Is it possible to miss a man you’ve never even met?
It would be if his name was Charles Krauthammer, and you had the pleasure of reading and watching him for years.
When he died in 2018 of stomach cancer, Charles Krauthammer was hailed as one of the nation’s most celebrated conservative columnists, political analysts, and independent thinkers.
“Charles Krauthammer was no ordinary columnist,” tweeted the Heritage Foundation. “He wielded his pen in the service of finding truth, not furthering politics. His thoughtful critiques did more than earn him a Pulitzer Prize–they broadened understanding, promoted civility, and always upheld integrity.”
Writers and analysts come and go, of course. It’s the nature of both life and the business. But some leave more of an impression than others. The best live on beyond retirement and even the grave. Maybe that’s because the very best ones don’t just size up a situation and write about it – they communicate ideas and principles that help shape and influence their audience for years to come.
Whether it was navigating the pandemic, the 2020 election, the sexual confusion revolution or the current economic crisis, I’ve missed Krauthammer’s voice and wondered what his take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools approach would have been toward these and many other cultural flash points.
“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,” wrote the poet John Donne. He was right. Both medically and classically trained, Krauthammer’s logical and reasoned approach influenced my own understanding of the world, and during some of my most formative years. Commenting on why he switched from medicine to commenting on world affairs, he said, “I was looking for something halfway between the reality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy.”
A non-religious son of Jewish parents, Krauthammer’s approach to issues seemed to mimic the counsel from the apostle Paul. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” wrote Paul to the church at Philippi (4:5). It was the rare critic of Charles’ conservatism who doubted his sincerity or good sense.
In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon, always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning. Anything else gives them too much credit.
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
You can have the most advanced and efflorescent cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933… Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns.
And yet, he could be quite humorous, too. Here he is describing his chess addiction:
There’s something so musical and so impossible about chess that I’ve always found it incredibly attractive. And I have to say, addictive. I have twice now given it up because when you find yourself in the middle of the night playing Internet chess, you think of yourself as an alcoholic in a motel room drinking Aqua Velva. That’s when you know you’ve hit rock bottom.
Social conservatives didn’t agree with Krauthammer on all issues, of course. Nobody ever does. It can be assumed he would have applauded the reversal of Roe v. Wade since he once referred to the 1973 decision as a “constitutional travesty.” And yet he said he still supported the legalization of abortion via popular vote. “Let the people decide,” he once wrote.
But perhaps one of the most impressive and inspirational things about Charles Krauthammer was how he accomplished so much for so long in spite of being paralyzed from the neck down. While in medical school, he dove off a diving board and hit his head on the bottom of the pool. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
The indomitability of the human spirit was on display with each column and television appearance – and even at each Washington Nationals game, a favorite pastime of the writer. To him, every minute of every day was a gift – a reminder we should all take to heart.
Charles Krauthammer and his ideas live on via his books, columns and interviews – and through the lives of his readers and fans.
But I still miss him.