The recent death of Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley inspired a lot of commentary. His friends and admirers mostly wrote about him in personal terms. His enemies generally used the opportunity to settle old scores now that he is unable to respond. However, no one that I read really put Bartley's work into historical context. Many readers too young to remember the era in which he had his greatest influence were probably left wondering why so many people thought he was an important person.
In 1972, when Bartley became editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, the conservative movement in America was moribund. After reasserting a measure of control over the Republican Party in 1964, with the presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater, conservatives had been pushed aside once again by Lyndon Johnson's aggressive liberalism and the selfish pragmatism of Richard Nixon. America was losing the Vietnam War while at the same time the Soviet Union was reaching the pinnacle of its military power. Simultaneously, the economy was falling apart, with stagflation--that awful combination of slow growth and inflation--well on its way.
Conservatives were greatly distressed by these developments, but were powerless to do anything about them. Congress had large majorities of Democrats. Academia was utterly dominated by liberals. Almost all economists were Keynesians who thought taxes and the money supply were matters of no economic importance. There were just two conservative think tanks, the Hoover Institution at Stanford and the American Enterprise Institute, both of which were much less well known and far smaller than they are today.
There was no Internet, no talk radio, and but three television channels carrying national news--all of which spouted the same liberal line. There were just two national magazines with a consistent conservative viewpoint, National Review and Human Events, which combined probably reached fewer than 100,000 people.
In short, there was no place where conservatives could get their ideas out and have them seriously considered. It was often joked that the entire conservative movement could fit into a good-sized living room in those days.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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