Charles Krauthammer jolted us Friday with the news that it’s only a matter of weeks before the cancer he has battled since last summer takes him from us. It will leave us bereft of the one of best approximations of an “uomo universale” America has had in many years.
Over his 68 years, he has established the reputation of being a 21st century Renaissance man who eagerly explored ideas, culture, science, medicine, sports and politics.
He is most widely known in political circles, where he once showed affection mostly for the ideological left and, more recently, mostly for the right.
Until cancer struck in August, he had been writing about politics, policy and life with a divine meter, examining all subjects with riveting insight, speaking about it with mellifluous precision on Fox News, using words drawn from a lexicon the size of the late William F. Buckley Jr.’s — but never just to show off that store of words.
He was first a medical doctor — a psychiatrist who made significant contributions to the field. He crossed over to political writing, becoming an editor of the liberal New Republic, but then grew increasingly critical of what he saw as liberalism’s excesses.
From the moment of a swimming accident during his medical school days, he has used a wheelchair, yet managed to be almost omnipresent in the worlds of political commentary, music, sports and … you name it. I used to see and greet him, in his wheelchair — always smiling, always gracious — at the midsummer Association of Tennis Professionals tournament in Rock Creek Park in D.C., where we were both spectators.
He has been a devout follower of the Washington Nationals baseball team, an avid chess player and a founder of Pro Musica Hebraica — devoted to Jewish classical music.
A former speech writer for Walter Mondale, Mr. Krauthammer is a classic and classy neoconservative intellectual who revels in irony and humor, often wry. He once defined a liberal as “someone who doesn’t care what you do, as long as it’s compulsory.”
After 9/11, he successfully agitated for the war in Iraq that we still haven’t won. Yet he had many of his anti-interventionist critics and globalism skeptics hanging on his every word in his Fox News panel slot on TV and in his syndicated column.
Because whether you agreed with him or not, it was a joy to witness the precision of his mental probing of a subject.
A fierce defender of Israel, Mr. Krauthammer wrote a dozen years ago that Adolf Hitler’s “successors now reside in Tehran … Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the presumed moderate … has explained that ‘the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.’ The logic is impeccable, the intention clear: A nuclear attack would effectively destroy tiny Israel, while any retaliation launched by a dying Israel would have no major effect on an Islamic civilization of a billion people stretching from Mauritania to Indonesia.”
Mr. Krauthammer later headlined a column about President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran as “The worst agreement in U.S. diplomatic history.” Explicitly agreeing with that judgment, President Trump has torn up that agreement.
Critical of President Trump when he thought it appropriate, Mr. Krauthammer frowned on the new president’s pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and on his declaring an “America first” foreign policy in general.
“For 70 years, we sustained an international system of open commerce and democratic alliances that has enabled America and the West to grow and thrive. Global leadership is what made America great,” Mr. Krauthammer wrote six days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. “We abandon it at our peril.”
Yet Mr. Krauthammer supported that most famous of presidential campaign promises. “Don’t tell me that this is our Berlin Wall,” he wrote last year. “When you build a wall to keep people in, that’s a prison. When you build a wall to keep people out, that’s an expression of sovereignty.”
So are the final words of his letter to us all on Friday in which he wrote:
“I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”
⦁ Ralph Z. Hallow, the chief political correspondent of commentary, served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation fellow in urban journalism at Northwestern University and resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar.
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