Charles Krauthammer, 1950–2018
The columnist who became a conservative icon
Charles Krauthammer once described himself as a “liberal mugged by reality.” One of the most influential conservative columnists of the past 50 years, Krauthammer started his career in politics serving as a speechwriter for Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale. But his growing disenchantment with the welfare state, combined with his hawkish foreign policy views, led him to drift from the Democrats. As a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for The Washington Post and a frequent guest on Fox News, Krauthammer emerged as one of the most formidable thinkers on the American right. In the 1980s, he coined the term “Reagan doctrine” to describe the president’s support for anti-communist movements around the world and argued forcefully for the invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. “History is shaped by its battle of ideas,” he said. “And I wanted to be in the arena.”
Krauthammer was born in New York City to Jewish parents who fled Europe to escape the Holocaust, said The New York Times, a heritage that shaped “his dim view of human nature.” While studying to become a psychiatrist, he dove into a swimming pool and struck his head on the concrete bottom, snapping his spinal cord and leaving him mostly paralyzed from the neck down. He hated being defined by his disability. “The worst thing is when [people] tell me how courageous I am,” he said. “That drives me to distraction.” Krauthammer practiced psychiatry for a time “before a restless curiosity led him to switch paths,” said The Washington Post. “Instead of diagnosing patients, he would analyze the body politic.” In “acerbic, unsparing prose,” Krauthammer railed against the “liberal monopoly” of the media, defended the torture of suspected terrorists, and espoused unflagging support for Israel.
“Krauthammer’s views weren’t always doctrinaire,” said The Wall Street Journal. He broke with social conservatives on issues like abortion and stem cell research. Although a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, he denounced the Tea Party as extremist and opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy, calling him a “systemic stress test” of American democracy. Diagnosed with cancer last year, he wrote a farewell note to readers in June announcing that he had weeks to live. “I leave this life with no regrets,” he wrote, “grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”