Remembering Krauthammer

Editor’s Note: Columnist Charles Krauthammer was a regular feature in the Sunday News-Register for several years. He died Thursday after battling cancer since last summer. Following are excerpts from some of his work, including the letter we printed just a few weeks ago, in which Krauthammer bid farewell.

It Was a Wonderful Life

I have been uncharacteristically silent these past 10 months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.

In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.

However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.

I wish to thank my doctors and caregivers, whose efforts have been magnificent. My dear friends, who have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months. And all of my partners at The Washington Post, Fox News, and Crown Publishing.

Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. 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. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.

Golden Ages Never Last

December 2009

Twenty-five years ago this week, I wrote my first column. I’m not much given to self-reflection — why do you think I quit psychiatry? — but I figure once every quarter-century is not excessive.

When Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield approached me to do a column for The (Washington) Post, I was somewhat daunted. The norm in those days was to write two or three a week, hence the old joke that being a columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac — as soon as you’re done, you’ve got to do it again.

So I proposed once a week. First, I explained, because I was enjoying the leisurely life of a magazine writer and, with a child on the way, I was looking forward to fatherhood. Second, because I don’t have two ideas a week; I barely have one (as many of my critics no doubt agree). …

Looking back on the quarter-century, the most remarkable period, strangely enough, was the ’90s. They began on Dec. 26, 1991 (just as the ’60s, as many have observed, ended with Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 9, 1974) with a deliverance of biblical proportions — the disappearance of the Soviet Union. It marked the end of 60 years of existential conflict, the collapse of a deeply evil empire and the death of one of the most perverse political ideas in history. …

“I recently told an assembly at my son’s high school,” I wrote in 1997, “that they were living through a time so blessed they would tell their grandchildren about it.”

I concluded with “golden ages never last.” Throughout the decade, and most especially as it began to wane, I returned to this theme of the wondrous oddity, the sheer impossibility of an age of such post-historical tranquility. …

Of course, it didn’t keep up. It never does. History is tragic, not redemptive. Our holiday from history ended in fire, giving birth to a post-9/11 decade of turbulence and disorientation as we were faced with the unexpected resurgence of radical eschatological evil. …

To be doing every day what you enjoy doing is rare. Rarer still is to be doing what you were meant to do, particularly if you got there by sheer serendipity. Until I was almost 30, I’d fully expected to spend my life as a doctor. My present life was never planned or even imagined. Near the beginning of these 25 years, an intern at the New Republic asked me how to become a nationally syndicated columnist. “Well,” I replied, “first you go to medical school …”

Being a Father

June 1985

Three weeks ago Daniel Pierre Krauthammer, our first, entered the world. It was a noisy and boisterous entry, as befits a 10-pound Krauthammer. It has been just as noisy and boisterous since. I had been warned by friend and foe that life would never be the same. They were right.

Of course, like all exhausted newborn fathers, I am just looking for sympathy. It is my wife, Robyn, whose life has been fully merged with his, in a symbiosis profound and delicate. His sucking, did you know, causes the uterus to contract and helps shrink it back to normal size. Twenty days old, and he is healing her.

What she does for him, of course, would not fit in a month’s worth of columns. What do I do? It seems my job is to father, a verb which must count as one of the age’s more inventive creations. How exactly to father? I don’t really know. The women’s movement, to which the idea owes its currency, is right to insist that the father do more.

But more of what? I have been asking myself that lately as I rock him and hold him and speak to him in the gravest of tones. But we both know, we all three know, the truth: Nature has seen to it that anything I can do, she can do better. Mine is literally a holding action.

Of course, the imperative to father is only the last of the social conventions one must bend to on the road to parenting. (I am learning the language.) First, there is Lamaze, the classes that teach you to be natural. Robyn does not fancy oxymorons. And I, as a former psychiatrist, know a placebo when I see one. We said no to Lamaze.

We said yes to the Volvo. In fact, on the Volvo we went all the way. We got the station wagon with roof rack: the ultimate Yuppie conveyance. “For safety reasons only,” I explain to friends, a protest that meets with knowing smiles.

Finally, there is the supreme modern convention: the now absolute requirement that father, in surgical gear, attend the birth. Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can, if you wish, wait outside, like Dagwood Bumstead, pacing and smoking and fretting until it’s over. You have the perfect right to betray your wife, spurn your child and disgrace your sex. It’s a free country.

The transformation of expectant father from nuisance — packed off to boil water, find towels, and generally get out of the way — to conscripted co-producer of the birth epic is one of the anthropological wonders of the age. And on the whole, apart from the coercion, a good thing. Father’s presence serves two purposes. One is to reduce the anguish of the mother. The other is to increase the anguish of the father. Both seem to me laudable goals. It makes up a bit for the extraordinarily unfair imbalance of suffering that attends childbirth. …

Counting on the Comet

December 1985

A Lutheran minister once called comets the “thick smoke of human sins,” a hypothesis that finds little support nowadays among scientists. They prefer to see comets as big dirty snowballs trailing tails of gas and enthralled by gravitation. And coming not from God but from the equally ineffable Oort cloud, a gigantic shell far beyond the solar system where aspiring comets spend eons of quiet desperation until disturbed by some celestial accident and called to race toward the sun and make men weep.

Except that men don’t weep anymore. Halley’s Comet may have brought victory to the Normans in 1066, heralded the descent of Turkish armies on Belgrade in 1456, and, in 1910, killed Mark Twain and then Edward VII. This time around all is forgiven. After all, it knows not what it does. And we know what it is: a forlorn mass of rock and ice, a few miles across, caught in endless revolution around our sun. Now an object, not an omen, it is the source not of panic but of curiosity. Five earthly spacecraft have been sent to greet it and snap its picture.

Science has thoroughly desacralized the universe. It is in the language. When in the last election Walter Mondale warned against militarizing “the heavens,” the usage seemed quaint. After Neil Armstrong and George Lucas, what’s up there now is simply “space.” The heavens were a place for angels, gods and portentous messengers. Space is home to extraterrestrials, the Force and now snowballs cruising through emptiness. …

The romance is in the return. Halley’s comes back, always exactly on time. After its current pass, it will travel 3 billion miles away from Earth and then turn to revisit your children. It is the grandest reminder that an individual can behold of the constancy of nature. This, because of its cycle: it returns about every 75 years, once in a lifetime. …

We know, for example, absolutely nothing about what the world will be like in 2061. Except one thing. In that unimaginable year, a year whose very number has an otherworldly look, Halley’s will light up the sky. …

Conservatives vs. Liberals

July 2006

To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

For the first side of this equation, I need no sources. As a conservative, I can confidently attest that whatever else my colleagues might disagree about — Bosnia, John McCain, precisely how many orphans we’re prepared to throw into the snow so the rich can have their tax cuts — we all agree that liberals are stupid.

We mean this, of course, in the nicest way. Liberals tend to be nice, and they believe — here is where they go stupid — that most everybody else is nice too. …

Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything. …

Liberals, who have no head (see above), believe that conservatives have no heart. …

The “angry white male” was thus a legend, but a necessary one. It was unimaginable that conservatives could be given power by any sentiment less base than anger, the selfish fury of the former top dog — the white male — forced to accommodate the aspirations of women, minorities and sundry upstarts. …

A classic of the genre — liberal amazement when it finds conservatism coexisting with human decency in whatever form — is the New York Times news story speaking with unintended candor about bioethicist Leon Kass: “Critics of Dr. Kass’ views call him a neoconservative thinker. … But critics and admirers alike describe him as thoughtful and dignified.”

But? Neoconservative but thoughtful and dignified. A sighting: rare, oxymoronic, newsworthy. …