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Charles Krauthammer: a pundit and a gentleman

Krauthammer died Thursday after a hard-fought battle with cancer, Fox News confirmed.

The testimonials to Charles Krauthammer continue to pour in, as they should. Charles, who died last month of cancer, was a “must read” whenever his column appeared in The Washington Post and a “must watch” panelist anytime he appeared on Fox. Failure to read or watch him engage on the major issues of the day meant a missed opportunity to learn something new — something that mattered (to borrow a phrase).

His personal story may be familiar to his legion of fans but remains remarkable nevertheless: a smart, healthy teen-ager rendered a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident; Harvard Medical School; professional psychiatrist; speech writer for Walter Mondale-turned conservative pundit; best-selling author; conservative intellectual; rabid Nats fan; good guy.

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I personally attest to all of the foregoing. The Krauthammers were constituents during my tenure in Congress and as governor of Maryland. Our family attended numerous of Charles’ 4th of July backyard picnic celebrations. I never failed to send him an advance copy whenever one of my books was published. Our last conversation (earlier this year) concerned his need for legal guidance on a local property matter. I hope my advice advanced his position.

Charles Krauthammer writes his final column, telling readers he has only a few weeks to live but that he leaves this life with no regrets.

But this essay is not solely another salute to a learned man and a distinguished career. I would label it more of a contrast piece. You see, Charles Krauthammer was in a very real sense a dinosaur — a man who loved to debate (often ferociously) but never felt the need to raise his voice or use a foul word. His class and intellect would never indulge such a thought. He was also efficient while engaged: He sliced and diced opponents with facts eloquently and elegantly presented. And he employed humor, never to ridicule, but merely to dismantle an opponent’s case. Many (most) of his adversaries never had a chance.

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That he was able to pull it all off in his uber-elegant, effortless style made Charles all the more daunting. Indeed, many of my constituents had no idea Charles was so thoroughly disabled until I told them. Some never did believe me.

I find it impossible to resist the temptation to contrast Charles’ superlative intellect and debate skills to the increasingly lowbrow provocations employed by so many celebrity types pushing their anti-Trump agenda.

Steve Breen cartoon 6/24/18

Where to start? Madonna’s speculating about blowing up the White House at the post-inaugural women’s march? Kathy Griffin’s holding a fake bloody severed President Trump head for social media consumption? Samantha Bee’s using the c-word in referencing the President’s daughter, Ivanka? Robert DeNiro’s giving an expletive-filled diatribe in Paris? Peter Fonda’s asking if the First Lady would “stand up against the giant a–hole she is married to” if young Barron Trump were put “in a cage with pedophiles”?

This list of potty-mouthed critics indulging their “Never Trump” inclinations could go on for many pages. Their unmitigated anger now contributes to the open and notorious suppression of decorum in the political arena. In other words, they now believe they can do or say anything they wish about the president and America’s first family because they lost an election and they’re running out of patience, and in true Howard Beale sophistication, they’re just not gonna’ take it anymore.

Fans of the original “Saturday Night Live” will recall a truly funny satirical sketch based on the then-popular “60 Minutes” point-counterpoint segment. The weekly five-minute debate featured conservative James Kilpatrick against liberal Shana Alexander. The back-and-forth was highbrow. It was strong intellect against strong intellect on a national stage. In turn, comedians Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin mimicked Kilpatrick and Alexander in comedic fashion. The most famous zinger had Mr. Akroyd respond to Ms. Curtin’s aggressive attacks with “Jane, you ignorant slut.” The response was rude, out of bounds — and funny. Why? Because public figures then did not talk about or refer to one another in such a manner.

Columnist George Will writes a tribute to his colleague, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. who died of cancer Thursday, June 21.

Knowing Charles Krauthammer’s sense of humor, I expect he enjoyed the Akroyd/Curtin parody. Of course, the thought would never have occurred to him (or us at the time) that our political discourse would sink to such depths. Would not the larger universe instantly recognize that such a turn would reflect the shallowness of an argument or cause?

Alas, Charles lived long enough to observe and comment upon the often-cynical, sometimes gross vitriol of the Trump era. Still, he may be the only conservative pundit who remained bullet-proof during this traumatic time; such was the strength of his pristine reputation.

And now that he’s gone, there are even fewer pundits remaining (either right or left) able to engage with equal parts intellect, civility, humor and class.

And that is something we should all mourn.

Robert Ehrlich (rehrlich@kslaw.com) was governor of Maryland from 2003-2007. His latest book is "Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming."

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