Krauthammer's virtues vastly outweigh his sins
Charles Krauthammer announced he has but a few weeks to live yesterday, eliciting the usual encomiums and condemnations from the usual suspects.
Almost all the criticism and praise of Krauthammer concentrates on his writings and appearances on Fox News programs when his major contribution to America has been his towering intellect and how his thinking revolutionized intellectual conservatism.
A public intellectual, Krauthammer gave flesh and blood to conservative ideas for more than 40 years. As a columnist and author, his penetrating insight and gift for language empowered several generations of conservative activists and politicians.
Despite beginning his political career as a right-wing Democrat, Krauthammner's metamorphosis to what is loosely defined today as "neoconservatism" happened gradually. He was a writer for the New Republic during a time when it defined itself as a center-right magazine. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that Krauthammer, disgusted by the left's failure to defend Western civilization, openly embraced Reagan conservatism.
As American Spectator's Larry Thornberry points out, Krauthammer was a fierce critic of Obama's radicalism:
Krauthammer skillfully pinned the tail on the various donkeys of the Obama enterprise. He called radical Islam what it is. And he could be scathing in taking down the follies, hypocrisies, and manifold scams of the social and political left. (As he put it in the introduction to his very readable Things That Matter, "I never had a Marxist phase.")
Although Krauthammer was a thorough-going conservative whose learned deconstruction of the left often came with humor that ranged from mischievous to biting, he fell out of favor with some on the right in 2016 because he was insufficiently appreciative of the virtues and prospects of one Donald J. Trump. Although I came to different conclusions on the matter of the Donald, I decline to cast Krauthammer into outer darkness for his. Krauthammer has been way too right about way too many things to be read out in this way.
That is the essence of any man's life. You cannot judge the contributions of anyone unless you look at his life in its totality. Krauthammer's disgust with Trump was more stylistic than substantive. He was far too civilized to countenance Trump's vulgar swaggering or the coarseness and crudity of his political style. Call him an elitist, or old-fashioned; Krauthammer couldn't stomach Trump or his rabid followers to the point that it drove him to support Hillary Clinton for president. He, like many intellectual conservatives, gets a whiff of authoritarianism from Trump that both disgusts and alarms them.
I don't smell dicatorship coming from Trump. Trump doesn't understand democracy – or, at least, doesn't understand its fragile nature the same way that many of us do. An autocrat, he is not.
But Krauthammer will remain a personal hero of mine because of his longstanding belief in the primacy of the individual and his dedication to the celebration and survival of Western civilization. He saw the two concepts as linked and the basis of American exceptionalism.
As he exits the stage, there are no understudies to take his place. Intellectual conservatism is dead, and public intellectuals like Krauthammer are in a bad odor with those who believe themselves to be conservatives today. A shame, that. Clear thinking should never go out of style. Krauthammer had that in abundance.