Tags: michael uhlmann | conservatism | obituary | barry goldwater | ronald reagan | electoral college

Remembering Mike Uhlmann: The Unsung Knight Errant of Postwar Conservatism


By Monday, 14 October 2019 04:05 PM Current | Bio | Archive

To finally succeed, conservatism in postwar America needed more than its political titans Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. And it actually needed more than the thinkers and philosophers, such as Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley who molded conservatism into a provocative and attractive philosophy.

Conservatism also needed "doers" who actually took the thoughts and words of its heroes and mobilized them into action.

When Michael Martin Uhlmann died Oct. 8 at age 79, two generations of conservatives recalled a quiet-but-brilliant "mover and shaker" behind public policy, a highly thoughtful author and lawyer who could engage in discourse on natural law and liberty with Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan, and someone who turned ideas into policy in two Republican administrations.

Throughout his life, Uhlmann never sought attention or publicity. In effect, he was a true knight errant of postwar conservatism, but an unsung knight.

A graduate of Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Law, the young Uhlmann later earned a doctorate in government at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.

Uhlmann taught in the 1960's and might have had a long career in academia or law. But in the early 1970's, he came to Washington at the request of Sen. Roman Hruska, R-Neb., to help him beat back the efforts of liberal Democrats to scrap the Electoral College.

Uhlmann produced a monograph on why the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College, about why the states had to have a say in the election of a president, and the dangers of a simple popular vote for the nation's top office.

The case he made helped Hruska and other conservatives save the Electoral College from its enemies and is deployed to this day as the left attempts its latest strike against the way Americans have historically chosen their president.

He went over to the staff of Sen. James Buckley, Conservative Republican from N.Y., and there he drafted the first Human Life Amendment to counter the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Uhlmann went on to serve as assistant Attorney General for Legal Counsel under former President Gerald Ford. Following a stint as president of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, he joined Ronald Reagan's administration as special assistant to the president.

With Uhlmann pushing hard, the Reagan administration weighed in strongly behind the "Baby Doe" cases dealing with child neglect and abuse. His efforts led to reporting requirements on the treatment of children by parents in order to obtain federal assistance.

Uhlmann himself briefly allowed his name to be considered for the D.C. Court of Appeals—the "second highest court in the land," many of whose judges went on to the Supreme Court (among them Clarence Thomas, whom Uhlmann persuaded to let his name be considered for the judiciary).

"But that was also the moment when the rigors of teenage years began to be felt keenly in a family of five children," wrote Uhlmann's friend Hadley Arkes of the James Wilson Institute, "And he came to the judgment that his energies and wit had to be absorbed more fully in the family at that moment than in the courthouse."

Uhlmann went on to be Vice President for Public Policy Research at the Bradley Foundation and as senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

He later returned to his first love and became a professor at Claremont McKenna College. One student remembered Prof. Uhlmann "could read the telephone book and make it interesting."

But the realization he needed to make money led Uhlmann to join the high-powered Washington D.C. law firm of Pepper Hamilton and Scheetz.

Michael Greve, now a professor at George Mason School of Law, recalled walking from the office to the Washington's Palm Restaurant with Uhlmann, because "the 300-foot walk consumed 20 minutes . . . Mike knew and conversed with every one of the then-numerous homeless persons on the street, dispensing advice and friendship: 'lay off the booze, say 'Hi to your daughter, how's the job search going?'"

"He is apt to spend Thanksgiving Day working at a kitchen in the parish or painting walls for nuns," wrote Hadley Arkes. "And on Christmas morning, his friends are likely to find gifts laid at the doorstep, from a messenger evidently sweeping past in a Mercury station wagon rather than a sleigh."

Mike Uhlmann is gone now and, left to his own devices, he would not promote his life and legacy. But now that task is left to those whose lives he touched and who loved him. He is no longer unsung.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Mike Uhlmann is gone now and, left to his own devices, he would not promote his life and legacy, but now that task is left to those whose lives he touched and who loved him, Newsmax's John Gizzi writes.
michael uhlmann, conservatism, obituary, barry goldwater, ronald reagan, electoral college
Monday, 14 October 2019 04:05 PM
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