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06-22-09, 08:07 PM #1
He’s conservative, confident and 14
Jonathan Krohn — author, columnist, conservative pundit — has perfected the short guy’s handshake.
It goes like this: Big smile. Arm extended. Elbow crooked. Palm facing downward. One has no choice but to assume his altitude to grasp his hand. And then he’s got you — eye to eye.
This, of course, may change. Unlike the other talking heads with whom he shared the spotlight at the February meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, Krohn has not yet had his growth spurt.
“Forgive me for making you wait,” the 14-year-old says, snapping shut his mom’s cellphone with his free hand. “I was just talking to my literary agent. We’re working on the second edition of my book. It will be in stores nationwide early next year … expanded, but with the same principles and ideas.”
Krohn has many things on his plate since the fame that followed his appearance at CPAC. The most pressing, at this moment, is a slab of crumb cake that he wolfs down in a coffee shop near his Duluth
home. As he attacks it, both the mop of curly, dark hair on his head and the American flag pin on his collar bounce along.
Busy boy: He had recently returned from speaking at a Lincoln Day dinner in Chattanooga with Tennessee’s four gubernatorial candidates; he was preparing for a live interview on Bill Bennett’s “Morning In America” radio show with the former Reagan education secretary; and he had just completed a full day of standardized testing.
“I like all the people I’ve met,” Krohn says of the whirlwind life he’d led for the past four months. “I haven’t met any mean people — even the liberals.”
“Drink some of your hot chocolate,” says his mother, Marla Krohn, pushing a mug toward him.
Krohn gulps a mouthful. “Do you know I’m now a weekly columnist?” he asks in a booming, theatrical voice. “I am. With Human Events. [www.humanevents.com]. Ann Coulter and I both have new columns. I can’t wait to meet her. I’ve only heard nice things about her as a person.”
He is talking loud enough that people at adjacent tables are slyly looking up from their laptops and books. The same look crosses their faces: Who is this kid?
Jonathan Krohn has been nonstop in the media spotlight since he wrangled a spot on a panel at the CPAC meeting in Washington, D.C. — an event that attracted nearly 9,000 people. Krohn was so mediagenic, so articulate, so forensically persuasive, that event organizers knew they had a live one on their hands. Krohn, then 13, delivered a three-minute speech outlining his principles of conservatism that electrified the gathering. It wasn’t long before Fox News and other media outlets came calling.
Soon his name was on every conservative’s lips. Praise for this putative pundit’s fresh, youthful vision wasn’t far behind.
“Jonathan is full of life, full of beans and full of ideas,” says Bennett. “He’s without guile at the moment, which is very charming.”
Krohn is the only child of Doug and Marla Krohn — a computer system engineer and sales representative, respectively. From the age of 8, their son had been attracted to conservative ideology in a way that went far beyond their more general Christian conservative leanings, they said. He would wake himself up early to listen to Bennett’s radio show, which stoked his interest in politics.
“We raised him with a Christian upbringing,” says Marla Krohn. “A true moral base. But, no, this interest in politics is all Jonathan. He has always had a passion and went right for what he wanted.”
“I was logically drawn to conservatism, which makes more rational sense,” says Jonathan excitedly, his voice rising. “It’s not like they told me, ‘You have to be a conservative or you’re not going to succeed.’”
To make his point he assumes the finger-wagging pose and gravelly voice of an authoritarian figure. He looks almost like he’s doing a Jimmy Durante impression.
Marla Krohn signals “pipe down” with her hands. He shrinks back, just slightly, in his chair.
Then he’s off talking about universal health care — the subject of his first column for Human Events.
“You know, the Left uses the argument that Europe does it, so why shouldn’t we,” he begins, magnetically pulling in half the coffee shop. “That’s a logical fallacy, and I’m going to explain why. …”
The Krohns knew they had a bright, preternaturally articulate child on their hands from an early age. An I.Q. test administered in first grade suggested he was gifted.
Jonathan attended Christian schools until two years ago, when his parents decided to home-school him. Last year, he began taking weekly supplemental lessons at the Classical School, which teaches a Great Books curriculum from a Christian Biblical perspective. The school also administers state-mandated standardized tests.
His teacher, Stephen P. Gilchrist, says of Jonathan, “The word energetic is an understatement. Passionate is an understatement. He is extraordinarily inquisitive, engaged and engaging. He is just … curious.”
Krohn always came prepared to class, even as he became deeply involved in a time-consuming extracurricular project, writing a 94-page treatise called “Define Conservatism for Past, Present and Future Generations.” The book — which Jonathan self-published in August 2008 with his own earnings from work on a Christian radio show — lays out ideals such as smaller government, personal responsibility and outlawing abortion.
“There are a lot of people out there saying things about conservatism,” Krohn says, his arms waving. “There are a lot of people saying we need to redefine conservatism. We need to define it so people in my generation knows what it means.”
Gilchrist, who had counseled Krohn during the writing of the book, admits some of his arguments are immature — “Frankly, he is 14 years old” — but finds Krohn’s capacity for original thought remarkable.
“[Jonathan] is not only curious, but he is coming to conclusions on his own,” Gilchrist says. “He is not the kind of kid who is regurgitating what someone has told him to regurgitate.”
Bennett, for his part, has not read Krohn’s book but says with an affectionate laugh, “I think I’ve heard most of it.” Jonathan has appeared on the show several times, as a call-in listener at first, then as a guest.
That said, Bennett plans to read the revision and write the foreword — though he had to fight former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the honor.
“I saw Newt at Jack Kemp’s memorial service, and he had apparently offered to write the foreword,” Bennett laughs. “Apparently, Jonathan said to Newt, ‘How kind of you, but I’m afraid that’s already been reserved for Dr. William Bennett.’ You know, he has this way of speaking.”
Indeed, Krohn’s bursts of grandiloquence result from his uncanny gift of mimesis: he can observe a mannerism or verbal flourish and pull it off exactly. He talks with his hands like a young man who has spent his whole life in front of a podium.
Acting, in fact, was Krohn’s other passion, and he has appeared in several professional productions. But he quit, saying “acting is not what I’m supposed to do. I’m a political analyst.”
Emboldened by the idea, he begins to address unseen critics who wonder how a 14-year-old can make that claim.
“I know what some people say. I’m not a sideshow. I’m not a freak show,” Krohn exclaims, pointing his finger, nearly shouting. “I am an intellectual force! Newt Gingrich said that. He told me, ‘You are an intellectual force for the conservative movement.’ I have to help the Republican Party get back to its core principles. If it does that, it can succeed.”
This intellectual force finishes his hot chocolate and gets ready to head home. That evening, he has to finish his homework in time for a date with his dad to watch the season finale of “24.”
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