In memory of Charles Krauthammer, an American genius and dear friend

In memory of Charles Krauthammer, an American genius and dear friend
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“He’s with me.” Those words from Charles Krauthammer reassured me when my appearance by his side, standing in full Cubs regalia, caused the owner’s box of the Nationals to go dead quiet.

Krauthammer, who died Thursday, was a diehard Nats fan (a self-described “rehabilitated Red Sox fan”), and he was my friend. Despite our otherwise diametrically opposed baseball allegiances and some differing political opinions, I was proud to hear those words because I was always proud to be with Charles, whether at a stadium or a television studio.

He was one of the most intelligent and honest men I have ever known. From baseball teams to politics to his own physical state, Charles led a life of change, breaking away and rebuilding with every new generation. He succeeded out of sheer will and a type of quiet passion. His was a life of growth and discovery. And, for the many of us who knew him or followed his writings, there was a genuine genius to his 68-year journey.

Two weeks ago, Charles penned a goodbye note to his family, friends and fans. It was vintage Charles: unadorned, honest, direct. After explaining that an aggressive form of cancer had returned, he shocked the world by saying that he had just weeks to live. He ended with these words:

“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.”

Charles lived a life intended but unplanned. He faced obstacles that would seem insurmountable but always had a confidence about the correct, often unplanned path. Charles was born in New York City in 1950 in a Jewish Orthodox family. His father was from Ukraine and his mother was from Belgium. They would move to Montreal and, early in his schooling, Charles stood out as a brilliant mind. He graduated from McGill University with first class honors and then studied at Oxford University. He was then admitted at Harvard Medical School.

While a first-year student, Charles was paralyzed below the neck in a diving accident. After 14 months in the hospital, Charles returned in a wheelchair and later became a resident in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. Despite being paralyzed, he quickly rose as a star in psychiatry. He would publish groundbreaking work on the study of mania and coined the term “secondary mania” as a type of manic depression.

Krauthammer’s life took another turn in 1978 when he started to write for that liberal iconic publication, The New Republic. Yes, Charles Krauthammer was once a classic liberal. He even served as a speechwriter for Walter Mondale. His writing style and penetrating analysis quickly became a sensation and soon he was writing for the Washington Post, leading to a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1987 and a position as a television commentator on PBS “Inside Washington.” Charles continued to defy expectations and assumptions, both physically and politically. His analysis moved him gradually rightward. He would be credited with the first broad treatment of what became known as the “Reagan Doctrine.”

Charles was now one of the most influential thinkers of his generation. (Even Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhite House pushes back on claims Biden doing too little on voting rights The Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them Boeing's top lobbyist leaves company MORE called him a “brilliant man,” to which Charles quipped that his career was officially “toast.”) He later answered the most common question about his intellectual evolution this way: “I was a Great Society liberal on domestic issues. People ask me, ‘How do you go from Walter Mondale to Fox News?’ The answer is, ‘I was young once.’ End of answer.”

Charles continued to eschew labels, often speaking in a voice that was both intellectual and irascible. His take on stem cell research was illustrative: “I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix.” Charles called himself a “psychiatrist in remission,” and his writings often reflected his view of human experience.

Charles remained a contrast of the rivaling forces in his life and his writings. He had the most inquisitive, active mind of anyone I knew despite being anchored to a wheelchair. He had seats at the Nats that allowed him access to the games. We would discuss kids and politics and, always, baseball. We would watch the game gently unfold as we discussed the world around us. Baseball was a profound experience with Charles. He said that he loved baseball precisely because it was a slow, “complex, cerebral game that doesn’t lend itself to histrionics.”

Complex, cerebral, and no histrionics. Just like Charles Krauthammer.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.