Jeane Kirkpatrick: Reagan’s Iron Lady In Waiting

During the Reagan Administration no one threatened James Baker more than Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick.  How I miss Reagan’s Iron Lady!

Professor of International Relations at Columbia University, Cold War hawk; a Conservative with credentials and temperament that horsewhipped the Shia throughout the lands of Arabia, the Levant and Nicaragua.  If ever there was a women with balls it was Dr. Kirkpatrick.

A born Democrat in an age when Republicans were lost isolationists.  She embodied that arduous spirit of the Frontier that Fredrick Jackson Turner so lovingly engaged.  Come to think of it she was the perfect embodiment of a Cold War child that is found throughout the corpus of Billy Joel, I have in mind the tenor of ‘Leningrad’.

Born during the Great Depression to hard-scrabble oil drilling parents in 1926;  Jeane would call Duncan, Oklahoma home.  Socially grounded in the conservative, Lincolnphile patois that dominates most of North America.  She left that sheltered world to pursue her intellectual ambitions in New York and later Washington.

Her story is significant for several reasons, for the current domestic and foreign policy fight that continue to rage as our ‘culture war’ are deeply rooted in battles that were fought decades ago.  Yes, today’s political action is rearguard; a look at the ground and you’ll see the battle scars of previous stalwarts, smitten, exhausted but RIGHT!

Jeane Kirkpatrick was at the center of every significant domestic and foreign policy battle  that raged within the White House.  She excelled in hand-to-hand intellectual in-fighting, the kind where both reputations and livelihoods were made and destroyed; SHE HAD A SHOVING MATACH WITH ED MEESE OVER THE ‘GO AHEAD’ TO IGNORE CONGRESSIONAL AMENDMENTS SHE KNEW WERE UNCONSTITUTIONAL.  Truth bet told, she was right, for the Boland and Church amendments violated the separation of powers doctrine.  The impact was the false outrage that became Iran Contra.  She knew the Congressional ‘dog-and-pony’ show that dressed itself up in populist outrage, was nothing more than false righteousness.

How did she come to such hardened political insight?

She new the Satanic grasp that became atheist Marxism.  In the middle of the 1980’s, during the height of glasnost, the Russian GULAG dissident Andrei Sakharov approached the American delegation with great ambition screaming, ‘Kirkpatski, Kirkpatski, where is Kirkpatski’.  Upon finding her and seizing her hand he said with great emotion: YOUR NAME IS KNOWN IN EVERY CELL OF THE GULAG.

Absolutely no other official in the Reagan administration had as much throw-weight as Jeane.

As a public intellectual who wrote engaging, influential articles about American foreign policy and that nature of totalitarianism, she refused to shrink from her responsibilities as an American chosen to represent American interests, which to her thinking were moral imperatives.

As U.S. ambassador to the U.N.,  she relished how after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s tenure there, she would often be sighted crossing Manhattan avenues where traffic would stop and New Yawkers scream:  “Give’m Hell Jeane”.  She had it in spades and brooked no sentiments as she engaged brutal regimes throughout the U.N.

As a Reagan cabinet official who helped shape the formal policy that brought down Soviet Marxism, it is now time to draw close and examine with relish the very cultural, political insights that drove this most humble public servant.

Dr. Peter Collier has done just that with the release of ‘Political Women:  The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick’, Encounter Books 2012.

It is now more than five years since her death, and more than twenty-five years since she formally left public service to teach at Georgetown University.  This book is an earnest; a down payment one can return to often, even in prayer.  By God the women suffered for her intellectual convictions.

The Republican ideals and values that Kirkpatrick defended amid a tumult of controversy remain relevant; her career shed bright light on how a private citizen can rise to prominence and advance the ideals of American democracy; to the benefit of all:  she equals both Reagan and Karol Wojtyla!

Jeane Kirkpatrick resented being called ‘tough’ for having attitudes that would, among men, be considered assertive.  She really didn’t like the feminist movement, which derided her, even though, she was the most influential women in the history of American foreign policy.

All her life, she resisted the appeal to radical politics.  At Barnard College in New York City, she discovered her mentor:  Franz Newmann.  Only one man had her heart:  Evron Kirkpatrick, a political scientist with a background in foreign intelligence with State whom she married in 1955.  It was here that we find Jeane mentoring Hubert Humphrey at the University of Minnesota.

These Cold War liberals became increasingly embattled throughout the 1960’s with the rise of the New Left and radical feminism; but it remained for the Democratic Party to collapse and the Cold War consensus favoring a containment strategy to prevail before she would settle in and sharpen her way forward to an impasse.

With Humphrey’s defeat in 1968; the death toll was ringing for Cold War liberals.  She resisted this by organizing the Coalition for a Democratic Majority immediately after Humphrey.  She failed.  After the resounding defeat of McGovern in 1972 the CDM effort came to a close when Jimmy Carter beat Henry Scoop Jackson.  This was 1976, Carter and his coterie ignored CDM.  Jeane pulled up her convictions and rode out the storm.

She immediately became very alarmed by the Carter foreign policy, and in November of 1979 penned the infamous essay in Commentary magazine titled ‘Dictatorships & Double Standards.’  The essay was an attempt to explain what she believed was the administrations responsibility for two disastrous setbacks to democracy and American interests that had occurred on Carters watch:  the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by Islamic student radicals and the triumph of Jesuit Sandinistas in Nicaragua following the coup against Anastasio Somoza.

Kirkpatrick’s scholarly polemic was built on three core ideas.  Her first political ideal was a reflection on how DEMOCRACY IS NOT THE ANSWER TO UN-FREE SOCIETIES.  This was her political insight to studying the Peron system in Argentina and later the subject of her first book in 1971, titled ‘Leader & Vanguard in Mass Society’.  Dr. Kirkpatrick deeply believed that authoritarian societies (the kind that dominate Central/South America) were far less repressive and controlling than totalitarian societies.  For Kirkpatrick, authoritarian societies don’t seek to impose revolutionary idealism upon the individual.  In her view, they were more likely to evolve in a liberal direction.

Her second insight was the firm cultural belief that democracy evolves slowly after a nations long tenure with limited forms of political participation.  For Kirkpatrick, it was the height of folly to demand democracy in a nation/culture besieged by an insurgency.  Her third insight was the firm knowledge that America must assist authoritarian nations who are weak and susceptible to the passionate rhetoric that ground the appeal to revolutionary autocracy.

She was no idealist.  Kirkpatrick changed US behavior throughout her tenure at the UN in fundamental ways.  She deployed her political team in a manner that evidenced a common voice, instructing them to NEVER clear their speeches with State bureaucracy.  She also insisted that her political appointees at the UN treat the UN like a political operation in Chicago, where tough deals were cut on the basis of enlightened self interest.    She absolutely demanded from Congress and the UN that all foreign aid must be linked to favorable UN votes.  NOW THAT’S BALLS!!!!

As her star was waning within the Reagan administration; due to the personal intrigue of James Baker.  Kirkpatrick made her broadside in the 1984 Republican convention where she lambasted the ‘San Francisco Democrats’ as the ‘blame America first crowd.’  It remained the speech of the political season.  Because of it, she became a celebrity and was asked to run a Presidential primary.  She refused for the simple reason that her humility and self knowledge curtailed her competitive ambition.

Her last book before her death was ‘Making War To Keep Peace’.  This remains the finest political expose on the limitations of idealism in American foreign policy.  Her insight was simple:  America must balance both security and democracy.  This became the twin goals of American foreign policy.

Her husband died in 1995, she was loved by two sons.  One is a lawyer in Miami, another is a Buddhist monk.

Her final years were wrought with the recognition that she had indeed prepared herself by a lifetime of exacting study, by strenuous encounters in the public square to acknowledge America as the new order for the ages.  When she was asked to serve upon the center stage of history, she was able to play her part with brilliance and lasting effect. She is best remembered not so much as a political leader, but a model citizen.

If Lincoln ever wore a skirt:  it was Jeane Kirkpatrick.

I miss her.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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