My friend Bob Bartley, editor emeritus of the Wall Street Journal, died at 9:35 Wednesday morning, December 10. I knew him for over three decades. During that time he grew from being a quiet slightly enigmatic Midwestern reporter in the Journal’s Chicago bureau to being the most powerful editor of the most powerful editorial page in the country--powerful, that is, if ideas change the world, and his did.
In the 1970s Bob, once something of a liberal, became a Cold Warrior and foresightedly opposed arms control and Mutual Assured Destruction. By the 1980s he was a member of the small band formulating and promoting Supply-Side Economics. In the 1990s he led an even smaller band of journalists who recognized the Clintons as reckless abusers of power and serious threats to the rule of law. By the turn of the century the Cold War had ended peacefully with the Soviet Union in history’s dustbin, Reaganite prosperity was flourishing, and President Bill Clinton had been impeached.
Bob’s ideas of a strong military and a vigilant foreign policy had replaced accommodation. His ideas of tax reduction and economic growth had replaced statist economics. And the Clinton Administration was increasingly seen in lurid hues, the Democrats’ equivalent of the Harding Administration though without the innocent consequences. Bob had moved on to champion the Bush Doctrine, which he with his keen sense of history recognized as a demarche as significant as 1947’s policy of containment.
In his weekly Wall Street Journal column, written in a fluent style employing lucid English spiced with an occasional dash of folksiness, he ranged widely across problems recognized by the nation or not yet recognized by it. Only those who have worked with him and the historians who will eventually chronicle his times can appreciate Bob’s genius for seeing history’s challenges coming across the horizon. He usually saw them before the rest of us had a hint of what was coming. Usually he recognized the requisite policy for dealing with them. By the end of the first half of the current Bush Administration Bob was speculating that the Forty-Third President was ushering in a New Establishment to replace the jejune and rancorous liberal establishment. That is the challenge he leaves for all thoughtful libertarian conservatives to take up.