Why We Needed Charles Krauthammer


By Jonathan S. Tobin

Charles Krauthammer would have been an inspirational figure even if he hadn’t become a writer and television commentator. The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who died on June 21 at the age of 68 was laid low as a 22-year-old medical student when a pool accident left him a quadriplegic. Knowing that people would consider his ability to “just muddle through life” a “great achievement” because of what had happened, he resolved to carry on as if he had never been injured at all. Rather than accept that his disability would define his life, Krauthammer continued on with his medical studies at Harvard University and become a brilliant psychiatrist.

But that was just the first chapter in a remarkable life that led to Washington, D.C., where, after working for the government as a medical expert, he caught the political bug. A self-described New Deal liberal, Krauthammer worked as a speechwriter for U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale. But his sympathy for the views of Ronald Reagan—the man who would defeat Mondale and President Jimmy Carter—and conservatism would define much of his subsequent work.

Switching to political writing full-time at The New Republic and then The Washington Post and Time magazine, Krauthammer quickly became not merely one of the most important conservative writers of his generation, but one of the most influential of any political stripe. A stalwart Cold Warrior and a foe of Islamist tyranny, he helped lead the debate on foreign policy and domestic issues for decades. In particular, he was a valiant defender of Israel in an era when Zionism had gone out of intellectual fashion. Suffice it to say, his keen analytical mind, encyclopedic knowledge and sharp wit brought insights to an enormous range of topics and a vast body of work on, as the title of a collection of his essays read, the “Things That Matter.”

Krauthammer’s work was treasured by his many fans and served as an inspiration for many younger conservatives. Indeed, I count myself as one of those who looked to him as a role model, and I’m particularly proud of his generous comments about my work that he shared in our few interactions over the years.

But it is particularly painful to lose him now because this is a moment in history when we need voices like his more than ever.

It’s not just because Krauthammer’s work was intellectually rigorous, that his arguments were to the point, and that his ability to hone in on the weaknesses of his opponents’ arguments and to champion the basic principles of liberty and democracy were so spot-on. We especially miss Charles Krauthammer today because he embodied a style of reasoned political argument that is rapidly being marginalized, if not rendered extinct.

Ours is a time when serious intellectual arguments have been largely replaced by partisan shouting matches. We can place some of the blame for this on U.S. President Donald Trump, whose election Krauthammer vigorously opposed. But as Krauthammer understood, Trump’s willingness to say anything about his opponents or ignore the truth in pursuit of a political point to be scored was a symptom of the way our political culture had shifted, not its cause. The support for Trump’s counter-revolution against the elites and the dead hand of liberal political correctness were a function of both the left’s condescension to most Americans and the shameless liberal bias that characterized most of the mainstream media’s news coverage.

Krauthammer offered us something different than the mindless exchange of delegitimizing insults and ad hominem personal attacks that have become the hallmark of partisan gamesmanship from both left and right these days. A public intellectual in the best sense of the term, Krauthammer was a man of ideas, not merely opinions. He offered reasoned arguments, not just partisan assertions. He relentlessly advocated for principles, not momentary advantages that win news cycles.

His ability to meet them on their own turf caused many liberals to never forgive him for the drubbings he gave them. Some on the populist right bitterly resented him for exposing their faulty thinking as well.

But in his weekly columns for The Washington Post and in his appearances as a television talking head—most notably, on Fox News’ “Special Report” program every weekday night for the last decade—Krauthammer gave the American people an ongoing clinic in how political debates should be conducted. Whether or not you agreed with him on all issues or identified with his neoconservative philosophy that extolled the virtues of American liberty, his goal was to make his readers and listeners think, rather than just blindly follow partisan talking points. Just as important, he did so with the sort of good humor and humility that is particularly lacking in the debate between Trump and his supporters on one side, and a “resistance” determined to demonize both the president and his voters on the other.

Our public square has become a place where Krauthammer’s style of commentary has been replaced by a tide of vulgar venom that passes for argument from both liberals and conservatives. So while conservatives are sad that his powerful voice is now silent, so, too, should his ideological opponents mourn a man who challenged them to re-examine their assumptions and biases.

He deserves to be remembered for helping shape serious political thought during his lifetime. But if we are to truly honor his memory, then all of us—both those who venerated his work and those who opposed it—should try to emulate the reasoned style of commentary that he modeled for us throughout his life.

While there could only be one Charles Krauthammer, the best tribute to him would be for those who write and speak on politics, and their audiences, to try to be more like him. If we were, our nation would be a far better place. May his memory be for a blessing. JNS.ORG



    • He was a secular liberal who can be described with this famous quote: Show me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.
      He voted for Hillary and was an anti-Trumper should be enough to describe who he was.

        • I respect any G-d fearing honest person, Jews and non-Jews. Every yerei Shamayim could clearly see that President Trump certainly falls into the category of a G-d fearing honest person. If you don’t see it, the problem is with you…

      • You’re a hater. You listen to Hannity too much. Jeb Bush would of been the greatest President in the history of this country. It’s too bad the Russians stole the election from Jeb.

        • What’s wrong with listening to Hannity (not that I do) who most probably is not a liberal crook – a Fake News, but a decent trustworthy guy.

        • Please stop posting using my name! I can see that I have made a few Trumpets upset with my common sense conservative views, but no reason to make up my views.
          This does reflect the way Trumpets think- if you dare criticise Trump for something, they either call you a leftist, or start on their anti-Jeb rant.
          Yes, Trump is not perfect, far from it. Cruz, Lee, they are all solid conservatives, who understand conservatives values, and actually understand why those values are the best for the country. However, we have Trump, who is not as good as some other conservatives would have been. And for sure when it comes to the good things he has done (such as the embassy move, such as letting the economy finnaly recover), we should give hin as much thanks as we can.

      • He was actually a strong conservative. The Trumpets like to push the notion that if you were against the election of Trump, the NY lib who is for trillion dollar budgets, government healthcare, is against free trade, against morality, then you were a lib. There were plenty of conservatives who felt that Trump losing would at least give the GOP a chance to regroup. Now that will never happen, there will never be a party fighting for morality, no chance of a GOP fighting against fiscal disaster.

  1. Charles had all the virtues to have become a serious Talmid chacham, a big lamdan and an Adam gadol. He was brilliant, analytical and had sterling character with honesty and humbleness at top of the list. He went an unbelievably long way in spite of his handicap and reached inspiring levels. He had all the reasons in the world to be nothing but didn’t let anything get in his way. These תכונות would have made a real אדם גדול. Had he remained a religious jew as he was raised, we could have had something very big. Instead he dropped religion totally for a secular life and intermarried ר”ל. חבל על דאבדין. He is now being shown in ב”ד של מעלה all that he could’ve been and is having tremendous regret for a whole life wasted on הבלי עולם הזה. This should be our lesson. We can all be better than we are and aren’t living up to our potential. If someone has a הרהור תשובה while reading this and thinking about him, this will be a זכות for his poor wretched נשמה….

    • Agreed, 100%
      There are frei Jews who have done well and seem to be really mentschlich people and while lauding them for all the good they’ve done, we can only feel regret for what they could have been.

    • You can throw Michael Savage in that category. A tremendous pikeyach with deep havana and he wastes it on politics and shtusim. Nebach


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