Charles Krauthammer, political commentator and news analyst for Fox News Channel, meets with members of the media at the Millennium Centre in Johnson City. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
There’s an important national debate to be had. At the root of the discussion is a fork in the road: Do we, as Americans, need more liberty or more equality?
Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer, who often speaks on Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” tackled this broad topic when he spoke at East Tennessee State University’s Millennium Centre on Friday morning to businessmen and business students, as well as members of the public.
Not a proponent of the direction the country has been steered in the five years since Barack Obama took office, Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist found in about 400 worldwide newspapers, said he’s optimistic about the future of the country and welcomes the debate between Republicans and Democrats.
“Everything is subordinate to politics,” Krauthammer told the crowd of nearly 300 in a talk that lasted just more than an hour.
Krauthammer graduated from McGill University in Montreal; Balliol College in Oxford, England; and Harvard University in Boston, where he earned his medical degree, beginning his career as a psychiatrist.
The Democrats versus Republicans debate can be watered down to the liberty versus equality discussion, with liberty more on the right side of the aisle, he said.
Like a tennis match throughout American history, Krauthammer said things go to one side for a few years and then to the opposite side for the same, citing Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that expanded the scope of government, something necessary at the time in Krauthammer’s eyes, until Ronald Reagan shrunk government in the 1980s, with Bill Clinton keeping the status quo until Barack Obama’s charge to make a big governmental impact in the way of health care, education and energy.
The Republicans’ most recent attempt to put one of their own into the White House proved unsuccessful, because out of all the possible choices, Krauthammer said they right put the one man in the country who couldn’t properly answer questions related to Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, modeled after the system put into place years earlier in Massachusetts. Mitt Romney, of course, was both the inventor and champion of that system while acting as governor of that state.
Krauthammer said he backed Romney, but admitted he might not have been the conservative the Republicans had wanted.
“Romney spoke conservatism as a second language,” Krauthammer said.
This big debate over the size and style of government the United States wants will continue to play out over the 2014 and 2016 elections, but Krauthammer says the experiment of big government is already playing out in Western European countries that are about 20 years ahead of the U.S. Though they’re operated differently than the United States’ economy, Krauthammer said Greece and Spain are showing what it’s like to have that high level of government oversight.
The big costs to economic systems like those are entitlement programs, he said. not that he doesn’t see a use for them, he said, but there’s more an abuse of them.
“For us, it’s not entitlements we want to give out, but a safety net,” he said. “I would argue that you can’t maintain an entitlement state.”
There are, he said, examples of noble liberalism, but we need to consider our debt when putting forth programs used in the “safety net.”
“We cannot continue on this road. We need to do something,” Krauthammer said.
Looking forward to the next presidential election in 2016, he shared a handful of names that might move forward as candidates from the right, including Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and his favorite pick, though he doesn’t expect a run, will be Paul Ryan, who would have been vice president had Romney won in 2012.
That’s OK that Ryan won’t run, in his estimation, though, because Krauthammer said Ryan’s so young, he’ll have an opportunity in the future.
“He’s so damned young, he could wait two decades and then run for president,” Krauthammer said, joking that Ryan would only appear to be 22 years old at that point. Age and conservative options have him hopeful for the future of the GOP.
His list for Democratic challengers was much shorter, saying Hillary Clinton, someone “liberal” but still way to the left of the current president, who is a “social democrat,” was the clear favorite to earn the nod from the left.
He ended his talk with what he called a positive quote from conservative Prussian statesman Otto Von Bismarck.
“God looks after fools, drunks, and the United States,” earning himself a laugh to wrap things up.
Johnson City’s Joel Carillet, a photojournalist, said he showed up to the talk to see Krauthammer, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with his policies.
“I’m here as someone who’s usually pretty critical of Fox News,” Carillet said.
He said seeing someone speak for an hour in person is much different than seeing them as a person on cable news.
Will Webb, an accounting student at ETSU, was waiting patiently in line with his girlfriend after the talk to both purchase a copy of Krauthammer’s book “Things that Matter,” and was hoping to have his copy signed.
He didn’t know anything about the guest speaker ahead of the talk, but noticed that he’d said a lot of relevant and eye-opening things.
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