POLITICAL WOMAN: THE BIG LITTLE LIFE OF JEANE KIRKPATRICK (2012) By Peter Collier
Encounter, $25.99, 368 pages
Washington Times on May 30, 2012, published a review of a new biography on a leading neo-conservative thinker that gave no quarter to strong men pursuing her agenda to bring down tyrannies, in the process helping formulate what later became known as the Reagan Doctrine. Excerpts below:
Jeane (nee Fulton) Kirkpatrick (1923-2006) was a self-described “AFL-CIO Democrat”-turned-neo-conservative, along with Irving Kristol and a flock of other disillusioned former liberals who became card-carrying, sometimes reluctant Republicans, called Reaganauts.
Peter Collier’s book Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick is a testament to a public life well lived, a heady page-turner even for those who are not political wonks. Chronicling her triumphs and heartaches, this is a penetrating intellectual study and faithful biography of a woman with down-home Oklahoma roots (she was born in Duncan, Okla.) and solid Midwestern values.
She graduated in political science from New York’s Barnard College in 1948. Later she would turn down honors at her alma mater because of its faculty’s condemnation of her political views. At the University of Minnesota, she was hooted off the stage, not an uncommon event even today for conservatives.
Kirkpatrick studied in Paris, mastering French, becoming a fan there of Albert Camus‘ description of communism as a crime against logic. She returned to earn her master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University, with financial help from a friend of her husband’s good friend Hubert H. Humphrey.
Evron “Kirk” Kirkpatrick was a former Office of Strategic Services agent, then a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. He moved to Louisiana, then to Washington, D.C., in key positions in both academia and government. For many years, he headed the American Political Science Association as executive director.
As an insightful, much-liked professor at Georgetown University, Jeane became a prodigious writer, a public intellectual and, after meeting then-California Gov. Reagan, his pick to be ambassador to the United Nations. Upon her acceptance of his offer, he excitedly told her on the phone: “You made my day!”
Jeane had published scholarly articles in small, prestigious journals. One in particular in Commentary magazine, titled “Dictatorship and Double Standards,” had snagged Reagan’s attention. She had promoted American influence in autocratic states, trusting that democracy would follow. Postgraduate studies of Nazism “and its kissing cousin, red fascism,” Mr. Collier writes, had made her an archfoe of totalitarianism in any form. Hers was a made-to-order mindset that mirrored that of the president who later coined the term “evil empire.”
At the United Nations (1981-85), she brought an edgy energy to a place she called “a sea of intellectual falsification.”
Until then, American presidents – notably Jimmy Carter, unwisely in her view – had bowed somewhat apologetically to anti-U.S. sentiments. Kirkpatrick was a fighter, a counterpuncher; she was particularly incensed by the U.N.’s isolation of Israel and the General Assembly’s disregard for basic human rights.
[Collier] was Kirkpatrick’s own pick to write her life story. She had tried her hand at an autobiography without success. (Too daunting?) Mr. Collier had full access to her papers and letters, sent and unsent, with the added benefit of lengthy interviews.
Kirkpatrick was wary of Soviet incursions into Central America’s Nicaragua and El Salvador and Cuba’s attempted incursion into Grenada. She despised the anti-American counterculture of the 1960s, calling that time “a lousy decade” and “underrated for badness.” In 1975, she decried the U.S. pullout from South Vietnam, calling it “the most shameful display of inhumanity in our history.” Not one to pull her punches, the outspoken Kirkpatrick.
Mr. Collier’s admiring portrait depicts her as principled, outspoken, witty, not full of herself, and in sync with Reagan on foreign policy.
Jeane Kirkpatrick died Dec. 7, 2006, at 80, a widow for 11 years, at home, with Bach on the CD player. At the end, she often held the Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor that can be given – awarded her by Reagan in 1985 in recognition of her sterling service to the nation she cherished.
The reviewer Gary L. Larson is a retired magazine editor in Minnesota and a regular columnist for the American Thinker.