Last Friday the Buckley Program welcomed Peter Collier to campus to speak with fourteen Buckley fellows over a lunch at Mory’s. Mr. Collier was invited by the Buckley Program to talk about his book Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick but provided many interesting insights regarding the modern day political spectrum.
Mr. Collier began by giving a short history of Jeane Kirkpatrick and the political landscape that brought her and Ronald Reagan into contact. When Reagan was the Republican nominee in 1980, Kirkpatrick, a born and bred Democrat, was invited to work for Reagan after he read a piece she wrote regarding the double standard of dictatorships. However, Mr. Collier said that once Kirkpatrick and Reagan were in the same room, talking about foreign policy, they instantly clicked; “love at first sight,” he chuckled.
Kirkpatrick went on to become the American ambassador to the United Nations, a member of Reagan’s cabinet, and a leading foreign policy advisor to the President on the National Security Council. She was a staunch anti-communist and spent much of her time in the U.N. working to undermine the Soviets. She also worked to reaffirm the United States commitment to Israel and end the disdain and anti-Semitism aimed towards Israel that was commonplace in the U.N. and the world.
Mr. Collier then gave a short history of himself, how he grew up a member of the left, but split with the party after the emergence of the New Left. This split started around the 1972 campaign and the rise of “McGovernism and Carterism.” Here he made the claim that Jack Kennedy was not the liberal hero that modern day liberalism makes him out to be. Rather Ted Kennedy chose to take up the mantle that Carter laid out, but is often falsely portrayed as following in his older brother’s footsteps. Hearing Mr. Collier’s perspective was a unique insight into the mind and experiences of a person who has completely switched sides of the political spectrum over the course of decades. Like Kirkpatrick once thought, Mr. Collier believes foreign policy to be the most important issue in modern politics. He regards the rise of China and the development of its military and in particular, its anti aircraft carrier missiles, as the chief threat to the United States. He also acknowledged that terrorism in any form, such as the type originating in the Middle East could pose as an existentialist threat to the United States, especially if countries such as Iran obtain nuclear weapons.
Mr. Collier has written many books that are of historical and modern political value in helping to understand the political forces that have shaped the United States over the past half of a century. With David Horowitz, Mr. Collier has written on the history of America’s leading families such as the Rockefellers, Kennedys and Fords. He has also written in depth on the destructiveness of the 1960’s and their generation’s influence on the left and on ‘liberal’ values.
Overall I agreed with many points that Mr. Collier brought up, and specifically the need for a strong, unified front on foreign policy. Mr. Collier was very specific when arguing that the United States has recently spent too much time hindering itself by focusing on small domestic issues, while the rest of the world advances. The United States, led by the Obama Administration has spent too much time apologizing for past and current wrongs, both real and perceived. This point is particularly poignant and relevant, and Mr. Collier used this example to show the disparity between the current administration and that of the Reagan administration. In addition to foreign policy, Mr. Collier’s path to becoming what he terms a ‘neoconservative 2.0’ was an insightful tale of how leaving the left meant breaking friendships and losing connections in his slow evolution to the right. Overall, the story of Mr. Collier and Mr. Horowitz (whose parents were members of the Communist Party) and their rejection of leftism was a unique perspective to hear at Yale.