There’s been a lot of talk about how Charles was the most important and influential conservative columnist of the last 30 years, or as Chuck Lane put it last night, since Walter Lippmann. I certainly think that’s defensible, but I have some quibbles. Charles was certainly a conservative, and he definitely was one of the most influential columnists ever. But I think it’s worth noting that not only would some of this praise make him uncomfortable, he might also have disagreed.
He had deep admiration for his friend and collegial rival, George Will, and he talked about him in ways that might suggest he thought George deserved the crown. I suspect Charles would have also thrown Bill Safire into the mix and probably Bill Buckley, too. But my real point is that the power and influence of his writing didn’t come from an effort to come up with the best conservative take on a subject. He approached the page, literally and figuratively, almost completely free of doctrine or dogma — which is ironic given that some of his most famous work was on defining the Reagan and Bush doctrines.
Now, I like doctrine and dogma — but what Charles did was bring the reader along as he thought through an idea or an argument. Lots of pundits do most of their reasoning first — if they really do it at all — and then pass off their conclusions as if they were arguments. When you read a Krauthammer column, you might still disagree with him but you never had any doubt about how he got to his conclusion or that his argument was formulated in good faith.