Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More on Jeane

I have time, before I run out the door, to reprint here an excerpt from The Age of Reagan on how she came to the attention of the Gipper:

“The failure of the Carter administration’s foreign policy is now clear to everyone except its architects,” Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote bitterly in the fall of 1979 in her famous Commentary article “Dictatorships and Double Standards.” “The foreign policy of the Carter administration failed not for lack of good intentions,” Kirkpatrick continued, “but for lack of realism about the nature of traditional versus revolutionary autocracies and the relation of each to the American national interest.”

Kirkpatrick’s article was a sensation among political intellectuals—and also with Ronald Reagan. Several people passed the article along to Reagan. According to Kirkpatrick’s own account, Reagan’s principal adviser on national security issues, Richard Allen, handed Reagan a copy of the article shortly before Reagan boarded a plane in Washington to return to California. Reagan called Allen two hours later when he was changing planes in Chicago, asking Allen, “Who is he?” “Who is who?”, Allen replied. “Who is this Jeane Kirkpatrick?” “Well, first, he’s a she.” Reagan wrote to Kirkpatrick in December to praise the article. Your article, Reagan wrote, “had a great impact on me. . . Your approach is so different from ordinary analyses of policy matters that I found myself reexamining a number of the premises and views which have governed my own thinking in recent years.” If possible, Reagan closed, “I should very much like to have the opportunity to meet with you and to discuss some of the points you have raised.” Reagan’s critics assumed his interest in Kirkpatrick was another example of the derivative nature of his ideas. In this case, as in many others, Reagan was there first. Kirkpatrick’s argument, in one sentence, is that there is a qualitative and relevant distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Kirkpatrick’s article was the first time many people had thought about the matter this way. Yet in 1977, two years before Kirkpatrick’s article, Reagan wrote in Orbis quarterly: "President Carter has also failed to take into consideration the difference between totalitarian and authoritarian governments. . . As a result, it has needlessly jeopardized good relations with several states which have been friendly to us and to their neighbors but whose governments have not behaved as we might wish in their internal policies."

In other words, Reagan saw a kindred spirit in Kirkpatrick. She, however, was less enamored. At that moment Kirkpatrick, a lifelong loyal Democrat, hoped for her own party’s revival, dismissing “this conservative Republican governor whom I have no interest in.” This attitude would soon change.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Man, the lady sure could write. She will be sorely missed.

I can recall reading the article then.

In all honesty, it has to be said that Dr. Kirkpatrick should have had some respect for Reagan all along. Snobbery is almost never productive and is rarely justified.

I’m not sure it is right to chalk up her diffidence to snobbery. She expressed at that time that as a lifelong Democrat, she was simply "uncomfortable" around Republicans. This changed very quickly as she actually got to know Reagan and his circle. (Though it should be added that many of Reagan’s inner circle didn’t like her at first--reverse snobbery??) Ever after she felt uncomfortable around Democrats, or at least the "blame America first" Democrats they had become.

The direct quote seems to suggest snobbery, be it intellectual, social, or political. I think "diffidence" would produce a more humbly worded rejection, and it’s clear that Kirkpatrick was no shrinking violet. Whether we call it snobbery or not, it was unfriendly and dismissive. My main point was not to psychoanalyze, but to say that Kirkpatrick should have had a higher opinion of Reagan by 1979 or 1977, whenever this unfortunate comment was made. That she didn’t have a higher opinion of Reagan by that late date suggests either a simplistic image of non-Establishment Republicans or of all Republicans, or a dislike of people who lack academic patinas and still try to say something, or uncritical acceptance of distorted images of Reagan, or something equally blameworthy. The quote is something that one would say about a trivial figure, not the leading anticommunist in America and the leading conservative in America. Concerned as she was about the real world, there was little excuse for Kirkpatrick to dismiss Reagan as essentially worthless.

A great voice and a great public servant, but we all have our blind spots. We’re lucky that Kirkpatrick decided to be bigger than she could have been.

You need to recall that Reagan was not a "respectable" candidate for the establishment. When Reagan won the nomination, Carter’s people were euphoric, for they thought they dodged a bullet, and would be able to portray Reagan as lightweight, not ready for prime time. When Kirkpatrick chose to avoid Reagan then, it’s because she didn’t want any of Reagan’s taint to rub off on her.

Really need to read Steve’s book to know how much of a true outsider Ronald Reagan was. Kirkpatrick wanted to be "run with the in crowd." Little did she know, or anyone else for that matter, that Ronald Reagan was going to make his claim for greatness, and would demonstrate himself to be the greatest 29th century President, bar none, even FDR.

Wow, a couple typos in that last para. So let’s try again. Allow the last para to read thus:

Really need to reed Steve’s book to know how much of an outsider Ronald Wilson Reagan was. Kirkpatrick wanted to "run with the in crowd;" she didn’t want of any Reagan’s obvious taint to rub off on her, to blight her future prospects. Little did she know, or anyone else for that matter, that Ronald Reagan was going to make his claim for greatness, and would demonstrate himself to be the greatest 20th century President, bar none, even FDR.

Dan is quite right. To be a Reagan supporter in that day was to be the recipient of all sorts of abuse, and not just from Democrats. Some Republicans felt free to decry your stupidity in supporting a "right-wing-conservative- radical" who was surely unelectable. Well.


When we were working for Reagan’s election, people would ask my little son if he were a Republican or a Democrat and the little parrot would stand tall and announce, "I am a CONSERVATIVE! I will vote for Ronald Reagan!"


Kirkpatrick and her thinking on foreign policy surely echoed and helped define Reagan’s in a very public way. I thought she was great in her own right.

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