I didn’t grow up on Charles Krauthammer like other conservatives, and that's a pity. As the political world paid their respects to him this past week, I read more of his writings. Charles’s prose is polished to a gleam. He didn't “hide the ball” or beat around the bush; he was insightful without being condescending. I wish I had known him beyond his occasional Fox News appearances. The world has lost an astoundingly good writer and a great man.
While reading, I came across this leadoff statement in a 2002 column: “To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”
This pithy quote deserves to be called “Krauthammer’s Law.” It is one of the most accurate descriptions of the foundational assumptions behind the American political left and right, and it deserves close examination.
Conservatives primarily seek to prevent the left from breaking down valuable cultural institutions that protect individual liberty. The right stands "athwart history, yelling Stop” with the assurance of realism and right reason. We pride ourselves on our methodical, logical approach to policy problems, and wonder why liberals seem to prefer the endless chaos of progressivism.
We eventually reach the conclusion that, at best, our political opponents on the left are naive about humanity’s fallible nature. At worst, they are mindless drones following pie-in-the-sky plots to make imperfect men perfect, parroting propaganda to the masses, screeching childishly when they do not get their way.
Liberals make messes, we think, because they are incompetent infants. Conservatives, the long-suffering parents, must clean up the spilled Cheerios of millennia of Western civilization after every left-wing tantrum.
But the left holds a different perspective. While conservatives value reason and caution when making policy, liberals see this measured mission as morally wrong. They view society as a factory producing inequality and oppression, a system that deserves swift destruction. Out of the ashes they plan to build a fairer, more perfect union.
Who would oppose harmony, equality, and all the good things that liberals believe will result from their great cultural reconstruction? Only a villain, the left concludes.
Thus when conservatives seek to safeguard society as it stands, liberals accuse conservatives of every evil they can conceive – racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or just general bigotry. Those who cling to the past must be moved aside in the name of the left’s better future – and if they will not move, they will be run over by the mob.
Are either of these perspectives wholly correct? Charles Krauthammer didn’t think so. That’s why he called Krauthammer’s Law the “central axiom of partisan politics.”
So perhaps conservatives should consider the distinct possibility that liberals are not stupid. A group of idiots would not be so endlessly clever in their attempts to undermine our existing national fabric. Their PR blasts would not be so coordinated; their demonstrations would not be so well-organized; their reach would not be so broad.
None of the liberal program for social destruction and reconstruction bespeaks stupidity. In fact, conservatives should assume that most actions liberals take are calculated. They are operating on the body politic with a scalpel, not a chainsaw.
And liberals should likewise consider that maybe conservatives are not evil. Rather, conservatives see the good in our common life and worry about what will become of liberty at the left’s hands. Even if a conservative policy seems flawed on a leftist’s moral scale, it’s likely that conservatives are being careful and embracing a more deliberate approach to change.
True conservatives don’t wake up every day with a gleeful desire to beat down the least fortunate. They believe conservative policies will lead to good for all Americans – just like liberals do.
Our national discourse will be more honest if we look past certain cartoonish assumptions about our political opponents that we are often tempted to adopt as gospel. Liberals aren’t deluded morons, and conservatives aren’t mustache-twirling baddies. Krauthammer’s Law serves as a helpful way for Americans to see each other clearly in this partisan, testy times.