Charles Krauthammer, columnist at The Washington Post and panelist on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, passed away on June 21. The death of a columnist would not normally garner the attention of this column, but Charles Krauthammer is an exception. There is much about this outstanding man that one could write, but there two things that are of special interest to me.
First of all, I admire his determination to “hang in there when the chips are down.” The Charles Krauthammer story begins with a diving accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down when he was 22. A first-year medical student at Harvard, he could have withdrawn into self-pity and dropped out. Krauthammer, however, was not one to give up easily. He refused to use his condition as an excuse to derail his plans for a full life. To him, a handicap was no excuse for mediocrity. “Better to be paralyzed from the neck down,” he would go on to write, “than from the neck up.”
Although bedridden for some 14 months, he was determined to finish his medical studies. Accordingly, he had a clear plastic form erected over his bed on which a book could be placed face-down so that he could read. He returned to Harvard and graduated to become a resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. But psychiatry was not as fulfilling as he had hoped, so He turned to the world of words and ideas. As a writer, it is the second thing about him that garners my admiration.
In a Fox News special in 2013 he noted that, “if you’re going to leave the medical profession because you think you have something to say, you betray your whole life if you don’t say what you think and if you don’t say it honestly and bluntly” (CBS News, New York, June 21, 2018). Krauthammer did just that, and became one of conservative’s outstanding voices. It won him a Pulitzer prize in 1987.
He began work at The New Republic as columnist and editor the year Ronald Regan became president. He had found his place in life. Over a period of 34 years, he wrote over 1,600 columns for the Washington Post, featuring his love for chess, the Washington Nationals, but most of all, for politics. In 2013, he summarized much of his life’s work in Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics.
Dr. Krauthammer learned in early June that he had but weeks to live. In a “Note to Readers” which appeared in the Washington Post on June 8, he wrote, “I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over. … I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life – full and complete with great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living.” He went out, as he lived, in style! He was a very special human being.
A strong voice for conservatism has been stilled, but his ideas live on for he had discovered the power of the written word. Ideas matter; words change things. No life could have demonstrated that better than the career of Charles Krauthammer.