Jeane Kirkpatrick (1926-2006)
One of the great minds and shaping forces of American political thought, straddling two centuries, was this Duncan native of modest background. Historian Steve Byas was also born in Duncan. He recalled how Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick later revealed that she had developed a keen early sense of opposing interpretations of historical events. After studying “The War Between the States” in her fifth grade Duncan school history class, her family moved to Illinois. There, the school was studying “The Civil War.”
Kirkpatrick excelled throughout a student career that included Stephens and Barnard Colleges, as well as Columbia University, where she earned her doctorate in political science. Like many other Oklahomans, Kirkpatrick was a longtime Democrat who grew disaffected with that political party’s progressive drift in the 1960s and 1970s, and migrated to the Republican Party. She, however, blossomed into one of conservatism’s most articulate philosophical champions.
While still a Democrat, she accepted Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s 1980 invitation to serve as his campaign’s national security adviser. When Reagan won election, he named her U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, which she remained from 1981-1985. She delivered a ringing 1984 speech, a Democrat still, at the Republican Presidential Convention. It helped codify an epochal, nationalist socio-political philosophy that not only re-elected Reagan, but eventually carried Donald Trump to the White House.
Their liberal opponents, Kirkpatrick famously thundered, “always blame American first” and were “ashamed to speak of America as a great nation.” A stalwart Cold Warrior during what Democratic President John Kennedy (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 10)—whom Kirkpatrick admired—called America’s “long twilight struggle,” she forcefully articulated the primacy of Western freedom over Communist totalitarianism.
The New York Times trumpeted her significance:
“Ms. Kirkpatrick was the first American woman to serve as United Nations ambassador. She was the only woman, and the only Democrat, in President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council. No woman had ever been so close to the center of presidential power without actually residing in the White House.
“‘When she put her feet under the desk of the Oval Office, the president listened,’ said William P. Clark Jr., Mr. Reagan’s national security adviser during 1982 and 1983. ‘And he usually agreed with her.’”
Following America’s triumph in that marathon contest, though, she gradually departed from her neoconservative colleagues’ muscular foreign policy. Her 1990 speech “A Normal Country in a Normal Time” evinced a non-interventionist philosophy that reached fruition after the Iraqi War debacle of the 2000s. It also demonstrated that a strong, brilliant Oklahoman could continue to shift the particulars of her patriotic beliefs to address shifting different circumstances and challenges:
“It is not within the United States’ power to democratize the world….It has become more important than ever that the experts who conduct foreign policy on our behalf be subject to the direction and control of the people….(America) should assume no new obligations in remote places…Most of the international military obligations that we assumed were once important are now outdated.… It is time to give up the dubious benefits of superpower status and become again an unusually successful, open American republic.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.