Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer passed away Thursday from cancer at the age of 68.
Earlier this month, he announced publicly that he had “only a few weeks left to live.”
Though the news was shocking, Krauthammer delivered it with characteristic elegance and charm.
“I leave this life with no regrets,” he concluded in an open letter. “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.”
And, true to form, Krauthammer’s note gave something more of himself to the American public than words alone.
Though he will be remembered as a great columnist, Krauthammer made a wider impact as the resident sage of Fox News’ Special Report panel.
Conservatives around the country literally stopped what they were doing at 6:40 p.m. Eastern Time daily to hear whatever Krauthammer’s insights on the issues of the day might happen to be.
Krauthammer’s greatness had been his ability to salvage grand themes from the muddle of everyday politics, and — the hardest part — to explain them in ordinary language.
Consider his October 2009 essay, “Decline Is a Choice.” In the first word — “decline” — Krauthammer distilled the essence of Barack Obama’s many policies. And in the second — “choice” — he argued for the alternative: “We can reverse the slide, we can undo dependence if we will it.”
In that sense, Krauthammer anticipated Donald Trump, who promised to “Make America Great Again.” But he also opposed Trump — and Trump returned the favor, using Krauthammer as a rhetorical foil on the campaign trail, the symbol of the establishment.
In that, Trump was mistaken: while Krauthammer was admired by the establishment, he was neither its creation nor its tribune. He understood — better than most in Washington — America’s populists.
Krauthammer celebrated the Tea Party, and the spirt of constitutionalism it brought to American politics. He also criticized it, particularly its political brinkmanship and its penchant for inexperienced candidates. And he shared some of its fighting spirit.
He insisted, for example, that Obama had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office — and prevailed, earning an apology from the Obama White House that had tried to “fact-check” him.
Krauthammer was an apostate — a liberal Democrat who worked as a speechwriter for Walter Mondale when he ran against President Ronald Reagan in 1984. He moved right as the Democrats moved left.
His collected columns chronicle that journey. Not all his arguments stand the test of time. Yet like the essays of George Orwell — another disillusioned leftist — even those Krauthammer columns that seem wrong today are still rich with insights.
Of a defeated John McCain, for example, Krauthammer wrote in 2008: “He will be — he should be — remembered as the most worthy presidential nominee ever to be denied the prize.” Few conservatives today would agree.
But he was not just referring to McCain’s military career. He was lauding the bravery with which McCain tackled the task of running against an economic “tsunami” — and, he might have added (but did not), against the first black nominee.
Few saw Obama, and the opposition he evoked, as clearly as he. “Obama is a leveler,” Krauthammer wrote in April 2009. “He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission.”
In so doing, Krauthammer warned, President Obama had exceeded his mandate, challenged the spirit of James Madison’s constitutional design, and provoked a backlash.
Politico dubbed him “Obama’s biggest critic,” which secured his place as a grass-roots hero — until Trump.
Yet even as he found himself at odds with the “MAGA” movement he had, ironically, called forth, Krauthammer retained his sense of humor.
Asked to place bets on Special Report‘s weekly “candidate casino,” Krauthammer always reserved a few chips for “wine, women, and song.”
It was not a bet on escapism. It was a wager on loving life, regardless.
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