“Being a columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac — as soon as you’re done you’ve got to do it again.” Those words of wisdom were written by the late Charles Krauthammer, who was America’s most influential and most respected political columnist, and an extraordinary human being.
“When I grow up I want to be just like Charles Krauthammer,” I used to tell my Monday lunch buddies; I was actually semi-serious because of my admiration for a person who overcame tremendous obstacles to realize his dreams. Krauthammer, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a swimming pool diving accident when he was 22, went on to become a psychiatrist and Washington political operative before turning to journalism and winning a Pulitzer Prize for his brilliant political analysis.
I identified with Krauthammer, who died late last month after battling cancer for more than a year, not only because I’m a political columnist but also because I love baseball, as he did. The difference was he was a Washington Nationals fan while I root for the Giants and the Mariners. He was a true Renaissance man who was as comfortable at the ballpark as he was inside the Washington political swamp. Like a good umpire, he called ’em the way he saw ’em, and that’s what I try to do in my column.
“I believe the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” Krauthammer wrote in a poignant farewell letter to colleagues at Fox News and the Washington Post. “I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”
And then he wrote his own epitaph: “I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full of 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 I intended.” I wish I could write like that.
Krauthammer was a liberal Democrat when he arrived in Washington to work for then-Sen. Walter Mondale of Minnesota, but he moved to the right to become a moderate, principled conservative by the time he began writing political columns for the Washington Post in the mid-1980s. Later, he was “must see TV” as a regular panelist on the Fox News “Special Report” with Bret Baier. I was hooked on that segment of Baier’s daily news show, which was always fair and balanced with Krauthammer as the leading political analyst.
Another reason I identified with Krauthammer is because I’ve moved from left to right on the political spectrum over the years, as he did. I was a “Scoop” Jackson Democrat in Seattle before becoming a Grant Sawyer Democrat in Nevada. Jackson was liberal on social issues but conservative on defense and national security issues and for his part, Sawyer campaigned on two issues I strongly supported: (1) strict “hang tough” gambling control policies and (2) civil rights. I’m proud of the small role I played in pushing those policies when I worked for our gaming control agencies in the mid-1960s.
Along with Krauthammer, however, I became more conservative as the years went by. As he once wrote, “To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid (and) liberals think conservatives are evil.” Krauthammer criticized President Trump as an undisciplined egomaniac whose “crass behavior is beneath the dignity of someone who holds the highest office in the land.” We’ll miss the wise counsel of this intellectual giant and journalistic role model.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.