Remembering Charles Krauthammer

Written by Jackson Richman on . Posted in Features

He always listened. He always remembered a voice. He inspired.

Charles Krauthammer died on June 21 at the age of 68. The cause was reported to be cancer of the small intestine. He was a doctor, a writer, an intellectual, a chess connoisseur, and a diehard Washington Nationals fan.

 

Krauthammer was an American treasure, a true friend of Israel, and a beacon of light for the rest of the world. With moral clarity, he was unafraid to hold everyone, regardless of partisan or ideological affiliation, accountable.

He may be irreplaceable, but we can use some of his exemplary qualities (like his dry sense of humor, his critical thinking, and his friendliness) to make our discourse and the world a better place.

It was more than just his brilliance that influenced others. It was how he lived life and presented ideas through rational and substantive debate.

Krauthammer was born in New York on March 13, 1950, to Orthodox Jewish parents who had left Europe long before the Holocaust. He graduated from Montreal’s McGill University in 1970 and spent the following year studying philosophy at the University of Oxford in England before returning to the United States to attend Harvard Medical School.

During his first year at Harvard, Krauthammer and a friend stopped by a pool after a game of tennis for a quick swim before heading to class. His neurology textbook and a copy of Andre Malraux’s “Man’s Fate” were lying poolside when 22-year-old Krauthammer dove into the water and struck his head on the bottom of the pool. He was ultimately left paralyzed from the waist down.

Despite this limitation, the aspiring psychiatrist finished his studies from his hospital bed and graduated near the top of his class.

After finding residency and psychiatry unappealing, he felt that his fate lay elsewhere and took a government job in Washington. He soon became a writer at The New Republic. Krauthammer served as Vice President Walter Mondale’s speechwriter before returning to the publication after Ronald Reagan became president in 1980.

Krauthammer’s initially liberal political leanings changed forever as Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” foreign policy led him to begin embracing conservatism. He published “The Reagan Doctrine” in Time magazine in 1985 and began his syndicated column for The Washington Post, which won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1987. He soon came to support lower taxes and Reagan-era policies. Krauthammer was asked throughout his life how he went “from Walter Mondale to Fox News.” His usual answer: I was young once.

Growing up, I was interested in news and politics. I liked Joe Lieberman and considered myself a Democrat like him. Except for Israel, I leaned left on the issues.

Until college, that is.

I had heard of Krauthammer from my mother, who regularly watched him on “Special Report with Brit Hume” (later “Special Report with Bret Baier”). I eventually tuned in to Fox News to hear his views. His 2013 book “Things That Matter” led me to read his decades-long writings on domestic politics, foreign policy (especially Israel), and his philosophical thoughts on issues we rarely think about. For myself and others, reading his column every Friday became a chiyuv (requirement) on erev Shabbat.

In his June 8 note to readers announcing his terminal condition, Krauthammer said: “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.”

When Krauthammer was a scholar in residence at New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, which my aunt and uncle attend, it was an opportunity for their son, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, to see a brilliant scholar in a wheelchair.

Krauthammer influenced my way of thinking and writing. His work inspired me to become a conservative in college, where analyzing critically through respectful and rational dialogue —one of many qualities Krauthammer displayed — was rare.

In 2015, after a semester-long internship at The Weekly Standard, where Krauthammer was a contributing editor, I had the privilege of meeting him at a taping of “Special Report,” courtesy of then-senior writer Steve Hayes.

After the show, I had a few moments to chat with him. Not only did he remember the substance of the phone interview I did with him the previous year for George Washington University’s radio station, he also remarked, “Your voice sounds familiar.” The interview was in advance of the annual “Only at GW” debate hosted by the College Democrats and College Republicans. Krauthammer debated former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

When I reminded Krauthammer of the occasion, journalist A.B. Stoddard, another panelist, interjected, “The most important question is who won the debate.”

With a smile and no hesitation, I replied, “Charles.”

By Jackson Richman 


Jackson Richman is a journalist in Washington. He can be followed on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.