Charles Krauthammer: The Passing of an Intellectual Conservative

By Rachel Alexander Published on June 21, 2018

The conservative political world has lost one of its giants. Author and pundit Charles Krauthammer has passed away. The news came this afternoon, marking the end of his year-long battle with cancer. He was 68.

Known as an intellectual conservative, he wrote a weekly syndicated column for years. He was also considered a neoconservative, a term loosely applied to baby boomer era Jews who grew up as liberals but moved to the right later in life. In 2010, The New York Times columnist David Brooks called Krauthammer “the most important conservative columnist.” In 2011, former congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called him “without a doubt the most powerful force in American conservatism. He has [been] for two, three, four years.”

John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a columnist with The New York Post, had similar words.

Krauthammer overcame tremendous odds to become a conservative powerhouse. He broke his neck in a diving accident while in medical school at Harvard. The accident severed his spinal cord, paralyzing his lower body and forcing him to learn to use his arms and hands. But he remained in school. He graduated as a psychiatrist and went into psychiatry research.

From Medicine to Politics

Despite success as a psychiatrist, writing award-winning papers, Krauthammer started writing political columns around 1980. He became an editor at The New Republic, one of America’s oldest political magazines, before becoming a speechwriter for Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale. He then became a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative magazine. He became what Politico called ” the closest thing the factionalized GOP could have to a spokesperson, a de facto opposition leader for the thinking right.” 

It was Krauthammer who, in the mid-80s, coined the term “Reagan Doctrine.” It referred to the U.S. policy of supporting anticommunist regimes around the world. However, he disagreed with neoconservatives in the 1990s when it came to American intervention. While he supported the 1991 Gulf War, he opposed other actions like the Yugoslav Wars. While a strong supporter of Israel, he supported a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Krauthammer won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1987. A Washington Post editorial about his life observed, “Our copy editors knew to check any change with Charles, because he cared about every word. There was never much to change.” Krauthammer had an authoritative, definitive style of writing that made you feel he had the last and final word on a given topic.

Krauthammer had an authoritative, definitive style of writing that made you reassuringly feel he had the last and final word on a given topic.

He was not conservative on all issues. He wasn’t pro-life and supported embryonic stem cell research. He criticized the intelligent design movement and supported raising taxes to promote conservation. He is credited in part with forcing George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers to withdraw. Krauthammer believed she was unqualified due to a lack of constitutional experience.

TV Called

Then TV called. Krauthammer became a weekly panelist on PBS news program Inside Washington from 1990 until it ceased production in December 2013. For the last 10 years, up until his illness, he appeared as a nightly panelist on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier. He was so knowledgeable he never needed to prepare much. His calm, reasoned manner of talking made him a favorite guest. That dry sense of humor often made the panel break out in laughter.

He refused to vote for President Trump and believed Trump colluded with Russia. However, “he never allowed his animosity towards this president to cloud his judgment,” Mediaite observed. “He was a man who never had to issue an apology because his criticisms were never personal or out of line. He never took cheap shots or made gross generalizations.” His civil manner of discourse harkened back to the days of the late William F. Buckley, Jr., whose graciousness while debating is so lacking among pundits today.

His civil manner of discourse harkened back to the days of the late William F. Buckley, Jr., whose graciousness while debating is so lacking among pundits today.

In 2013, Krauthammer published Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, which ruled The New York Times bestseller list. It was praised by conservative figures as diverse as Bill O’Reilly, David Brooks, George Will and Hugh Hewitt.

He described himself as “not religious” and “a Jewish Shinto.” But he was not an atheist. He never complained about his paralysis. A specially-made van allowed him to drive. One of his favorite destinations? Nationals Park, home of his beloved Washington Nationals.

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Krauthammer took a leave from his writing and TV shows last August to battle a stomach tumor. In the spring there were signs he had won his battle. But in recent weeks, the cancer returned with a vengeance.

On June 8, he announced that doctors told him he had just weeks left to live. In a touching good-bye letter to the public, he said, “This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”  The statement ended with his trademark directness and eloquence:

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.

Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC

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