On Charles Krautham­mer, my friend, men­tor and lodestar

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION - » Marc Thiessen Marc A. Thiessen Colum­nist

A few years ago, I was talk­ing with Charles Krautham­mer in the Fox News green room when the news that some­one fa­mous had passed away flashed on the tele­vi­sion screen. Charles told me the way he hoped to go when his time came. His dream, he said, was to be as­sas­si­nated dur­ing the sev­enth-in­ning stretch at a game at Na­tion­als Park.

He wanted to die in what he once called “my own pri­vate par­adise,” where “the twi­light’s gleam­ing, the pop­corn’s pop­ping, the kids’re romp­ing and ev­ery­one’s happy.”

Alas, fate has dif­fer­ent plans. Charles’s an­nounce­ment that he has only a few weeks to live is heart­break­ing. But in writ­ing it, he gave all who love and ad­mire him a won­der­ful gift — the op­por­tu­nity to tell him what he means to us and how he changed our lives.

Charles was the first per­son I turned to for ad­vice when I was of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to write a weekly col­umn for The Post.

I did not know him at the time. Like so many oth­ers, I had long ad­mired his work from afar.

The first time I saw him speak in per­son was in 2004, when I was a young Pen­tagon speech­writer and Charles gave the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute’s Irv­ing Kris­tol Award lecture. He was in­tro­duced by Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, who noted that Charles had been a speech­writer for one of his pre­de­ces­sors. “I now wish I had paid more at­ten­tion at the time to the speeches of Wal­ter Mon­dale,” Cheney said.

Charles de­liv­ered an en­thralling lecture, which, to this day, is the best ex­pres­sion I have ever heard of Amer­ica’s role in the world.

He dis­missed the idea of Amer­i­can em­pire, declar­ing, “It is ab­surd to ap­ply the word to a peo­ple whose first in­stinct upon ar­riv­ing on any­one’s soil is to de­mand an exit strat­egy.”

Un­like Rome or Bri­tain or other clas­si­cal em­pires, he said, Amer­i­cans do not hunger for ter­ri­tory.

“We like it here. We like our McDon­ald’s. We like our foot­ball. We like our rock-an­droll. We’ve got the Grand Canyon and Grace­land . ... We’ve got ev­ery­thing. And if that’s not enough, we’ve got Ve­gas — which is a fac­sim­ile of ev­ery­thing . ... If we want Chi­nese or In­dian or Ital­ian, we go to the food court.”

I re­al­ized that night: That’s not only what I think; that’s how I want to think. That’s how I want to write. I want to be like Charles Krautham­mer.

A few years later, when I asked his ad­vice for my new Post col­umn, Charles in­vited me to his office.

What a thrill to fi­nally meet him in per­son!

He was ex­actly as I ex­pected: gra­cious, funny and kind. He shared with me his writ­ing process, how he came up with ideas and wrote — and rewrote — his col­umns, un­til ev­ery word was per­fect.

And then he gave me one last piece of ad­vice. “One day, they are go­ing to ask you to write two col­umns a week,” he said. “Don’t do it. No one can write two good col­umns a week.”

I fol­lowed his ad­vice ... un­til this year. (Sorry, Charles).

In the years that fol­lowed, I was blessed to spend count­less hours with Charles wait­ing to go on the air at Fox News, talk­ing about ev­ery­thing from con­ser­va­tive phi­los­o­phy to the rise of Pres­i­dent Trump.

He is so bril­liant, so im­mersed in the de­bate, that he has never needed to pre­pare very much.

One day, I asked him what his topic was. “I have no idea,” he said with a twin­kle in his eye.

I had to spend hours pre­par­ing to be half as good as Charles. I’m still work­ing on it. Even be­fore I knew him, he was my lodestar — and he al­ways will be.

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