Commentary Magazine


Contentions

A Small Man

This blog has had many differences with Joe Klein of Time magazine, whom I once considered a very friendly acquaintance before he accused me and those who argued for an aggressive policy in Iraq and with Iran of being war criminals and began spouting anti-Semitic conspiracy nonsense that, were his name Christiansen instead of Klein, would have seen him booted from the payroll of Time magazine faster than you could say Rickstengel. Now he has done something low and indefensible even for him. In an interview with Politico, Klein ascribes what he views as the deficiencies in Charles Krauthammer’s worldview to the fact that Krauthammer is a quadraplegic:

“He became Ground Zero among the neo-cons, but he’s vastly smarter than most of them,” said Time’s Joe Klein, an admirer and critic who praised Krauthammer’s “writing skills and polemical skills” as “so far above almost anybody writing columns today.”

“There’s something tragic about him too,” Klein said, referring to Krauthammer’s confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. “His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he’s writing about.”

Is it conceivable that Joe Klein is saying a man in a wheelchair is incapable of understanding the nuances of Iraq and the war on terror because he can’t get on a plane and go there like Joe Klein can? Is it possible, in this day and age, for someone seriously to argue such a thing? We cannot go back in time and visit the battlefields of the Civil War, or Agincourt, or the Peloponnese—are we therefore incapable of seeing their nuances? FDR was in a wheelchair and did not visit the battlefields of World War II-—were its nuances beyond him as well?

The self-infatuation this quote reveals about Klein’s own celebration of his own passport stamps—the words of a lesser author and thinker about one who so surpasses him in clarity and insight that a wiser Klein would have been better off  just admitting that he can’t hold a candle to Krauthammer and let it go at that—is striking enough. But let’s face it. This is simply disgusting, no matter how you slice it. Perhaps men and women in wheelchairs, or who are blind, or deaf, or have other infirmities that make their ability to get on a plane and go to Iraq should simply forbear any sort of opinion about such things. They should, instead, be left to Joe Klein.

He won’t like me saying it, but Charles Krauthammer, who is more than a friendly acquaintance, is far from a tragic figure. He is a miraculous figure. He has, through a combination of raw will and a sagacious mind and a rigorous temperament that, were it possible, he should leave to science so that it can be studied and bottled and sold, lived a life both triumphantly important and triumphantly ordinary. (Although his wife, Robbie, is far from ordinary. For one thing, she is from Tasmania. For another, she is an artist of great skill. For a third, she has the dirtiest and liveliest mouth in either her forsaken hemisphere or her present one.)  If you are his friend, in a fashion that I can’t quite explain, you come to have no sense whatever that he is in that chair.  He may be right about what he argues (obviously, I think so, most of the time). He may be wrong. But whatever he is or is not, to argue that Charles’s views are restricted by the restrictions on his physical form is do violence to the most basic notions of civil discussion.

“Klein” means small in German. Trollope could not have come up with a more apt name for a character.