Charles Krauthammer Dies of Cancer, Aged 68

A towering figure gone much too soon.

His obit at the Washington Post, his longtime home:

Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the muscular foreign policy of neoconservatism that helped lay the ideological groundwork for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died June 21 at 68.

The cause was cancer of the small intestine, said his son, Daniel Krauthammer. He declined to provide further information.

“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” Charles Krauthammer wrote in a June 8 farewell note. “I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny. I leave this life with no regrets.”

A star of page and screen, Dr. Krauthammer (pronounced KRAUT-hammer) was one of the highest-profile commentators of his generation. In addition to his syndicated weekly column in The Post, which garnered him a Pulitzer in 1987, he was a marquee essayist for magazines across the political spectrum, including Time, the New Republic, the Weekly Standard and the National Interest foreign policy journal. He also was a near-ubiquitous presence on cable news, particularly Fox.

By any measure, Dr. Krauthammer cut a singular profile in Washington’s journalistic and policymaking circles. He graduated in 1975 from Harvard Medical School — on time, despite a diving accident that left him a paraplegic — and practiced psychiatry before a restless curiosity led him to switch paths. Instead of diagnosing patients, he would analyze the body politic.

Jacob Heilbrunn, author of “They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons” and editor of the National Interest, said in an interview that Dr. Krauthammer “crystallized conservative thought and exerted influence by setting the terms of public debate at key moments in the nation’s political life.”

Known for acerbic, unsparing prose and hawkishness on U.S. and Israeli security matters, Dr. Krauthammer long directed his moral indignation at the “liberal monopoly” on the news cycle. He was festooned with honors by right-leaning groups and sought after by Republican policymakers. Vice President Richard B. Cheney once praised him for his “superior intellect.”

To the left, Dr. Krauthammer was a bogeyman, most notably on the matter of President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and the ultimately catastrophic efforts to democratize the Middle East.

On Israeli-Palestinian relations, he acknowledged suffering on both sides but firmly defended the Jewish state in what he saw as its existential battle for survival. “Israel’s crime is not its policies but its insistence on living,” he wrote in a 2008 Post column. He declared international law worthless and quipped that Islamist militants are seldom “impressed by U.N. resolutions.”

His prolific work extended far beyond politics and foreign affairs to touch on complex social problems that he had first encountered in his medical practice. He wrote poignantly — and at times caustically — about societal treatment of the mentally ill. Many patients, released from psychiatric facilities at the urging of civil libertarians, were set adrift on the “very mean streets” because of a fantasy of “a Rockwellian community ready to welcome its eccentrics,” he wrote in Time in 1985.

“In the name of a liberty that illness does not allow them to enjoy,” he concluded, “we have condemned the homeless mentally ill to die with their rights on.”

I eulogized Dr. Krauthammer a few days back, upon his farewell column at the Post announcing that he had little time left on this earth. I’m happy that, at least, he was able to hear and read all of those testimonials from those who he influenced and touched through his many decades in public life.

UPDATE: A touching reminiscence from Nash Jenkins:

UPDATE (Doug Mataconis) As expected, this morning’s Washington Post has a series of tributes to the long-running columnist, including this from fellow conservative George Will:

When he was asked how to become a columnist, Charles Krauthammer would say, with characteristic drollery, “First, you go to medical school.” He did, with psychiatry as his specialty because, he said with characteristic felicity, it combined the practicality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy. But he also came to the columnist craft by accident. Because of one.

It has been said that if we had to think about tying our shoes or combing our hair we would never get out of the house in the morning. Life is mostly habitual — do you actually remember any details of driving home last evening? The more of life’s functions that are routinely performed without thinking, the more thinking we can do. That, however, is not how life was for Charles after his accident.

In 1972, when he was a 22-year-old student at Harvard Medical School, he was swimming in a pool. Someone pushed the diving board out, extending over a shallower part of the pool. Charles, not realizing this, dove and broke his neck. At the bottom of the pool, “I knew exactly what happened. I knew why I wasn’t able to move, and I knew what that meant.” It meant that life was going to be different than he and Robyn had anticipated when they met at Oxford University.

He left two books at the pool. One was a text on the spinal cord. The other was André Malraux’s novel “Man’s Fate.”

Paralyzed from the neck down, he completed medical school, did an internship and, one thing leading to another, as life has a way of doing, became not a jewel in the crown of the medical profession, which he would have been, but one of America’s foremost public intellectuals. Nothing against doctors, but the nation needed Charles more as a diagnostician of our public discontents.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Charles wrote speeches for the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, who did not realize — neither did Charles — that the campaign harbored a thinker who soon would be a leading light of contemporary conservatism. Dictating columns when not driving himself around Washington in a specially designed van that he operated while seated in his motorized wheelchair, crisscrossing the country to deliver speeches to enthralled audiences, Charles drew on reserves of energy and willpower to overcome a multitude of daily challenges, any one of which would cause most people to curl up in a fetal position. Fortunately, with more brain cells to spare than the rest us have to use, he could think about doing what was no longer habitual and about national matters, too.

Krauthammer is also being remembered elsewhere in the media, including the New York Times obituary  by Sam Roberts.

FILED UNDER: Obituaries
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. inhumans99 says:

    RIP. Even when I disagreed with the point he was trying to make I still liked the guy. He is the type of conservative/pundit we can use more of in this day and age.

    ETA: I realize folks will say but the Iraq war, being to quick to forgive Israel’s war crimes, and other stuff that this liberal dude should not appreciate, but I just want to say that when I would see him on tv and read the occasional column of his that he gave off the vibe that he was not one to let perfect be the enemy of good.

    There is no person like that who really has the ears of our President, and we are all the worse off because of this fact. I would much prefer that Charles Krauthammer still be around to bend our President’s ear vs Sean Hannity.

  2. teve tory says:

    Rather than say mean things about him I will pass along what some consider to be his finest column.

    Are we alone in the universe?

  3. @inhumans99:

    That sums up my feelings as well. I often disagreed with Krauthammer but I seldom found his arguments to be anything other than top notch.

  4. PJ says:

    .

  5. Guarneri says:

    His commentary has been a huge loss to debate since his illness took a bad turn. It is now unfortunately lost forever.

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  6. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Alas, one of the last links to a time when regularly using one’s higher cognitive faculties didn’t disqualify you as an influential thinker in today’s GOP, as you say, “gone too soon.”

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  7. CSK says:

    @inhumans99:

    There was no chance that Krauthammer would have influenced Trump, who derided Krauthammer as “a loser” and “a jerk” who just “sat there” and “did nothing.” Yep, he sneered at a guy in a wheelchair.

    Krauthammer, on the other hand, called Trump “a moral disgrace” and “a walking systemic stress test.”

  8. teve tory says:
  9. george says:

    I’ve a huge respect for his perseverance with all he went through since his driving accident – its admirable in anyone. And though I disagree with most of what he wrote, his was a rational, reasonable argument. The world could use more people like him.

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    I read 10 Pounds of Poetry this morning, written shortly after the birth of his son.

    I don’t know if its my first time fatherhood, the events of this week, or Krauthammer’s beautiful prose, but my coworkers are asking why I’m crying.

  11. al Ameda says:

    This is a sad occasion.
    Although I rarely agreed with Charles’ opinions, I always read Charles’ opinion pieces. He always seemed smarter than most of the commentariat, and his essays were worth that time, even if I tended to be aggravated by his ‘conclusions’ and takes on the issues.

    I will also admit, I wanted the liberal commentariat to be as smart and detached and focused in style as Charles was.

    Honestly, I will miss him.

  12. Not the IT Dept. says:

    This is the guy who wrote In Defense of Torture, right?

    May he rot in hell.

  13. SenyorDave says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: But he writes so well!

    And not only did Krauthammer defend torture in the classic “ticking bomb” scenario, he defended its use in more general situations such as when you captured someone who was part of Al Queda. I guess as long as it a Middle Eastern who was not a Jewish Israeli, Krauthammer would have been fine with bringing out the thumbscrews.

    I second your thought, may he rot in hell.

  14. Barry says:
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  16. wr says:

    I wonder how many of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who lost loved ones in the war Krauthammer cheerled are mourning him today.

    I’m sure he was a lovely man to the people who knew him. But he strenuously advocated for policies of torture and mass murder, and I find this outpouring of grief simply because he was capable of constructing a sentence baffling.