Who is the most influential American columnist? According to an international survey the Financial Times published in 2006, the award goes to Charles Krauthammer, the 59-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator whose weekly column for the Washington Post is syndicated in some 200 papers (and who, incidentally, has been confined to a wheelchair since a diving accident in 1972). It is hard to avoid Krauthammer's work. He is a contributing editor for both the New Republic and the Weekly Standard, where his essays appear regularly, and he writes frequently for many other publications, from Time to Commentary.
In its citation, the FT noted Krauthammer's deep influence on US foreign policy. In the mid-1980s, he gave local habitation and a name to "The Reagan Doctrine", the newly confident American posture toward the Soviet Union that went beyond containment and sought to be an exporter as well a guarantor of democracy.
Krauthammer has a knack for coining quietly evocative phrases to name inchoate political realities. It is a talent that goes beyond lexical inventiveness. In naming and describing the Reagan Doctrine, for example, he did not simply come up with a memorable term, he defined and laid out a new road map for US foreign policy. He did something similar in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union when, in an essay called "The Unipolar Moment", he presciently described America's emerging new (albeit, he predicted, temporary) role as the world's only superpower. That is conventional wisdom now, but as the Soviet Union crumbled most pundits were predicting a very different alchemy of political power sharing.
Krauthammer is also canny about the bloody crossroads where politics and pathology meet. Doubtless his achievements in this direction owe something to his training as a medical doctor and his early career as a psychiatrist. Certainly, the phenomenon he denominated Bush Derangement Syndrome ("the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency - nay - the very existence of George W. Bush") deserves an honoured place in the annals of mental epidemiology. Bush Derangement Syndrome is an incapacitating malady, spread by exposure to a wide variety of pathogens, but even acute sufferers from the illness could admit the genius of Krauthammer's coinage.