SLOAN | An untimely death — and a void on the right
Author: Kelly Sloan - July 13, 2018 - Updated: July 13, 2018
The sense of grief shared at the news of Dr. Charles Krauthammer’s passing, coming only a few short, agonizing weeks after his informing us all of the terminal nature of his illness, surpassed somewhat that normally reserved for public figures of whom most have had little, if any real personal knowledge, especially commentators. Presidents and other heads of state seem to merit a period of national mourning owing to their station of leadership. Certain entertainers have the ability to exert an almost familial hold on the hearts and minds of at least some members of the general public. Billy Graham was a source of spiritual salvation for millions. But commentators, while rising to the level of celebrity, at least for those enamored or engulfed by the political life, are increasingly perceived as tendentiously vulgar, coming at us in short, vituperative bursts, generally repeating well worn talking points in adherence to the principle that repetition is the foundation of persuasion.
But Krauthammer was different. He represented a style and a form that is increasingly anachronistic, a depth and an ability to formulate and defend an argument that has lamentably been drowned out by the cacophony and vituperativeness that takes the place of public debate on our television sets, computer screens, and, now even our Universities.
To read or listen to Dr. Krauthammer was to receive an education in how to formulate a thought, not just parrot one.
He was far from a doctrinaire ideologue. Indeed, his political career was a timeline of maturation of thought, and beguiled any attempt at labelling. He was not always the reigning monarch of American conservatism that he ended up being; his political entrance was in advising the administration of Democratic President Jimmy Carter. He was later speechwriter to none other than Walter Mondale, and his communicative skills landed him in due course as contributing editor of the liberal flagship magazine The New Republic years before the world came to know him as the crown prince of neoconservatism.
His defection was not occasioned by any desire to placate changing tastes, or in any way superficial. It was a process born purely of his reason and analysis of the scene before him. He took on something of a leadership role among moderate Democrats in the early 1980’s, who were willing to call their party out on its leftward drift, and its ever-increasing distance from reality – initially in terms of foreign affairs (particularly related to the liberal wing’s appetite for accommodation with the horrors of Soviet communism), and later with economic policies as well. His intellectual allegiance was always to right reason and objective analysis alone, never to a party platform, on either side; his rhetorical axe would fall as sharply on Donald Trump in the advent of the 2016 election as it had with such precision on Barack Obama during the 8 years prior. It was this independence of thought which liberated him from the dogmatic fetters which often accompany his chosen line of work, and which made him so effective at it.
I was exceeding lucky to have met the man, in the winter of 2011, at the Leadership Program of the Rockies annual retreat in Colorado Springs. He had just delivered a brilliant keynote address, living up to his earned reputation as chief rational critic of then-President Obama (he could conduct a devastatingly effective autopsy of any one of Mr. Obama’s policy failures without once mentioning a birth certificate). We briefly discussed some point he had made in his speech (I do not remember which) before I clumsily asked if he had any advice for an upstart columnist. His response was brief and profound: Never write for your audience. Meaning, he explained, to never fall into the trap of writing something because it is what someone wants to hear, or simply to please the sensibilities of whatever faction you believe you are addressing.
Charles Krauthammer has written a great deal over the past few decades, and never for his audience; yet in so doing built an admiring one. His talent for erudition, his intellect, and his commitment to articulate, reasoned discourse elevated the profession in a manner reminiscent of William F. Buckley, or Malcolm Muggeridge. His was a type of polemicism that will be forlornly missed. Few of his caliber remain, though they do exist, here and there. We would do well as a people to pray for the intellectual vacuum he left to be filled. Until then, we grieve.