Emmett Tyrrell

WASHINGTON -- It was at Jeane Kirkpatrick's funeral this week that I finally heard of some good achieved by the United Nations amidst all its dithering and graft. According to Jeane's pastor, during her momentous tenure as our U.N. ambassador, Jeane was so wobbled by the international body's cynicism and moral emptiness that she forsook years of atheism and became a person of faith. Mind you, she had always had an abundance of secular faith before President Ronald Reagan tapped her for the United Nations. Her faith in the American way of life, its freedom, democracy and equality was as ardent as it was intelligently conceived. But after leaving the house of hustlers on the East River, she became deeply Christian; and religion gently informed all she thought and did thereafter.

Jeane has been the paradigmatic 20th century intellectual of the good sort. She began her intellectual life a socialist and an atheist. As those two sacred cows revealed their barnyard primitivism she reassessed the evidence. She became a Hubert Humphrey Democrat with her beloved husband, "Kirk," the legendary head of the American Political Science Association who through his tenure kept it a serious instrument of American scholarship. But by the 1970s many liberal Democrats were beginning their long dissipation into fantasy and the megalomania that we witness today. After a historic 1980 meeting with President Jimmy Carter, Jeane made it clear that enough was enough. Seeking the support of liberal intellectuals, Carter had summoned her and a handful of others into his pert presence. He worked his magic, and when she led her contingent of eggheads onto the White House front lawn she revealed to the waiting press corps the extent of Carter's political genius. For the first time in her life Jeane would support a Republican, Ronald Reagan. It was the beginning of a working relationship that led to deep friendship. Her respect for Reagan only deepened through the years.

With other liberal Democrats drawn mostly from the camps of Humphrey and Sen. Henry Jackson, Jeane came to be called a neoconservative. The movement began in the late 1970s and pretty much concluded in the late 1980s. Today's neoconservatives are mostly misnomers, the consequence of journalism's invincible ignorance. The original neocons broadened American conservatism and distinguished themselves by their independence of mind, their courage and their principled defense of the American way of life. They were very serious thinkers, often political scientists. Jeane and her husband, who had also been her teacher, fought for years to maintain high intellectual standards in academe.

Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
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