Paving the Way for Reagan
The Influence of Conservative Media on US Foreign Policy
Published by: University Press of Kentucky
Release Date: August 2018
From 1964 to 1980, the United States was buffeted by a variety of international crises, including the nation's defeat in Vietnam, the growing aggression of the Soviet Union, and Washington's inability to free the fifty two American hostages held by Islamic extremists in Iran. Through this period and in the decades that followed, Commentary, Human Events, and National Review magazines were critical in supporting the development of GOP conservative positions on key issues that shaped events at home and abroad. These publications and the politicians they influenced pursued a fundamental realignment of US foreign policy that culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan.
Paving the Way for Reagan closely examines the ideas and opinions conveyed by the magazines in relationship to their critiques of the dominant liberal foreign policy events of the 1960s and 1970s. Revealed is how the journalists' key insights and assessments of the US strategies on Vietnam, China, the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), the United Nations, the Panama Canal, Rhodesia, and the Middle East applied pressure to leaders on the Right within the GOP who they believed were not being faithful to conservative principles. Their views were ultimately adopted within the conservative movement, and subsequently, helped lay the foundation for Reagan's "peace through strength" foreign policy.
Incorporating primary sources and firsthand accounts from writers and editors, Jurdem provides a comprehensive analysis of how these three publications played a fundamental role influencing elite opinion for a paradigm shift in US foreign policy during this crucial sixteen–year period.
Dr. Jurdem successfully makes an argument that relies on an impressive array of primary sources as well as a good use of oral history to develop his arguments. Paving the Way for Reagan will make a lasting contribution to our understanding of the evolution of the modern conservative movement, particularly the one represented by Ronald Reagan and his contemporaries.
—Kyle Longley, author of eight books including LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval
In this perceptive and meticulously documented study, Laurence R. Jurdem shows how three insurgent conservative periodicals developed a trenchant critique of American foreign policy during the Vietnam War era and its dispiriting aftermath—and thereby helped to lay the foundations for the 'Reagan Revolution' of 1980. His book casts valuable light on the ideological and geopolitical worldview behind President Reagan's daring reorientation of foreign policy. Jurdem also illuminates the fruitful and occasionally tense interaction between Reagan and his supporters in conservative media. The volume is a welcome addition to scholarship on Reagan's career and on the conservative movement that catapulted him to the White House.
—George H. Nash, historian and author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945
Laurence Jurdem has read widely and researched deeply into the intellectual history of modern American conservatism. In Paving the Way for Reagan, he deftly shows how writers for Human Events, National Review, and Commentary, in reaction to the failures of the Vietnam War and détente, helped refashion American foreign policy and provide the ideological groundwork for the Republican Party's more hawkish policies under Ronald Reagan. In doing so, these three very different magazines had a profound impact on the unfolding of the final years of the Cold War. Jurdem's book deserves a place on the growing bookshelf of works about American conservative thought and politics.
—Vincent J. Cannato, University of Massachusetts Boston
Ideas matter! Paving the Way for Reagan shows how the conservative critique of postwar bipartisan foreign policy paid off in the Reagan administration by ending the Cold War. Great read.
—Donald T. Critchlow, author of Republican Character: From Nixon to Reagan
Most great moments in history have been decades in the making. Ronald Reagan's Cold War triumph was no exception. If he seized the moment by telling Gorbachev to 'tear down this wall' it was only after years of reflection and experience shaped by the writing of major conservative figures like William F. Buckley Jr., James Burnham, and so many others. Laurence Jurdem has done an outstanding job of documenting a unique, symbiotic relationship that not only made history, but changed it for the better.
—Aram Bakshian, contributing editor to The National Interest and The American Conservative, and Ronald Reagan's director of presidential speechwriting (1981–1983)
Laurence Jurdem has done an outstanding job of documenting a unique, symbiotic relationship that not only made history, but changed it for the better.
[An] evenhanded and comprehensive study. What Jurdem proves without a doubt is the critical role Human Events, National Review, and Commentary played on the worldview of Ronald Reagan. Jurdem's book is filled with evidence of why small intellectual magazines matter.
—Washington Free Beacon
Jurdem's work is essential reading for those whose studies consider the rise of conservative reaction during the tenures of the four preceding presidents. The book also offers a reminder of what Nash recognized: the effort to find intellectualism in the minds of politicians is a slippery slope.
—Craig Allen, Journal of American History