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A True American Hero

Norman Podhoretz

When I first met Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1972, she was an academic political scientist mainly interested in domestic politics. She was also a Democrat and a close associate of Hubert Humphrey who, both as a senator and as Lyndon John son’s vice president, had been identified with the tradition of Cold War liberalism running from Truman to Kennedy and then enthusiastically embraced by President Johnson himself. But about ten years later, in 1980, she came out in support of Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter, and even went on to serve as one of Reagan’s advisers during the campaign.

Soon thereafter, and thanks largely to an article entitled “Dictatorships and Double Standards” that she had writ ten for Commentary in November 1979, Reagan appointed her his ambassador to the United Nations. There, following in the footsteps of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (another Democrat sent to the U.N. by a Republican president), she simultaneously scandalized and electrified the world by going on the offensive against the anti-American ism which, then as now, was the default position in the malodorous sinkhole that the U.N. had become. Unlike Moynihan, however, who remained a Democrat, she finally joined the side she was on, becoming in due course a registered Republican. Yet even before she had formally switched parties, she was chosen to speak at the Republican National Convention in 1984, where she stole the show by denouncing the “San Francisco Democrats”—their convention that year had been in San Francisco—who “always blame Amer ica first.”

She was, in other words, a neoconservative. And it may be worth noting in the context of all the nonsense that has been written in recent years about neoconservatism—some of it rooted in ignorance, some of it in malice, and most of it in both—that Jeane was not Jewish and that she had never been either a Straussian or a Trotsky ite. What drove her out of the Democratic party was precisely the “blame-America-first” syndrome—the sour attitude toward America, and especially the barely disguised hostility to American military power—that had come to pervade Democratic attitudes in the late 1960s and that had per sisted into the Carter administration. And what turned her from a devoted supporter of Hubert Humphrey into an even more devoted supporter of Ronald Reagan was Reagan’s serene belief in America as a wondrous “city upon a hill” and his correlative deter mination to hasten the day when the “evil empire” would wind up on that very ash heap of history to which the Communists had always so confi dently consigned us.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, then, was a veteran of World War III (or what is more generally known as the Cold War), and I would say of her what the English used to say of those veterans of World War II who had done impor tant and interesting work and had come through unscathed—that she, like they, had had “a good war.” And like them, too, she never really found anything afterward that engaged her intellectual energies and her political passions as fully as her own “good war” had done. Back in “civil ian” life after the war had been won, she resumed her academic career, she served on many boards, and as a famous and esteemed public figure, she continued to write and to speak out whenever the spirit moved her (as, for example, in a prescient piece, also written for Commentary, describing “How the PLO Was Legitimized”).

But it was never the same, espe cially after the death of her husband in 1995. Evron Kirkpatrick, longtime executive director of the American Political Science Association, had been Jeane’s mentor, and throughout the forty years of their marriage he contin ued to be—to invert an old-fashioned term that seems singularly appropri ate here—her helpmeet in all things. His death was an immeasurable loss to her—greater, I suspect, than anyone knew or could tell, thanks to the deep reserve that marked both her character and her personality.

Nor did the outbreak on 9/11 of what I persist in calling World War IV tempt her back into battle. She had serious reservations about the pru dence of the Bush Doctrine, which she evidently saw neither as an analogue of the Truman Doctrine nor as a revival of the Reaganite spirit in foreign pol icy. Even so, she was clearly reluctant to join in the clamor against it, which for all practical purposes meant rele gating herself to the sidelines.

Because, to my great regret, I saw very little of her in what would turn out to be the last five years of her life, I cannot say for certain that she was relieved to be out of the fray this time around, but I would guess that this was indeed the case. If so, she rested on the laurels she had earned in World War III. Having enlisted as a young woman, she went on to perform brilliant ser vice on the ideological front, where she stood up magnificently for this country at a time when it was under a relent lessly vicious assault at home no less than abroad. It was as a hero of that war that she made her mark, and it is as a true American hero that she will be remembered.

She was also, not so incidentally, a great cook and a most loving friend.

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