Still, this falls short of explaining Charles’s achievement. Whether you agreed with him or not, Charles’s column taught. There is a style of Beltway columnizing that specializes in reporting, sometimes usefully but rarely profoundly. That’s not teaching. There’s also the data-heavy column, also occasionally useful, but those too generally mistake information for insight.
But nobody turned to Charles’s column for actuarial data on Social Security or the latest dubious leak from Devin Nunes. Smaller subjects he left to smaller writers. Charles could write political columns with the best of them, but the game for him was philosophical, not partisan. His conservatism was never about getting Republicans elected in the fall. It was about conserving the institutions, values and temper of a free and humane world.
How? By getting his readers to raise their sights above the parapets of momentary passion and parochial interest.