Enduring victory? An interview with Al Regnery
By Bernard Chapin
Alfred S. Regnery is the former president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, Inc. During his time there the company released twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. Mr. Regnery is the publisher of The American Spectator and has been with the magazine since May of 2003. Mr. Regnery is also a lawyer and served in the Justice Department of the Reagan Administration. He worked for the U.S. Senate Staff, and had a career in private practice as well.
BC: Mr. Regnery, congratulations on the publication of your new book, Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism. I was impressed by your illumination of the essential conservative victories occurring within the context of the George W. Bush era. Could you share with readers the effect conservatives have had on our 43rd President?
Alfred S. Regnery: If it had not been for conservatives, Justices Alito and Roberts would not have been nominated nor, at least in the case of Alito, confirmed. Bush would have preferred Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales, both of whom would have been a disaster. But because conservatives worked closely together and did their homework, the result was one of the best things to have come out of the Bush Administration.
BC: How have conservatives reacted to your book? Also, what's been the leftist response? I see that one mainstream media outlet, C-SPAN, has made it the focus of a Book TV episode.
Alfred S. Regnery: Conservative reaction has been very good. I have done lots of interviews, and it is being reviewed, or was reviewed, in most of the conservative magazines, etc. As far as I can tell, the lefties are ignoring it.
BC: You describe Ronald Reagan's death in your chapter "The Passing of a Conservative." Sadly, another giant, William F. Buckley, has recently departed as well. How important was his impact upon conservatism and where does he belong in our pantheon of heroes?
Alfred S. Regnery: William F. Buckley is one of the great heroes of conservatism – maybe the greatest. He helped to found the movement with God and Man at Yale in 1951 and National Review in 1955, and never stopped working for it, commenting on it and its issues and people, and helping in every imaginable way. He was, in a word, superb.
BC: Speaking of Buckley, in these pages you bring to light a considerable amount of conservative history of which some of us were previously unaware. Your analysis of the critical reaction to God and Man at Yale astounded me. McGeorge Bundy called Buckley "a twisted and ignorant young man" while Frank Ashburn hystericized: "The book is one which has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night. There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic. They will cover the face." Can we not safely conclude form this episode that the left has always been the enemy of reason in American politics?
Alfred S. Regnery: The left has always hated conservatism. It is a challenge to them intellectually, financially and to their perceived dominance of American culture. Bundy's nastiness was typical, particularly in the early days, when there were not many conservatives. The left will use any tactic at its disposal to shut up conservatives, and if being an enemy of reason is required, so be it.
BC: Your discussion of the media's coverage of Goldwater—at least before he ran for the presidency in 1964—was rather fascinating. Time, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek ran uplifting stories on him while Time even praised his physical appearance, concluding, "Goldwater has more than his share of political sex-appeal." How times have changed! How much better would conservative ideas fare if the media were ideologically neutral?
Alfred S. Regnery: A lot of headway has been made in the media by conservatives in recent years. The mainstream media is certainly still biased to the left, but all of the competing forces means that the mainstream has much less power than it once did.
BC: One statistic you shared was truly baffling: "Crime in the major cities was another major problem, doubling from 188.7 to 398.5 per 10,000 people between 1960 and 1970." How is it that the people failed to connect this with the implementation of Great Society programs? Why was a conservative response not more effective at the time?
Alfred S. Regnery: It was a huge issue for conservatives. Nixon ran successfully on crime twice, as did many members of Congress, governors and others. And it is a battle that conservatives ultimately won – philosophically as well as in terms of policy. Although crime rates are down substantially, attitudes have changed more – few people now advocate the idiotic policies that the left advocated in the 1970's.
BC: You dub Richard Nixon—and quite rightly by the way—arguably "the most socialistic president of the century." Nixon got in because he pretended to be a conservative but rightists have also been fooled somewhat by George W. Bush. Is there anything we can do to prevent our being deceived by Republican candidates?
Alfred S. Regnery: The current opposition by some conservatives to McCain is based on principle, and it is tough-minded principle that conservatives must exercise so as not to be fooled again. It is also a matter of knowing the candidates and what they stand for, and pinning them down as much as possible on issues before supporting them. Of course, the best approach is to have Ronald Reagan-like candidates, who are trustworthy conservatives.
BC: Lastly, you described Nixon's victory in 1968 and the implosion of the Democratic Party as being a case where "the left-wingers had driven millions of Democrats into the GOP." Barack Obama is a candidate far to the left on the political spectrum do you think that Republicans will be able to sufficiently illuminate for the electorate his radical bona fides?
BC: Thank you for your time, Mr. Regnery.