I can’t pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer in a little post — I owe him so much — but here goes.
I suppose I first read him in about 1983, in The New Republic. I also read him in Time. These were early college years for me. I can’t tell you how important he was to those of us migrating rightward (as he was). It was daunting to reject the Left and join the Right. Krauthammer said, in effect, “Don’t worry — we’re doing what we must. Here are the reasons.”
He wrote something, and you could wave it around, saying, “See? See? This is what I mean. This is what I wish to say.”
In his Democratic days, he wrote speeches for Mondale, about which the Right teased him ever after. “I loved him,” he once told me about Mondale. (He said the same about Reagan.) Recently, I read and reviewed a book about the Carter presidency by Stuart Eizenstat, Carter’s chief domestic-policy adviser. Mondale is quoted throughout, enjoyably. I could see why Krauthammer loved him.
In 1995, President Clinton gave a speech that vexed me (more than most of his speeches did). I was hoping that Krauthammer would respond, in his Friday column. I waited for that day. And when it arrived, I bought the Washington Post, and, lo, Krauthammer had.
I had to drive to work — but I didn’t want to wait till I got there to read the column. I read it on the way, at stoplights and maybe a little in between.
I wrote Krauthammer a letter to thank him for the column — and I told him how I had read it. “Thank you,” he answered. “But next time, at stoplights only, please.”
When I write about music — about performance — I’ll sometimes say, “It had the quality of just-rightness.” It was just right in tempo, phrasing, dynamics, nuance, architecture, spirit, understanding. So it was with Krauthammer, time and time again. Just right.
He knew the value of liberal democracy, and countered its enemies, on all sides. He knew the true nature and the importance of America. He stood up for Israel. He loved baseball — like his fellow Washington Post conservative George Will — and spoke about it compellingly.
A few years ago, I was doing a Q&A with him in front of an audience. I said, “I often see baseball diamonds grassed over for soccer. Tell me: Is soccer evil?” “Yes,” he said, and expounded. The audience laughed and laughed. I wish I had a tape of Dr. K.’s remarks.
(To be clear, he was kidding about soccer. Mainly.)
I guess I’ve been talking with Charles for 20, 25 years, and writing about him, citing him . . . Here is a longish piece from 2009. Here is a podcast from 2015. Last August, I said, “How about another podcast?” He said of course, “but I must delay. I’m having surgery tomorrow and will be incapacitated for about two weeks. Let’s plan for shortly after that.”
He was important to us at every stage, in the course of his career. He was definitely important in this current period, when the Republican party and the conservative movement have changed dramatically. Last year, I thanked him (as one did) for something he had written. He answered, “I must admit that when I write these days I have the feeling that everything I say is so perfectly obvious that there’s no need to write it. Except that these days, that’s all the more reason to write it.”
I could go on and on, but I suppose I’ll finish by saying I loved him and will be forever grateful for him. Forgive me for writing so personally in this tribute — so much “I.” Charles Krauthammer left a deep mark on me, as on so many, I know. A sage and a prince he was. Is.
And should I mention the physical courage that few of us could have known about? Physical, mental, and spiritual courage? The obstacles that he had to surmount, to carry on with life — and a brilliant, useful, and indelible life, at that?
An example and an immortal.