If you didn’t know the name of Charles Krauthammer, the prominent Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and commentator for the Fox News Channel, you either live on a deserted island with no satellite or internet, or you care very little about intellectual and conservative thought.
I believe Krauthammer, who died from cancer on Thursday, was one of few real genius pundits in the world. There was something about when that man opened his mouth: nothing but insight and wisdom spewed out on myriad of subjects. He seemed to be an expert on just about anything and anyone, definitely strengthened – as he even admitted – by the foundation that his Harvard doctorate in psychiatry provided.
Stephen Hayes, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, put into words what many of us have thought: “Charles had become, since the late Bush administration and certainly throughout the Obama administration, the main intellectual guidepost of the right. People looked to Charles to consider how to think about things. And he was viewed as a voice of authority.”
As a columnist myself for over 10 years, I’ve worked hard to keep up on social, political and cultural trends like never before in my life. Though I never had the honor of meeting Charles in person, he was always a model and mentor to me as a columnist and commentator. Every time I watched him speak or read his columns and books, I was riveted to his words and rationale. Very few people have that gift and power, but Krauthammer did.
Here are my top 12 thoughts from Charles that I’ve compiled and are representative of how he thought and lived:
- “When under attack, no country is obligated to collect permission slips from allies to strike back.”
- “If fences don’t work, why is there one around the White House?”
- “To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”
- “Whenever you’re faced with an explanation of what’s going on in Washington, the choice between incompetence and conspiracy, always choose incompetence.”
- “The free lunch is the essence of modern liberalism.”
- “Middleness is the very enemy of the bold.”
- “Obsession with self is the motif of our time.”
- “There’s a reason why in New York Harbor we have the Statue of Liberty, not the Statue of Equality.”
- “The one thing I do believe is that of all the possible views of God, atheism is the least plausible. The idea that there’s no meaning or purpose or origin – that the Universe is as it always was, is to me entirely implausible for reasons of physics, apart from faith. Because if you reason back to first causes, and if you’re an atheist, you get to a logical contradiction.”
Before I give the final three quotes from Charles that I love, I must say that what I admired most about him was his perseverant spirit, and that he never let his paralysis keep him down and stop him from pursuing excellence and enjoyment of life. He neither wanted people to pity, pacify or treat him different for it.
About his bodily limbs’ inability to operate, Charles simply said:
- “All it means is whatever I do is a little bit harder and probably a little bit slower. And that’s basically it. Everybody has their cross to bear – everybody.”
- “I made a promise to myself on day one [after my injury]. I was not going to allow it to alter my life.”
- “It’s very easy to be characterized by the externalities in your life. I dislike people focusing on it. I made a vow when I was injured that it would never be what would characterize my life. I don’t want it to be the first line of my obituary. If it is, that will be a failure.”
I think it’s fair to say that if most of us were 22 years old when our spinal cord was severed by a dive into a pool, leaving us paralyzed from the neck down, we would have done well just to keep breathing and living life. And yet, Charles almost immediately got back into the game, continued his education, graduated from Harvard and went on to winning a Pulitzer Prize, and then becoming one of the greatest intellectuals and inspirational figures of our day.
Maybe his perseverance came from that fact he was the son of two European Jews who had fled what is now Ukraine during World War II, or maybe it was just the true grit that humanity can produce in all of us. Whatever the case, Charles embodied perseverance and striving for excellence.
Charles endured until the end, and then he passed this life as he lived it: with dignity and honor.
In a poignant farewell column on June 8, Krauthammer simply wrote, “This is the final verdict. My fight is over. … 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.”