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November 16, 2005

Insensitive Moment

Kevin E. Dayhoff

November 3, 2005

Many have routinely enjoyed reading Charles Krauthammer’s syndicated columns in The Washington Post since 1985. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for distinguished commentary. His column appears in 150 newspapers across the nation and many enjoy his commentary as a regular on Fox News’ Special Report with Brit Hume.

Dr. Krauthammer came across the radar screen for many political junkies on October 15, 2004. That day he wrote a particularly aggressive column, entitled “An Edwards Outrage,” after vice-presidential candidate John Edwards stepped in it on October 11 at a rally in Newton, IA, by saying: “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

Dr. Krauthammer knows a little about wheelchairs and was given a wide berth when he wrote: “In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.”

For you see, what is little known outside the news junkie world of columnists is that Dr. Krauthammer is a paraplegic. Now you may wonder why is this issue coming to light again.

Well, let’s preface the answer by saying every writer has a bad day. A day when one wants to jump through the wires and retrieve every known cyber-byte that just left the computer before the escaping words find themselves in front of thousands of fact-finding attentive readers.

This may very well have been the case when liberal Washington Post columnist, Emily Messner wrote on November 1: “The Race to Spin Alito.”

In Michelle Malkin’s words, who gets the ‘hat tip’ for calling this to our attention: “In it, [Ms. Messner] talks about conservatives doing touchdown dances at Judge Alito’s nomination… the third paragraph Messner writes in parenthesis: “Nonetheless, it is amusing to imagine Charles Krauthammer doing a touchdown dance.”


Michelle Malkin continues by saying that after readers informed the “clueless” Ms. Messner that Dr. Krauthammer has been a paraplegic since 1972, Ms. Messner substituted Charles Krauthammer's name with George Will's. Ms. Messner then added a footnote: “My sincerest apologies for the Krauthammer touchdown dance remark. It was unintentionally insensitive – I had no idea he was disabled.”

One blogger, “Marked Up,” made a good point by noting that most readers have no clue that Dr. Krauthammer is confined to a wheelchair and this is a good thing, “In fact, it is one of the wonders of the web: We are judged by the content of our writing, not the way we look.”

Amen. As it should be, Dr. Krauthammer’s disability just doesn’t matter. Then again, one would expect a columnist at The Washington Post to be aware of what she is writing.

Whatever! Ms. Messner made a mistake and she apologized. End of story.

However, what seems to bother many is that if one of us made a mistake like that, The Washington Post would pound our faces into the keyboard, over and over again. Ms. Malkin put it well when she said: “Imagine the uproar if a conservative writer had made the touchdown remark about Max Cleland or the late Christopher Reeve...” And there’s the rub.

What does matter is that Dr. Krauthammer is a great example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. For those not familiar with him, he was born in New York on March 15, 1950, and raised in Montreal. Wikipedia reports that he received degrees in political science and economics at McGill University in 1970 and was a commonwealth scholar in political science at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1970-71.

In 1972, while attending Harvard Medical School, he was permanently paralyzed in a diving accident. In a true testimony to Dr. Krauthammer, while recovering from his accident he still graduated in 1975 and worked for several years at Massachusetts General hospital as a researcher in psychiatry. This may explain his often-keen insight into the minds of politicians?

In 1978 he joined President Jimmy Carter’s administration “to direct planning in psychiatric research.” During the presidential campaign of 1980 he served as a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale. It was in this time period that he began writing for The New Republic.

On October 15, 2004, he gave us great insight into his own success by saying: “As a doctor by training, I've known better than to believe the hype – and have tried in my own counseling of people with new spinal cord injuries to place the possibility of cure in abeyance. I advise instead to concentrate on making a life (and a very good life it can be) with the hand one is dealt.”

Living up to his reputation for “calling it as he sees it,” he continued to chastise the Kerry-Edwards ticket when he said: “After the second presidential debate, in which John Kerry used the word ‘plan’ 24 times, I said on television that Kerry has a plan for everything except curing psoriasis. I should have known there is no parodying Kerry's pandering. It turned out days later that the Kerry campaign has a plan – nay, a promise – to cure paralysis. What is the plan? Vote for Kerry… the implication that Christopher Reeve was prevented from getting out of his wheelchair by the Bush stem cell policies is a travesty.”

In the discourse of today’s “take no prisoners” approach by liberal commentators and press, the Messner-Krauthammer remark hopefully serves to remind everyone to have some compassion for the men and women, moms and dads, brothers and sisters who comprise our leadership – liberal, conservative or otherwise. Ultimately, it is important, to paraphrase Philo of Alexandria: to “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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