Kirkpatrick hit liberals for blaming America first

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Jeane J. Kirkpatrick’s eyes twinkle at the mention of that August 1984 night at the Republican National Convention in Dallas when she eviscerated liberal Democrats as the “blame America first crowd.”

“When Marxist dictators shoot their way into power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don’t blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies,” Mrs. Kirkpatrick said of her party, which had just had its national convention in San Francisco. “They blame United States policies of 100 years ago. But then they always blame America first.”

With those words, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — a long-time Democrat — described the difference between President Reagan’s determination to defeat communism and Democratic Party leaders’ inclination to accommodate communism everywhere.

She accused Democrats of abandoning the anti-communism of liberals like Harry S. Truman, Hubert H. Humphrey and Henry “Scoop” Jackson for the accommodative tack of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and the “new liberals” she tagged as the “San Francisco Democrats.”

Mr. Reagan liked the “blame America first” refrain so much he used it against Democrats in his speeches in the fall 1984 campaign, winning a landslide victory.

“I worked very hard on that Dallas speech, and I believe the charges I made were defensible and that I could document them,” Mrs. Kirkpatrick, 79, says as she sorts through old manuscripts in the living room of her Bethesda home. “At that time, there really were very widespread attacks on Ronald Reagan and the Reagan administration. I thought they were unreasonably harsh, and that’s what I was referring to.”

While foreign policy led her away from her former party, Mrs. Kirkpatrick also had domestic policy differences with Democrats.

“Democrat welfare policy not only was not working but was damaging to the people who were the supposed beneficiaries,” she says. “I believe in self-reliance.”

Her own current foreign policy views seem not quite to match either party’s talking points.

“I don’t think we have an obligation to engage in a new imperialism,” says Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who adds that she is “skeptical of nation-building. It is extremely difficult for one nation to seriously remake another nation.”

She calls President Bush’s foreign policy “a little too interventionist for my taste, frankly — but not across the board. I am very much in favor of his actions in Afghanistan and have not opposed them in Iraq.”

Like other conservative intellectuals torn between their sense of moral propriety and their rejection of meddling government, Mr. Kirkpatrick is conflicted about a constitutional ban on homosexual “marriage.”

“Look, I am a serious Christian. I attend a conservative Presbyterian Church,” she says. “I was raised as a Baptist. No, I don’t favor the constitutional amendment. On the other hand, I don’t want to promote same-sex ‘marriage.’”

An icon to many conservatives for the past 25 years, she has her own way of describing how the world works. Over the history of the republic, she says, government has done more to protect and enhance freedom than to restrict it.

“Wherever there is a choice of leaving opportunities and tasks to the individual rather than government, it is desirable to do that,” she says. “But where it is not possible or feasible, there is a legitimate role for government.”

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