POLITICAL WOMAN: THE BIG LITTLE LIFE OF JEANE KIRKPATRICK
By Peter Collier
Encounter, $25.99, 368 pages
Quintessential American and true intellectual, she brought common sense to the crazy-quilt world of international politics. She gave no quarter to strong men pursuing her agenda to bring down tyrannies, in the process helpingformulate what later became known as the Reagan Doctrine.
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.
Incurring the wrath of a few liberal friends, she who once led the Coalition for a Democratic Majority would end up a member of the Reagan administration. Kirkpatrick co-keynoted the 1984 GOP convention (as yet a Democrat) and wowed the crowd with her trademark “Blame America First” speech. President Reagan loved it.
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.
Kirkpatrick stood out early as a savvy teenager growing up middle class in Mount Vernon, Ill. (Who else reads “The Federalist Papers” at age 15? Or debates whether Othello knew of Iago’s treachery?) 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 eventeven 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.
Theirs was a good marriage, his third, her first. Kirk’s political ties helped Jeane’s rise to prominence. 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.” She agreed with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a predecessor, that the U.N. “embrace* totalitarian thought and practices.” She sought to bring clarity and logic to international issues.
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.
Author Peter Collier is a skilled, noted biographer who has authored “The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty” (1995)and “The Kennedys: An American Dream” (2002),both with co-author David Horowitz of autobiographical “Radical Son” (1998) fame. Mr. Collier does justice to the astonishing professor-turned-diplomat.
He 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. It paid off handsomely in an, at times, profound read, a must for anyone inquiring seriously into the Reagan years and how the Soviet Union was brought down.
About her internecine struggles in the Reagan administration (bureaucratic slugfests,” as Mr. Collier calls them), she tangled with a smug, possibly sexist Secretary of State Alexander Haig and, later, his successor George P. Shultz. Kirkpatrick stood her ground with both men and Henry Kissinger, too, in a male-dominated milieu.