It’s not often that the loss of an opinion writer can be said to be a loss for the country, but that is true of Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist who died yesterday.
In a fractured media environment where almost no one commands universal respect, where crudity of expression and thought are increasingly the norm, and where most commentators feel compelled to cater to their base, Krauthammer was admired across the political spectrum, unfailingly elegant and civil, and stubbornly independent-minded.
He was, in particular, a jewel in American conservatism. He wasn’t always one of us. He started his career as a moderate Democrat, a speechwriter for Walter Mondale and then a writer for The New Republic in the 1980s. He was on the right flank of that magazine’s internal fight over the future of liberalism as a resolute Cold Warrior. He became detached from the increasingly McGovernite Democratic party and moved steadily right over the years.
He believed in American power and the international order it had created, and had no patience for apologists for our enemies or for the gauzy clichés of supporters of “the international community.” A baseline of realism undergirded his thought, and he was equally willing to puncture the fantasies of the Left and, as necessary, the irrational enthusiasms of the Right.
Everything he wrote was characterized by his uncommon intelligence. His style matched an unsparing logic with an economy of expression that routinely produced masterpieces of lucidity and persuasion. He gave us phrases that entered the political vocabulary, e.g. “the unipolar moment” after the end of the Cold War, and his big essays on the Reagan and Bush doctrines helped define the foreign policies of those two presidents.
He was already highly influential before he ever entered a Fox News studio (he’d also appeared on TV for years, on the program Inside Washington), but his regular appearances on Fox took his fame to another level. He was a TV personality like no other — soft-spoken, sober, learned, and incisive, with a wicked, if very dry, wit. He was always polite, but pity was usually warranted for anyone disagreeing with him on air.
Krauthammer accomplished all of this despite a terrible injury that left him paralyzed as a young man. He handled his hardship with awe-inspiring grace, dignity, and courage. He didn’t want to be defined by his injury and, through his boundless determination, he never was.
Conservatism has lost a giant, a man who not only defended our civilization but represented what’s best in it. He will be missed, and never replaced. RIP.
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