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Columnist Charles Krauthammer dies at 68 after battle with cancer

By Adam Bernstein
The Washington Post

June 21. 2018 10:10PM
Charles Krauthammer, one of the leading conservative political commentators in the U.S. media, appears on Fox News in this image from video released on Thursday. (Courtesy Fox News/Handout via REUTERS)

Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the foreign policy of neoconservatism, died Thursday at 68.

The cause was cancer of the small intestine, said his son, Daniel Krauthammer.

In addition to his syndicated weekly column in The Post, which garnered him a Pulitzer in 1987, Charles Krauthammer was an essayist for magazines across the political spectrum, including Time, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard and the foreign policy journal The National Interest.

He was also often present on cable news.

He graduated in 1975 from Harvard Medical School — on time, despite a diving accident that left him a paraplegic — and practiced psychiatry before a restless curiosity led him to switch paths. Instead of diagnosing patients, he would analyze the body politic.

On Israeli-Palestinian relations, Krauthammer acknowledged suffering on both sides but defended the Jewish state in what he saw as its existential battle for survival.

His prolific work extended beyond politics and foreign affairs to touch on complex social problems that he had encountered in his medical practice.

He wrote about societal treatment of the mentally ill. Many patients were set adrift on the “very mean streets” because of a fantasy of “a Rockwellian community ready to welcome its eccentrics,” he wrote in Time in 1985.

“In the name of a liberty that illness does not allow them to enjoy,” he concluded, “we have condemned the homeless mentally ill to die with their rights on.”

After mass shootings, Krauthammer argued, Democratic leaders made “totally sincere, totally knee-jerk and totally pointless” calls for stricter gun-safety laws instead of addressing what he regarded as the more relevant underlying issue: the failure of families and the state to ensure effective psychiatric intervention for those who need it.

Krauthammer said his politics were shaped by growing up in the post-Holocaust years with Jewish parents who had escaped Nazi Europe.

He grew up attuned to the “tragic element in history,” he once told a C-Span interviewer.

“It tempers your optimism and your idealism. And it gives you a vision of the world which I think is more restrained, conservative, if you like. You don’t expect that much out of human nature. And you are prepared for the worst.”

He initially defined himself as a liberal Cold Warrior, a Democrat who embraced anti-communist and New Deal and Great Society programs that aided the most vulnerable. His support for the robust use of American military power gradually left him feeling alienated from the Democratic Party, however, and he found ideological succor in neoconservatism.

His arguments found favor with the growing tide of neoconservatives in the GOP and saw their most intense expression during the first term of George W. Bush’s administration, when the president sought to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, the Bush White House accused Hussein of hiding weapons of mass destruction. Krauthammer was foremost among pundits who took up the president’s cause, excoriating those who opposed it.

Krauthammer at times took a corrosive tone toward Bush’s Democratic successor.

He said President Barack Obama’s “passion” was for “protecting Islam from any possible association with ‘violent extremism,’” and painted him as a welfare-state expanding extremist “given to apologies and appeasement” on the world stage.

Yet Krauthammer was never completely a partisan warrior.

He differed from many cultural conservatives by favoring legalized abortion and stem-cell research and abhorred the idea of “intelligent design.”

He scolded the tea party, a loud minority within the GOP that tried to force its way legislatively with government shutdowns, as the “suicide caucus.”

He also was apoplectic about the election of President Donald Trump, calling him a “moral disgrace” for his initial refusal to fully condemn a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” Krauthammer wrote in a June 8 farewell note.

“I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny. I leave this life with no regrets.”


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