He was a mere 8 years old when it all began, and from that time on, Alfred S. Regnery was an eyewitness, and often a participant, in helping the conservative movement grow to the robust movement it is today.
Alfred Regnery is the son of the founder of Regnery Publishing, which also played a large role in nurturing the conservative movement.
In his new book “Upstream — The Ascendance of American Conservatism,” he chronicles the growth of the conservative movement midwifed by William F. Buckley from the founding of Buckley’s National Review magazine to the Reagan Revolution. [Editor's Note: Get Alfred Regnery's book — Go Here Now.]
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Regnery, now publisher of the American Spectator, spoke about the history of the conservative moment and where it is today.
Newsmax: What was Bill Buckley’s role in rebuilding the then-moribund conservative cause? Like many others, I didn’t know I was a conservative until Bill Buckley came along and spelled it out.
Regnery: He had that effect on a lot of people. As he traveled around and gave a couple of lectures a week back in the early days, on college campuses, to Young Republican clubs, and other groups, I think he probably intrigued and turned around a huge number of people because for one thing he was so charming and stated things clearly.
I imagine that there were a lot of people who inherently knew that they were conservatives and as they watched him with his good cheer, spelling out these ideas and principles, he probably took a great many people with him.
In my case he was pretty much reinforcing what I already thought by the time I was beginning to think about those things.
Newsmax: Would you agree that Bill was largely responsible for the Goldwater and Reagan Revolutions?
Regnery: I would agree with that. When I was interviewing Bill Buckley, I asked him to what extent Reagan reflected what was written in National Review and he said that what Reagan said was written in National Review because he read every issue from cover-to-cover from the beginning.
The two of them had a huge correspondence and talked on the telephone quite often. Reagan was pretty much a born conservative.
He believed the same things without compromise that he believed from the time that he was first talking about them and was talking about when he was president.
I’m sure that a lot of those things were formed by National Review and his conversations with Bill — I’m sure Buckley introduced him to a lot of issues and thoughts as well.
Newsmax: In your book you brought up Barry Goldwater’s absolute reluctance to run for president — a subject about which little has been written.
Regnery: He knew from the beginning that as soon as Kennedy was shot there was no way that he could win that election. Even well before that, when [NR publisher] Bill Rusher and Ashbrook and others went to him to try to get him to run he asked why would he want to do that? He said he had a fine life the way it was, that he wouldn’t want to clutter it up by being president of the United States.
I think he believed sufficiently in the ideas and principles of conservatism that he felt it was a necessary thing for him to do, and I guess that there was a considerable amount of concern about taking the Republican Party away from the Rockefeller wing — that was a big thing for Barry Goldwater.
Newsmax: Where do conservative Republicans stand now?
Regnery: I’m asked that question all the time. You need to differentiate between politics and philosophy. If you measure the conservative movement by politics, we’re not in the greatest shape, but politics is a cyclical business — people win and lose elections for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with what the issues are, what they think, etc.
In terms of philosophy, generally I think we’re in pretty good shape. The principles and ideas of the conservative movement are timeless: the Constitution, federalism, limited government, national defense, traditional values — those don’t change.
There are a great many Americans who basically believe those things. What we don’t have is somebody who enunciates them clearly, who is a leader that people can follow.
So politically that presents a problem.
In terms of economics we’re way ahead of the other side. Some of the best thinking going on — supply-side economics which I think is one of the best conservative ideas in a long time, has pretty much caught on all around the world.
In terms of the philosophy of the judiciary some of the things that are being done are outstanding — we’ve got a lot of first-class federal judges appointed by Reagan and even by George W. Bush. Many of them are highly intellectual scholars.
Look at what the Federalist Society is doing in law schools. All of those things add up. It’s pretty encouraging. But people don’t look at it that way. They look at it through the perspective of politics, and that’s discouraging.
Newsmax: Where do you stand on many conservative Republican’s disaffection with John McCain?
Regnery: As I point out in the book, this is not a new battle. It’s in a way the same battle that went on between the Taft people and the Eisenhower people in 1952.
I just read someplace that National Review’s position was not that we like Ike, but that we prefer Ike. They were lukewarm about Eisenhower and the same battle went on between Jerry Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976. You had that to some extent with Nixon, the Dole campaign . . . it happens again and again — you have a certain number of people who say they can’t possibly support this guy, that we’d be better off with a Democrat and we’ll regroup and nurture somebody else to come along and run the next time.
That’s fine if the options aren’t too bad. You go back to the ’76 campaign where conservatives were disenchanted with Jerry Ford who beat Reagan by a few delegates. The option was Jimmy Carter, who was a Southern governor running on sort of a moderate ticket and didn’t look too bad and who a lot of people thought was more conservative than Jerry Ford.
I suspect a lot of conservatives just sat it out and maybe you can say it was the right thing to do because a lot of people argue that we wouldn’t have got Ronald Reagan if it hadn’t been for Jimmy Carter.
This time around, Obama and Hillary Clinton both scare the hell out of me. Put it this way: by Inaugural Day 2009, there will be seven members of the Supreme Court who’ll be 70 or older. Who do you want replacing them?
Remember that we’re still in a primary situation where the options have not been very well explained. When you get into the general election campaign — let’s assume that Obama is the nominee and he’s running against McCain, you know that first of all, McCain is going to be a pretty tough campaigner — he is he says it like it is.
You’re going to have all these other groups, the 527s, the PACs doing their thing, running ads and everything else about Obama the way they did with Kerry and there will a great deal of noise and all of Obama’s negatives are going to be splashed all over the press every day, and by Election Day, we’ll be in a very different situation that we are in now.
[Editor's Note: Get Alfred Regnery's book — Go Here Now.]
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