WJBC Voices: Charles Krauthammer, R.I.P.

By David Stanczak

If you’re not a news or political junkie, you may never have heard of Dr. Charles Krauthammer, who passed away recently at the age of 68, after a lengthy battle with cancer.  If so, here’s a hint of what you missed.

Charles Krauthammer was born in 1950 to orthodox Jewish parents.  He grew up with the protection and guidance of an older brother who always insisted that Charles be included in his activities with his friends.  Charles was educated at McGill University in Canada, spent some time at Oxford, and then entered medical school at Harvard.  During his freshman year, Charles broke his neck in a diving accident. Since he was studying the nervous system at the time, Charles knew immediately what had happened, and thought he would die at the bottom of the pool.  He was saved, but the accident rendered him a paraplegic with limited use of his hands.  The injury, however, left intact his outstanding mind which voraciously took in everything.  He finished medical school, graduating near the top of his class, and then went on to become a psychiatrist.  His real interest, however, lay in public affairs, politics, and (to quote the title of his book) “Things That Matter.”

Krauthammer originally started out as a voice on the Left. In the early 80’s, he was editor of The New Republic, a liberal journal of opinion.  While there, he became a supporter of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, writing a piece in Time magazine in which he coined and ultimately defined what became known as “The Reagan Doctrine.”  His study of, and appreciation for Reagan shifted his political views to the right, and he became one of the most articulate exponents of conservative principles, attaining the stature of a William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review, as a defining spokesman for conservative opinion.  Krauthammer was a regular opinion writer for the Washington Post, and his syndicated column was featured in many newspapers, including the Pantagraph.  He continued to write for the Post until he was diagnosed with cancer.  He was missing in action for many months for surgery and several complications from it.  He thought he had licked the cancer and was making plans to resume his opining until last month when a monthly scan revealed significant amounts of cancer which had been nonexistent just a month earlier, leaving him mere weeks to live. Upon receiving the diagnosis, he penned an open letter announcing his condition, his gratitude for being allowed to live a full life doing what he wanted to do, and his appreciation of family, friends, and followers.

Krauthammer would likely not be known as widely as he was were it not for his decision to take a position as an analyst for Fox News.  There, he was featured several times a week on “Special Report” with Brett Bair.  It was there that I fully realized and appreciated the force of his intellect, so much so that the program became one of my very few “must watches” on TV.  What distinguished Krauthammer’s commentary was its incisive nature, cutting through the chaff and hype that frequently accompanied major controversies, and getting to the essence of the issue, defining it, simplifying it, and edifying all of us in the process.  He was a chess aficionado, played it frequently, and was good enough, not only to beat his opponent, but to critique the opponent’s moves.

Who Charles Krauthammer was surpassed what he was.  He was devoted to his family: wife Robyn and son Daniel.  A clue as to how he approached his family and his disability can be found in how he introduced Daniel to his favorite game, baseball.  He first taught his dog to fetch a ball.  When that was accomplished, he rigged a device that would allow him to toss the ball to Daniel, who was waiting with the bat to hit it.  Charles would toss the ball from his wheelchair, and if Daniel would hit it, the dog would retrieve it and put it in Charles’ lap for the next pitch.

Fiercely independent, he refused help whenever his could, using personalized devices to allow him to type his columns, and to drive his van.  He refused to allow anyone to hold him to a lesser standard because of his physical disability.

A man of extremely high character, he never got personal with an argument.  Although one of his observations might be devastating to another’s argument, it was never personal. There was literally no one at Fox News that he didn’t help in some way, and he did so in such an unobtrusive manner that others found out about it only after his death. He also had a sardonic sense of humor, which occasionally showed up in his columns.  I recommend to you a column entitled “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” (the ultimate source of current references to “Trump Derangement Syndrome”), written in 2003, which was one of the wittiest and most entertaining pieces I’ve ever read.

Once his terminal condition was known, Charles accepted the verdict with the same objectivity and directness that characterized his life.  His final letter announcing his condition had an eloquence and grace to it that was reminiscent of Lou Gehrig.  There are very few persons of prominence in the world whose passing truly saddens me. Charles Krauthammer was one of them. May he rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon him.

David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.

The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.