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Charles Krauthammer, RIP

Charles Krauthammer died Thursday after a long struggle against cancer at the age of 68, and his death comes far too soon and at a very bad time for the conservative cause he long championed.
The longtime Washington Post columnist and widely published essayist was an honest-to-God conservative intellectual, as even his most ardent critics had to admit. He was first in his class at Montreal’s elite McGill University, spent a year studying political at Oxford University, earned a doctorate in psychiatry from Harvard Medical School, won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and wrote with such clarity and convincing logic and acerbic wit that even those intellectual who were outraged by his opinions respectfully responded with their best efforts at a rebuttal. He never had to resort to schoolyard taunts or ad hominem attacks, was rarely subjected to such juvenile tactics in return.
The son of German Jews who had escaped the Holocaust, Krauthammer was born in New York City but mostly grew up in Montreal with an innate intellectual curiosity and an inherited sense of the tragic nature of the human condition. At the age of 22 the strikingly handsome and well-built skier and sailor and swimmer was mostly paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a swimming pool accident, but he wasn’t one to let tragedy keep him from living his life to the fullest.
He pursued his psychiatry doctorate partly because he’d become disillusioned with the radical politics of the ’70s, and further explained that the discipline “promised not only moral certainty, but intellectual certainty, a hardness to truth, something not to be found in the political universe.” His longtime friend and fellow Washington Post columnist George Will, another Pulitzer Prize winner and honest-to-God conservative intellectual, recalls Krauthammer saying, “with characteristic felicity, it combined the practicality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy.”
He became a chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, an official at the Department of Health and Services, but somehow wound up diving headfirst into the murky and shallow pool of politics. He considered himself a liberal cold warrior, and wrote speeches for the campaign of Democratic presidential Walter Mondale in 1980 and then the joined the staff of the left-of-center New Republic, but found himself increasingly estranged from liberalism. He had a clear-eyed view of the tragic nature of communism, was appalled by the Democratic party’s growing squishiness about confronting it in the post-Vietnam and post-George McGovern era of the party, and began to question other fashionably left-of-center ideas.
Krauthammer was especially offended by the left’s naive insistence on de-institutionalizing the seriously mentally ill patients he had once treated, and he also noticed the left’s eagerness to institutionalize the behavior of almost everyone else. By the time he arrived at The Washington Post he was one of the paper’s two token conservative editorial writers, and quickly became controversial for his full-throated defense of President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive Cold War foreign policy. He was one of several former New Deal liberals who once believed in the Truman and Kennedy administrations’ anti-communism but had drifted from the Democratic party, a largely but not entirely Jewish group of intellectuals who came to be known as “neoconservatives,” and they were all vindicated by the demise of the undeniably horrific Soviet Union and the liberation of its former vassal states.
The neoconservatives continued to advocate an American foreign aggressively devoted to promoting liberty and democracy in totalitarian lands, and thus were steadfast advocates for Israel, and argued for a forceful response to Islamist totalitarianism after the historic terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, neoconservative has become term of opprobrium on both the left and right, and Krauthammer’s unapologetic-to-his-dying-day defense of the war meant he died a respected but very controversial man.
The left always hated the war, and by now we have a Republican president who also thinks it was a bigly mistake and even goes so far as to parrot the far-left’s slur that Bush lied us into it, and by now the far fringes of both the Old Left and the newfangled Trumpian right use “neoconservaitve” as a term of opprobrium for a bunch of smarty-pants intellectual Jews. They all forget the neoconservatives won the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and don’t seem to understand that history’s verdict on the Iraq War has yet to be written, and that Krauthammer might yet be posthumously vindicated.
There’s an argument to be made that the still-controversial and unarguably tragic Korean and Vietnam Wars demonstrated American and western resolve against communism, and thus helped America and the West eventually win the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and that the hated-on-both-the-Old-Left-and-Trumpian-right Iraq War demonstrated a similar resolve against Islamist totalitarianism, and that it might be a reason it hasn’t pulled of any terror attacks anywhere in the West approaching the scale of Sept. 11, 2001. We wish that Krauthammer were still around to make that argument better than we can.
These days the arguments for conservatism are being made by proudly uneducated talk radio show hosts, and even “intellectual” seems a term of opprobrium in the newfangled Trumpian right. The well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and scientific and philosophical Krauthammer was of course appealed by almost everything about Trump, even though he would occasionally admit that Trump had gotten some old-fashioned and pro-Israel policy right, but his battle against cancer largely kept him off the op-ed pages and airwaves through most of Trump’s presidency, so his passing might get the begrudging respect from the right that he’ll get from the left.
We’re old enough to remember a time when the arguments for conservatism were being made by such honest-to-God intellectuals as Russell Kirk and William Buckley and Milton Friedman, whose intellectual lineage went back to Edmund Burke and John Locke and Adam Smith, but that era seems to be passing. This annus horibilis has already seen the passing of the Harvard Russian studies professor Richard Pipes, whose expertise and clear-eyed views helped win the Cold War, Princeton’s Middle East Studies professor Bernard Lewis, whose expertise and clear-eyed views are still needed to win the ongoing war against Islamist totalitarianism, and the great journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe, who was apparently a New Deal Democrat to his dying day but a formidable force on our side in the post-Vietnam and post-McGovern culture wars.
We and Krauthammer’s old pal Will are still arguing for pre-Trump conservatism, along with some other other formidable Never Trump conservative intellectuals, but we sure could use Krauthammer’s help, These days conservatism is defined by whatever Trump and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their callers are saying on any given news cycle, and the loss of such  a well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and honest-to-God conservative intellectual as Krauthammer seems all the more tragic.

— Bud Norman

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Fake News and Real Consequences

There’s still a chance that Hurricane Irma will veer harmlessly to the sea rather than ramming into populous south Florida, and we’ll be praying that it does, but the way America’s luck has been running lately we wouldn’t place a bet on it. If we lived in the south Florida areas where the storm is expected to hit on Sunday we certainly wouldn’t bet our lives on it, and we urge our friends down there to prepare their properties as best they can and get the hell out of there. That’s what all the meteorologists and government officials are advising, too, but talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has other ideas.
“Just as I’m the go-to tech guy in my family and here on the staff, when it comes to a hurricane bearing down on bearing down on south Florida, I’m the go-to guy,” Limbaugh assured his audience on Wednesday, adding as a further credential that “I’m not biased and have no agenda in my analysis of the data.” He then went for another 20 minutes or so about how the “drive-by media” were simply up to their usual trick of scaring the public to increase ratings, propagandize their bogus climate change theories, and try to gin up business for the hardware stores and grocery chains and “Big Water” that advertise on their networks.
Oftentimes in the past we have argued in defense of Limbaugh, and even enjoyed his comically overstated critiques of leftist media bias and outspoken skepticism about the more alarmist claims of the climate change crowd, but we’ve been more inclined to roll our eyes during his broadcasts ever since President Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and this is just Alex Jones-level crazy talk. There’s still that aforementioned chance that Limbaugh’s sanguine weather predictions will prove correct, but without any biases and agenda and all due respect to Limbaugh’s status as the “go-to guy on a hurricane bearing down on south Florida” we figure there’s an even better chance that all those meteorologists and government officials are right that it’s probably better for our friends in south Florida to be safe than sorry.
Most of Limbaugh’s estimated 20 million or so listeners aren’t in any projected path of Hurricane Irma, and we trust that most of those who are won’t be such “ditto heads” that they take his dubious advice to chill out about the category five hurricane and its 185-mile-an-hour winds that might well be headed their way, but it’s still a worrisome development. Talk radio hosts in general and Limbaugh in particular have by now supplanted such scholarly academicians as Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson and such erudite print journalists as William Buckley and and George Will as the voice of the conservative movement, and given how awful the left still is we hate to see the right descend to such crazy talk.
Limbaugh is quite right that the overall media generally skews left, but it’s bonkers to contend that their wholly honest reports on what all the meteorologists and federal and state and local government officials are advising about a horrific storm that might very well bear down on south Florida are “fake news.” He’s also right to be skeptical about government officials, but arguing they’re part of a “deep state” conspiracy to promote draconian climate change policies and sell bottled water is basically crazy talk, especially when those same government officials might well be the ones that have to deal with another one of those occasional historic natural disasters that have always occurred even before the industrial revolution.
We suspect Limbaugh’s most cocksure listener in the potential path of Hurricane Irma is Limbaugh himself, who likes to boast about the high-dollar property he occupies in Palm Beach, Florida. He brags about it as unabashedly as his new-found pal President Donald Trump does about his fancy-schmantzy nearby Mar-a-Lago resort, and unlike the safely ensconced president Limbaugh is now obliged to ride out the storm. A columnist for the PalmBeach paper is even hoping that Limbaugh will be  exempt from the evacuation order that’s been issued for the town. As fitting as it would be for both of them to suffer some storm damage, we know some very fine folk in south Florida and will pray that they all the avoid the worst of it.

— Bud Norman