosophy standing between the people and those benefits. Getting the politics right, as Charles Krauthammer said, is all. Getting the politics right, in the end, drives nearly everything that matters to us.

I could say that when I thought about how I wanted to spend my free time, I considered all that and decided to become a political activist. I could say the same about choosing a subject for my writing. But neither statement would be honest. My time and my writing took their own direction without any active decision-making from me. I work and write to communicate the messages and encourage the actions I believe are important for others to be aware of, to think about, and to pass on.

In the decades I have read and listened to Krauthammer, I can’t recall ever agreeing with his political positions, although I have enjoyed some of his personal stories. But with his statements on the critical role of politics, he spoke to me.  He was “killing me softly,” as the Roberta Flack song goes. On that political point we could not agree more. You have to get the politics right. And even though, in my opinion, Krauthammer rarely does, I’m grateful to him for spreading the word about the tremendous importance of the discussion.