I miss the wisdom and wit of Charles Krauthammer. The tenacious brilliant writer, political analyst, and philanthropist passed away in June 2018; leaving an intellectual void in both political and public debate. Charles, a native New Yorker graduated in Psychiatry from Harvard; despite severe spine injuries that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. During his 14 grueling and painful months in hospital, Charles decided to install a ceiling projector in his hospital room so while immobile on his back he could still pursue his studies and graduate with his class. Although a New Yorker, Charles was raised in Montreal, Canada, where he learned to speak French fluently. His educational resume is vast; McGill, Oxford, and Harvard universities. Not bad for a guy who spent all his adult life in a wheelchair.
Charles became chief resident in Psychiatry at Massachusetts General hospital where he co-discovered a form of bipolar condition. He left that position to join the Carter administration and help set up the administration’s psychiatry research. Later, he was speechwriter for presidential candidate, Walter Mondale. But Charles is known better as the 1987 Pulitzer Prize Winner for The Washington Post columns, and as Fox News political analyst and contributor on The O’Reilly Factor, and Special Report with Bret Baier. Charles and his wife founded The Krauthammer Foundation and co-chaired Pro Musica Hebraica; a foundation that recovers and performs lost classical Jewish music. Charles was also a member of the Chess Journalists of America.
A few years ago, Charles compiled all his political columns in a book entitled “Things that Matter.” Although with an IQ probably much higher than any of us put together, Charles never indulged in self-absorbed intellectual narrative. His thought process like his columns, remained clear and to the point. He wrote as he spoke, low key and determined. His discussions and debates were far from petty political innuendo or inane political correctness. His honesty was not shrouded in nebulous argument that today’s media wallows in. Charles always brought clarity and integrity to the debate table. When Charles passed away, his son Daniel Krauthammer found more of his father’s columns and speeches which he published in a new book called “The Point of It All.” A compilation of his father’s personal and political thoughts through the latter part of his life.
As I started reading Daniel’s book I found myself marking pages and paragraphs which I wanted to remember and refer to in my future writings. Charles did not only jot down opinions, his writing revealed the man behind the politics and the pen. In The Point of It All we discover a reflective man who was honest, ethical, and above all; intelligent. Even when appearing on cable news as a political contributor, Charles’s even-keeled voice and demeanor projected conviction and determination without offense or apology. He was mesmerizing to watch as he combined argument, discussion, debate, and fortitude that often silenced or deflated irrelevancy of those sitting across from him. He dissected inconsequential narrative with the precision of a surgeon.
One powerful chapter in Daniel’s book is Chapter Seven, Look Outward. It caught my attention because of its relevancy in today’s world. In 1993, Charles Krauthammer returned to his alma mater, McGill University, in Montreal, Canada, to address the Class of ’93. His address was entitled Three Pieces of Sage Advice. In his opening statement he referred to himself as Marco Polo, returning back as a sage imparting important “information” on life. According to Charles, lesson one on life was “not to lose your head.” He addressed the sheep-like pursuant of social and political mass hysteria disguised as intellectual activism. 1993 was only a few years after the Berlin Wall had gone down and the Cold War a memory. Charles spoke about the myriad of nuclear proliferation protests that had gone before, especially in the 80s, that predicted a nuclear “abyss” and mass angst. Politicians were mostly responsible for fueling up anxiety just for political gain. But when the Cold War ended, the same activists that predicted Armageddon and nuclear doom soon moved on to other panic-induced Armageddon. Charles pointed out the inanity of it all because post Cold War the same number of nukes remained in existence sans global angst.
Charles described the prediction of apocalyptic doom by the chosen few as a “bourgeois…apocalypse du jour.” Owning to the fact that all countries have problems, and both nuclear proliferation and disregard to the environment are bad, one must also have the ability to decipher between problems and panic. Even in 1993, Al Gore was on a roll predicting Arctic melt downs, economic disasters, and other soon-to-be apocalypse events that eventually fizzled like his now forgotten book signings. One point of clarity that Charles imparted to the Class of ’93 sits well in today’s partisan madness; when any political agenda is approved unanimously, especially by Congress, it is probably wrong. The “pack” mentality of political activism is not a path for those seeking intellectual balance and truth. It is man-made hysteria often incited by politicians, the media, and those eager to launch their careers.
The 90s were the beginning of the self-absorbed and “self-esteem” generation. The “me” generation. We told our kids that getting “in touch” with their own feelings was imperative to a life of fulfillment. A psychosis that does little for their moral fiber or educational intellect. According to Charles, the “self-esteem” movement of the 90’s ruined the art of teaching. We have led American students to believe that they are doing well because they have “self-esteem”. In 1993, an international study on math proficiency compared 13-year old students from around the world. American kids ranked last. That should have been an eye-opener, but on asking the American kids to rate themselves, they all rated themselves as the best. An ostrich moment at its best. The good intentions of the “self-esteem” mantra has raised two generations of self indulgent morons. According to Charles, and speaking as a psychiatrist; this continual absorption into “self” produces a stilted intellectual and moral life that is big on self adulation and short on primary education. Charles warned the Class of ’93 that looking inward rather than outward will stifle their ability to achieve success. This was lesson two of his sage advice. 26 years later and it is still relevant.
Charles’s third and final “sage” state was finding out “how” the new grads can do their best. Their “best” according to Charles, was to embrace the diversity and ethnic tolerance of the country. Despite their many flaws, those fleeing persecution or wanting a better life always turn North toward the US and Canada. Diversity should include respect and coexistence between people and races within the traditional North American framework of success. A better life and success should not be defined by race, but by the ability that once in North America one should seek to do their “very best”. Charles made reference to Srebrenica in Bosnia, which in the 90s was caught in an ethnic civil war that pitted Muslims against Orthodox Christians. Even though both groups had lived in proximity for centuries, and without problems, ethnic and race political agendas prompted ethnic intolerance that required the interference of 300 Canadian soldiers to protect the innocent. In 1993, Charles had predicted that intentional race “counting” would be “..a dangerous and thoughtless course that we will one day regret with Balkan intensity.” He was spot on.
I miss Charles Krauthammer. He brought decency and decorum in a media that is rife with vulgarity, untruths, exaggeration, and political bias. We have lost good journalism to innuendo, political drama, and quasi childish rhetoric. While on Fox News, Charles remained true to his intellect and never gave in to partisan narrative from either side, provoked or otherwise. He lent level-headed debate to Special Report, and kept Bill O’Reilly in check on the No Spin Zone. The love and admiration of Charles Krauthammer was bi-partisan. Taking with me his last words to the McGill Class of ’93: “Save the Best. Look outward. Don’t lose your head. End of Sermon. Now go out and change the world.” Brilliant!
Krauthammer, D. (2018) The Point of It All.
Three Pieces of Sage Advice. an address to McGill University’s Class of 1993. Adapted from the author’s commencement address at McGill’s University, Montreal, Canada. June 14, 1993.