Category Archives: Commentary

An Ode to the Correspondents’ Dinner (with apologies to Dorothy Parker)

An Ode to the Correspondents’ Dinner (with apologies to Dorothy Parker)
By Craig Shirley

O, hard is the struggle (with an iPhone) and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top of the D.C. dung heap,
For selfie-art is a form of catharsis
A love of reportage failure is a permanent flop,
And work the province of the paparazzi cattle call,
And the rest’s for a happy clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of drinking too much, throwing up, the battle of the dinner —
Thinking of spending one second with toasted Posties?
My finger down my throat. Ah, relief from the Nerd Prom!
Would you kindly direct me to the hell of Correspondents? A pilgrim in an unholy land. 

How Reagan Took the GOP Off Life Support || Daily Beast

How Reagan Took the GOP Off Life Support

In the four years after Jimmy Carter’s election as president, Ronald Reagan shed his image of an out-of-it mossback conservative and then led his party back to the White House.



04.02.17 12:15 AM ET

Human beings are social creatures and most always want to be part of some group with which they can identity. This instinct is deep in the race, from tribes to bowling leagues. What happens, then, when identity is irrelevant?

The Republican Party of the ’70s found out, the hard way.

The ’70s was a time of one political crises after another, especially for the GOP. In October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned, humiliated, rather than going to jail. Only ten months later, President Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, also in humiliation, the only president to do so. Gerald Ford succeeded him, and his presidency, in the long run, is largely forgettable. Come the 1976 election, Ford lost to outsider Georgian Governor Jimmy Carter in a close race. Watergate, Vietnam, inflation, Soviet advances, gas lines, high interest rates—all battered the already weak Republican Party.

The GOP was decimated. It was a ship without a rudder. There were liberals, moderates, and conservatives, all under the same big tent named “The Republican Party.” Higher-ups like Nixon, Ford, and George H.W. Bush fell in one form or another in the non-conservative party.

Then there was Ronald Wilson Reagan, former actor and governor of California, barely bested by Ford at the ’76 GOP convention. Many thought he was done for, too conservative, too old, too out of it. His advanced age, his “extremism” to those left of him, and even his experience were enough to kick him out. The fact that he lost the nomination by the narrowest of margins was only a nail in that coffin. So they thought.

But it was only two weeks after Carter’s inauguration that Reagan took the stage again, not only to put himself on the frontline, but to show the Republican Party what needs to be done to survive.

On February 6, 1977, at CPAC in Washington, D.C., Reagan spoke to a large group on the future of Republicanism. Dubbed, appropriately, the New Republican Party, the speech began with a quip: “I’m happy to be back with you in this annual event after missing last year’s meeting. I had some business in New Hampshire that wouldn’t wait.” He’d been to every prior CPAC and would attend every succeeding CPAC excepting 1980, when again he had business in New Hampshire.

Then he got down to business.

He noted recent Harris and Gallup polls, which stated the country was moving rightward and desired a more conservative identity. This was ample opportunity for him to define the New Republican Party. “What I envision,” he prophesized, “is not simply a melding together of the two branches of American conservatism into a temporary uneasy alliance, but the creation of a new, lasting majority.”

Reagan hit hard against the ideological wing of conservatism, which put theories in the air and not in practice. “When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom,” Reagan said to the audience, “he is not theorizing—he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” The Soviet Union was back on a war footing under Leonid Brezhnev, who succeeded the equally warlike Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. It was not a criticism of President Carter—he came into the White House promising human rights, and his foreign policy gaffes came at the end of his term—but it was a small chide against Ford and his team, who, in June 1975, refused to see the famous Soviet dissident and author, at risk of offending the USSR.

What was simply an idea for Reagan in 1977 became reality four years later.

Reagan took charge. Throughout the four years between elections, he was once again branded “too conservative” by his opponents. What this accomplished, however, was an identity, a flag under which to stand. It was a rallying cry for conservatives, that this was the Republican Party. It wasn’t something like Frankenstein’s monster, part liberal, part moderate, part conservative. It was united under Reagan and his policies.

“The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?” That was Reagan in 1977. The Republican Party, under this new banner, won one of the biggest landslide victories in American presidential history. The Gipper’s reelection in 1984 topped that. It was here that the Republican Party was changed, and the party became one of ideas, of optimism, of the future. Young Americans flocked to Reagan and the under-thirty votes went for Reagan in higher numbers than his own generation did.

This is that legacy, of hard-identity and concrete beliefs in the Republican Party. He changed the party, indelibly. He created a Republican Party of individual liberty and true American conservatism, where the wheat was separated from the chaff.

When the 1980 election between Reagan and Carter arrived, Reagan came out on top with 44 states and 489 electoral votes. Carter, the Georgia peanut farmer who arrived in Washington four years earlier, won fewer than 50 electoral votes. The GOP was redeemed.

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny,” Reagan was fond of saying, a refrain of Franklin Roosevelt’s call to the American people. And indeed, he showed that was true. It was in these four years, between his failure and his success, that he changed America. He was the president of American conservatism before he was president of United States—and he succeeded in both roles.

Craig Shirley is the author of Rendezvous with Destiny, Reagan’s Revolution, and the New York Times bestseller December 1941. He was the first Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Reagan’s alma mater, where he taught a coursed titled “Reagan 101.” He is a regular commentator on many network and cable shows, and contributor to national publications, and The London Telegraph has called Shirley “the best of the Reagan biographers.” His latest book, Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980, was just published by Harper.

Scott Mauer is Craig Shirley’s primary research assistant. He has earned his Master of Arts in Humanities and History from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and had previously been a research fellow specializing in Soviet history. He is currently assisting Shirley on his upcoming projects.


Trump Is Not the Gipper, and the Era of Reagan Is Not Over || CNS News

Trump Is Not the Gipper, and the Era of Reagan Is Not Over

By Craig Shirley | March 13, 2017 | 10:39 AM EDT

“Ronald Reagan, in my view, was the greatest of post-World War II American presidents,” said Australian Prime Minister John Howard in 2004.

Though over a decade has passed since that statement, Reagan’s presidency still shines above many if not all others as successful, optimistic, and long-lasting. Some historians like John Patrick Diggins audaciously put Reagan even higher, among Washington, Lincoln and FDR, as the four greatest presidents in history, because all four freed or saved many, many people.

Yet some are now wondering if that is no longer the case. While still honored by many within the party, some thought leaders are once again asserting that Reaganism has run its course. Has Reaganism finally been pushed aside for another ideology in the GOP? This debate seems to flare up every CPAC now, especially this year when Donald Trump consultant Kellyanne Fitzpatrick said CPAC should be renamed “TPAC.” Not likely. CPAC was essentially created for Reagan, and Reagan essentially created CPAC.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review and contributing editor for Politico, thinks so. In a piece published in Politico on March 1 entitled “The End of Reaganism,” Lowry states that the current leaders of the Republican Party, including Congressmen, are shedding classic conservativism to support President Donald Trump. They are supporting him in protectionism, mandatory family leave, major infrastructure bills, and the like. “The defining commitment of Reaganism to cutting the size of government is clearly fading,” he writes. This is only a partial understanding of Reaganism, which was to cut the size of government in order to expand the power of the individual.

This isn’t a fault of a lack of Reagan’s influence, however; this is simply a remnant – a shrinking remnant, as libertarian views continue to expand – of Bushism and big-government conservatism, relatively popular during the four years of Bush I and the eight years of Bush II.

Lowry continues, stating that nationalism – not economic freedom, not anti-communism, not limited government – is the unifying belief of the American right, noting Steve Bannon’s recent speech at CPAC. Lowry says, “because Reaganism had become so stale,” nationalism has upended all other beliefs.

On the contrary, it is not nationalism that Reagan touted, but patriotism. Though the ideas are often conflated to the point of being indistinguishable, especially in post-9/11 America, their implications could not be more different. Patriotism is an ideology of hope for the country, being proud of the nation in which one lives, the dignity of the private individual. Nationalism, on the other hand, is blindly accepting a country as superior without question, a form of xenophobia. We’ve seen it in the 20th century in Tokyo, Moscow, and Berlin, all more or less restrictive police states. The American Revolution was about the Enlightenment-inspired freedom of the individual and the throwing off of the notion of divine rule. Patriotism was about the loyalty to the Constitution, but only as long as the government put the individual first, as the sacred document proscribed.

Though it is in entirely different ways, it’s clear Trump takes some inspiration from Reagan. Reagan said in his famed “Time for Choosing” speech in 1964, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness” and that “If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”  Two decades later, he proclaimed that the United States “will carry on in the ’80s unafraid, unashamed, and unsurpassed. In this springtime of hope, some lights seem eternal; America’s is.” It was classic Reagan. One can hear very faint echoes of similar sentiments in Trump’s speeches and policies, with admittedly less elegance, but the application and the appeal are fundamentally different.

Here’s a question to ponder for the so-called opinion leaders: how can Reaganism be ending when newspapers have run headlines that President Trump was the next Reagan? The Washington Post, in early December, said Trump’s tax reform proposal was “[taking] a page from Ronald Reagan.” Meanwhile, the Washington Timesran a headline to an op-ed in late February titled “The Trump-Reagan Parallels,” written by Tammy Bruce. At the same time, the news aggregator of the Daily 202 of the WashingtonPost, badly informed, proclaimed that “the Reagan era ends” with Trump. Which one is it? There seems to be a disconnect.

Contrary to what the people at the Post or New York Times, or even some conservative outlets, say, Reagan’s legacy and Reaganism are not dead, nor are they dying, nor are they asleep. They are alive and well in the GOP. President Trump, even if the leader of the nation, is only partially the face of the Republican Party and certainly not of Reagan conservatism.

It is unlikely that Trump will have a lasting impact on conservative ideology. As Lowry admits, “This Trumpism is still a work in progress” and it may fade to obscurity as much as Bushism and “compassionate conservatism” and “kinder and gentler” under George H. W. and George W. It is simply too early to tell what Trump has in store.  To declare Trump the lead figure of a new brand of conservatism is premature and does no justice to the momentum of Reaganism. In many ways, Trumpism resembles neo conservatism without the foreign policy adventurism.

Even if Trump wanted to change the face of the GOP, it is doubtful he will. With much reporting from the press, it was revealed that Trump’s approval rating during his inauguration was at 42 percent, the lowest of any modern president. Reagan’s was at 50 percent. Now, some may say that Reagan in 1981 marked one of the lowest. However, it was then reported that it only took President Trump eight days to reach 51 percent disapproval rating. Reagan, on the other hand, reached that milestone a little less than two years in. For Reagan, it was during the recession of 1983, where it seemed his policies weren’t working, that he reached that point. In comparison, it took George W. Bush over 1,000 days to be disliked by the majority – no doubt because of the disaster of the Iraq War. When Bush 43 left office, his approval rating was in the high 20’s. When Reagan left office, his approval rating was in the high 60’s to the low 70’s.

For Trump, it’s his mere existence as president that many people don’t like and not his policies. It’s not exactly a stellar endorsement of him then, and certainly doesn’t look good for any sort of legacy. Not now, anyway.

There is also the matter of Reagan’s legacy overseas. Sure, Reagan ranks as one of the highest presidents in United States history, climbing in popularity through the years, but his popularity in Europe is just as loudly trumpeted. In 2011, statues of Reagan were erected in the Polish, English, and Hungarian capitals. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, unveiling the lifelike statue of the Gipper in Freedom Square, Budapest, said solemnly, “Today, we are erecting here a statue to the man, to the leader, who changed, who renewed, this world and created in it a new world for us in Central Europe – a man who believed in freedom, who believed in the moral strength of freed people and that walls that stand in the way of freedom can be brought down.” In Poland, Lech Walesa, a giant in his own right, said during the statue’s unveiling, “Let us bow before Ronald Reagan for the fact that our generation was able to bring an end to the great divisions and conflicts of the world.” Margaret Thatcher in England also praised Reagan in the highest terms, saying that the statue at the U.S. Embassy in London would “be a reminder to future generations of the debt we owe him.”

What do Trump, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, or the Bushes have overseas? Hotels and bombs. Jack Kemp once called Reagan “the last great lion of the 20th century,” evocative of Churchill, FDR, MacArthur, and others. One is hard pressed to think of Trump being described in such terms, in any century.

Every modern president, both left and right, looks to Ronald Reagan for inspiration. It’s only natural, as a recent C-SPAN poll ranked him number nine of all presidents, only being surpassed by the legends of the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower. Liberals and conservatives understand his influence on America and on American politics; whether or not they necessarily agree with the finer points of his presidency, they see his reach and his appeal. The era of Reagan began really in 1976, with his losing, but vitally important, challenge of Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination. But it did not reach partial bloom until his landslide election in 1980 and even greater reelection in 1984. It reached full fruition with the Carter Recession obliterated, with the Soviet Union on its knees, suing for peace, and with the morale of the American people restored. Reagan left office in 1989 beloved by many and died in 2004 respected by nearly all. When Donald Trump brings about such accomplishments, then we can compare him with Reagan.

In the meantime, this is still very much Reagan Country.


Not Just Good at National Politics, but the Best || National Review Online

Not Just Good at National Politics, but the Best

Shunning the limelight, the legendary GOP consultant Arthur Finkelstein changed the world.

by CRAIG SHIRLEY January 26, 2017 4:00 AM

‘Good morning!” Each time we speak by phone, I hear this slightly amused and amusing lyrical greeting in Arthur’s distinctive, Jewish-Brooklyn accent. I have for 40 years, no less.

So has everyone else who has ever dealt with Arthur Jay Finkelstein, simply the greatest and most controversial, the most ethical and most successful political consultant and pollster in the history of American politics. Those who matter in politics are familiar with Arthur, but no one beyond that; which is the way Arthur likes it. He’s never been the face of a wristwatch, but the gears would not run without him. While other consultants run to the spotlight, Arthur has always run away from it. “If you haven’t heard of him before, it’s because he made sure you didn’t,” he was once described in a profile in The Huffington Post. It continued:

As CNN reported in 1996: “He is the stuff of Hollywood: A man who can topple even the most powerful foes, yet so secretive that few have ever seen him.” Finkelstein has been compared to criminal mastermind Kaiser Sose in The Usual Suspects, who lay so low that some doubted he really existed. CNN captioned its photo, “Only known photo of Arthur Finkelstein.” This after years in big-time politics. No other political consultant can make such a claim.

Long before anyone else in the modern age, Arthur taught Republicans how to win. At one point in the early 1980s, maybe half of the GOP senators were Finkelstein clients and even more in the House. He was a modern Prometheus, bringing fire to Republicankind.

He greets all alike — and they certainly are many — from the lowliest campaign aide to prime ministers and presidents. As always, Arthur is supremely confident, and yet often shy and self-effacing. Truth be told, he is also a soft touch. Once, when a losing campaign reneged on its pledge to pay for an airline ticket, one of Arthur’s “kids” called him, desperately broke. Arthur paid for the ticket. Such stories are legion.

As I write this, I still can’t believe Arthur Finkelstein is ailing. Badly. It can’t be. Arthur has always been Arthur: a fun and principled conservative consultant to hundreds of campaigns, but he was much, much more than that. He quite literally changed our world. Arthur made a difference. He’s struggling through chemotherapy now, and as with everything in life, there is more than a particle of risk. Still, this is a tribute to our friend Arthur, not a eulogy. Not yet anyway.

Early in our friendship, I asked him whether it was “Finkelsteen” or “Finkelstine” (with a long i), and Arthur characteristically replied, “If I was a poor Jew, it would be Finkelsteen, but since I am a rich Jew, it’s Finkelstine.” He’d plucked me out of a NCPAC (National Conservative Political Action Committee) campaign school in 1977, and we’ve been friends and he’s been my mentor ever since. He abhors being called Art, and those who don’t know him, when they make that mistake, will be met with that sardonic grin on his face.

In the maturation of his libertarian philosophy, he had the best educator in the world while at Columbia, Ayn Rand, with whom he sometimes shared a college radio show. After graduating, he later cut his teeth in polling, working for the legendary Bud Lewis at NBC and later still for the famed Richard M. Scammon, who was the only pollster to predict the election of Harry Truman in 1948. Dick Scammon later served as director of the U.S. Census. What an early education: Rand, Lewis, and Scammon. Arthur later fell in with a group of New York City intellectual libertarians led by Rand and including Alan Greenspan, scion of New York’s café society. Arthur also worked on the 1972 Nixon reelection and afterward quipped that he was the highest-ranking member of the campaign not to be indicted.

Arthur never puts on airs, is always found grinning, sometimes giggling, ideas constantly flowing. I have never heard him laugh out loud, but neither have I ever seen him lose his temper. I never heard him badmouth anyone, but you know who he likes and who he respects and who he does not, often dismissing them with a simple roll of his eyes. He loves the New York Yankees, steak and onion rings, his family including Donald, his campaign “kids,” Las Vegas, horse-betting, and winning campaigns, not necessarily in that order. Reagan Library director John Heubusch, himself once one of Arthur’s “kids,” praised his ability to read polls, spot trends, and “predict to a tenth of a point what the outcome of the election will be. . . . If he was only so good at reading race forms at Belmont.” But as with so many others, there was also personal warmth. Heubusch calls Arthur “a real humanitarian. A mentor par excellence.” Many others, including Arthur kids John and Jim McLaughlin, say the same or similar.

Arthur is the anti–Mike Murphy, the anti–Republican establishment consultant. Long before others went with the no-tie look, Arthur was always garbed in chinos, a frayed blue blazer, a blue button-down shirt, and an untied tie, which had seen better days, dangled around his neck. You knew he was making sport of the establishment with his grunge, un-establishment look. Often, he sported a two-day growth — again, long before it became fashionable. Talk to a reporter or appear on cable television? Perish the thought! Arthur would sell his soul before going on Fox News or MSNBC, where most GOP consultants are found today. Arthur would rather work in the trenches and win a campaign than pose as a celebrity consultant, going on cable television and talking about winning campaigns.

Prior to Karl Rove’s whiteboard Arthur was often seen taking a pencil from behind his ear to scratch out political theories, ad concepts, speech concepts, and other ideas on a yellow legal tablet. Long before people were talking about three-legged stools and other such tomfoolery, Arthur had developed the more thoughtful Six-Party Theory. This Six-Party Theory originated in the 1970s as a means to explain how Republicans could attract Democrats through conservative ideology and win a majority. Conservative Democrats were the key. Conservatives outnumbered liberals roughly two to one. The six parties broke down as: Moderate/Liberal Republicans, Conservative Republicans, Conservative Democratic Theocrats (mostly Southern and blue-collar), African-Americans/Hispanics, White Liberal Democratic McGovernites, and Moderate Democrats. When he explained it, it made perfect sense. His ability to condense a difficult theory into layman’s words was but one of the ways that he showed his genius. The grand old man of North Carolina politics, Tom Ellis, once quipped, “Just knock on his head and he’ll give you a great idea.”

Arthur remains the standard by which all political consultants are measured or should be measured. For him, it was always about the cause of freedom, of personal dignity and privacy. He is gay, yet no one ever cared. He is married to Donald and no one cared. It was almost never about him.

He was simply too interested in other things. He was a throwback, deeming winning and substance more important than style. He thought the candidate, not the consultant, should be the star. Sometimes he would look at GOP “strategists” on television, shake his head, and muse over what campaigns they had ever worked on. In this era of political dirty tricks, Arthur remains appalled at the thought that anyone would try to win illegitimately. For all his worldliness, he remains almost naïve and childlike about such things. Dirty tricks? I never knew a man more incapable of doing a dishonest or dishonorable thing. Dirty tricks? Arthur never understood that world, a world too familiar to too many GOP operatives.

Title and access to power never interested him. In 1985, Lee Atwater tried to coax Finkelstein into a meeting with Vice President George H. W. Bush, hoping to enticing the plebeian New Yorker to support the country-club patrician. Arthur, afraid he might like Bush, declined the meeting.

Arthur later tried to entice Jeane Kirkpatrick into the race, and few realize how close the U.N. ambassador came to running for president in 1988. She finally decided against it, although polling showed she could beat Bush in Iowa. But “she did what any woman would do,” Kirkpatrick quipped on a phone call that he later related to John McLaughlin. “Got her hair done and decided not to run.”

During the Reagan presidency, Ed Meese, Jim Baker, and Mike Deaver each had his own favorite GOP pollster. For Ed, it was Dick Wirthlin; for Jim, Bob Teeter. For Mike, it was Arthur, but Mike never made a big move without Nancy Reagan’s approval. This meant that Mrs. Reagan liked Arthur too.

Arthur knew he was good and he suffered no fools, especially with his less accomplished but more popular brethren, because he literally changed the world.

Can one man make a difference? You bet, and one need only look at the record for the historical proof. Without Arthur Finkelstein, Ronald Reagan might never have become president of the United States. In 1976, the Gipper challenged incumbent Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination but unexpectedly lost the first five primaries. Reeling, Reagan was heavily in debt. Everybody in the GOP establishment was calling on him to throw in the towel, except a small group of hardy conservatives, including Finkelstein. They made their last stand in North Carolina.

Senator Jesse Helms and his aide Tom Ellis brought in Arthur to help on the desperate Reagan campaign there. They’d seen Finkelstein work miracles before, having steered Helms to a win in the Tar Heel State in 1972, at a time when Republicans in North Carolina were atypical. Arthur had burst onto the political scene in 1970, guiding Jim Buckley to an astonishing win in the New York Senate race, with Buckley running only on the Conservative line, beating two better-known candidates. Finkelstein scripted the Reagan effort, helped unearth the Panama Canal treaties as a sleeper issue, wrote the TV and radio spots, and had Helms’s young aide Carter Wrenn go out to county courthouses and — something unheard of in national politics at the time — cobble together a mailing list of 110,000 Republican primary voters in the state.

Reagan, in one of the biggest upsets in American politics, won the North Carolina primary, re-energizing his campaign for the second half of the contest before the GOP convention in Kansas City. Reagan lost to Ford by the narrowest of delegate margins, 1,187 to 1,070. Ford had all the power of incumbency on his side, while Reagan had only himself and a handful of loyal conservatives such as Finkelstein. Though Reagan lost in Kansas City, he went on to win the hearts and minds of Republicans nationwide, winning the 1980 nomination and then beating Jimmy Carter in a historic landslide that changed the world. Without that win in North Carolina in 1976, none of that future Reagan history would have happened.

By the way, Arthur later that year did the same in Texas, where Reagan trounced Ford, winning all 96 delegates. Finkelstein changed our world.

Arthur did all of Helms’s campaigns and created the permanent campaign before the phrase was coined, using Helms’s Congressional Club to boost the senator and bury his opponents. But he was never just an order-taker. He argued vociferously that Helms should stop his opposition to a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. After one tussle, Arthur emerged and said to John McLaughlin, “Won’t budge. Thinks King was a Communist” — and then, in a burst of dark humor, told him, “You’ve really got to be an extremist and not want a day off.” In 1984, Helms was down by 30 points in the polls, but Arthur brought him back to win, defying the predictions of all. Arthur routinely won unwinnable races. In 1978, in New Hampshire, Arthur won the Senate race with a candidate who’d lived in the state less than four years. In 1980, one of his many victories included that of the contentious Al D’Amato in the Senate race in New York. About using D’Amato’s mother in a commercial, Finkelstein quipped to McLaughlin, “We had to prove Alfonse had a mother.” Still, there was a mutual fondness and respect.

In 1996, Arthur handled the campaign of Bibi Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel. Again, history was made. Without the election of the “Israel Now and Forever” hardliner Netanyahu, would Israel even exist today? Just to prove that it was no fluke, Arthur steered him to further victories. For the past 20 years, in addition to his work in the U.S., he has expanded his portfolio to include winning campaigns in Kosovo, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Israel, where he guided Ariel Sharon to victory twice.

I asked him what his greatest source of pride was, and his greatest disappointment. Without missing a beat, he said that writing the immortal words at the base of the 9/11 memorial in New York City gave him the greatest satisfaction: “To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom.” To know Arthur is to know at heart he is a romantic. He has always seen campaigns and his life as an idealistic struggle for liberty against the dark forces of collectivism. His biggest disappointment was an obscure campaign in Massachusetts 40 years ago, because the candidate had a chance and was much like Arthur in his political outlook. He still laments that loss.

Arthur is also the greatest collector and cultivator of political talent in the history of the GOP. Some of his “kids” over the years have included the aforementioned John McLaughlin, Jim McLaughlin, John Heubusch, and Carter Wrenn but also Mari Maseng Will, Charlie Black, Roger Stone, Tony Fabrizio, Zorine Bhappu Shirley, Gary Maloney, Alex Castellanos, Rick Reed, Kieran Mahoney, Barbara Fiala, Craig Engle, Frank Luntz, Jim Murphy, Beth Meyers, Larry Weitzner, Matt Brooks, Ari Fleischer, Terry Dolan, and Brent Bozell, to name just a few. There has always been a certain swagger among Arthur’s kids, as they knew and understood politics better than anyone else. At least they believed that. The few who traveled with Arthur became known as “Little Arthurs” It was all great fun, but it was also to a larger purpose. We believed we were saving Western civilization. Check that. We knew we were saving Western civilization. And we were fearless, as we’d been taught by Arthur. There was always an allure to being one of Arthur’s kids.

His campaign operations have always been joyous affairs, part ideology, part road crew for the Grateful Dead. We were kids, oh, we were young kids. When other consultants shunted us aside, Arthur gave us a break, put us in positions of authority, and mentored us, all us — taught us, encouraged us, to be winners for a reason. A pebble drops in a pond, and the concentric circles go on forever.

His loving and devoted brother, Ronnie, held it all together for so many years, keeping sanity and rationality part of the equation. Yet he never interfered with the many lost causes Arthur wanted to pursue. I was once tasked many years ago to go to Pimlico race track and get down a $2,000 bet for the Finklestein boys. The horse won and Ronnie was giddy, but also generous with me for getting to the track on time.

Arthur is a non-practicing Jew, yet I somehow suspect he would have made a very good rabbi or pastor or priest or psychiatrist, given his spot-on and often compassionate advice. At least, he would have made a good act of it. But his real Walter Mitty fantasy is probably to manage the New York Yankees or own a casino. Still, he believes Thoreau’s admonition and warning: “The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.” And he happens to be not just good at national politics, but the best. Ever. Heubusch said it for all who have known him: “There has never been a more talented genius in the polling and political consulting business than Arthur Finkelstein.”

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” Dolly Parton speaks softly in the movie Steel Magnolias. I understand the feeling. I am laughing at the many, many memories of Arthur, of the man who taught me so much, who introduced my wife Zorine and me 35 years ago, and who is now ailing. And there are tears.

We who are Arthur’s kids, and many others, lament, even as Arthur remains indomitably optimistic against all odds. He’s not going gentle into that good night. “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished.” Beethoven’s aphorism notwithstanding, Arthur’s comedy is not over. Not yet, anyway.

I can’t imagine a world without Arthur J. Finkelstein. We know few men who have lived a more honest existence, a more honorable existence, or who have had a greater impact on so many, so much, for so long and to such great good. Arthur was and is our North, our South, our East, and our West.

Good luck and Godspeed, Arthur.

— Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer and presidential historian.



The Real Meaning of the Reagan Family Bible || Lifezette

The Real Meaning of the Reagan Family Bible

Faithful legacy of 40th president to be front-and-center at swearing in of Mike Pence

by Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence of Indiana is no stranger to showing his admiration for President Ronald Reagan. “There you go again,” he chuckled to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) during their sole debate last year, reprising the now legendary putdown of President Jimmy Carter by the Gipper in their decisive debate in October 1980. Pence credited Reagan in his decision to enter politics, and often cites him as the icon of modern American conservatism. Pence, like Reagan, is a product of the Midwest. Pence, like Reagan, is gentle in his manners but firm in his convictions. Pence, like Reagan, got his start in radio.

Now there will be a further connection between the two conservatives.

Pence will be sworn in this Friday by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the first African-American justice to swear in either a president or vice president. But though this is a topic worth writing by itself, it’s what Pence will swear on which intersects with the legacy of our 40th president: Ronald Reagan’s family Bible.

This Bible, which belongs to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California, is a piece of American history all its own. It was used by Reagan himself for his inauguration in both terms as governor and as president. It was the Bible of his mother, Nellie Wilson Reagan. It was published in 1901 in Chicago. It was, for many years, bound by tape and worn out, a sign of a faithful family which read it often, until it underwent restoration in 2011. Through the kindness of John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan Library and Foundation, the Reagan family Bible is heading for Washington once again — and once again will be present at a pivotal moment in American history.

Nellie Reagan used it extensively, writing notes in every page on the margins. On the third page reads two notes. The first, written in blue, points to specific chapters of Scripture: “If in sorrow, if people fail, if you worry …” Clearly Nellie saw it as a historical and spiritual lesson book, and as way to conquer the tribulations of life. The second note on the page, in red ink, reads: “A Thought For Today. You can be too big for God to use / But you cannot be too small.” The page facing the title page also has two spiritual poems written by Nellie.

 When Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 21, 1981, it was unknown “how long the new indexed Bible, King James version, had been in the family,” according to a New York Times article that day. Since 1985, it has not been used by anyone else in any swearing in ceremony and has been on display at the Reagan Library. Reagan himself often quoted Psalm 121:1, “I lift my eyes up to the mountain …”
This Friday, it will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, the same passage on which Reagan swore. The Lord appeared to King Solomon after building a temple. God then said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Pence, like Reagan before him, wants to put faith back into the country — both religious faith and faith in the administration. It’s a conservative’s goal to integrate faith and country.

President Reagan in early 1983 declared that year “The Year of the Bible,” with Proclamation 5018. He pulled no punches against the secularization of society and America, outright saying that no other book ” may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible” in forming the United States, as “the Bible and its teachings helped form the basis for the Founding Fathers’ abiding belief in the inalienable rights of the individual.” It was deeply rooted in the president’s Christian faith that American liberty was destined for something great.

Reagan conservatism and the Reagan presidency is not a past event, left in dusty history books. It is still as relevant and as powerful as ever.

Swearing on the Bible that the Gipper himself had used not only tells us he is the personal hero of Mike Pence, but the ideological hero of conservatism and republicanism in the GOP: one of individual liberty, freedom, and self-determination, all from the hand of God. The conservative party in the United States is going through a sort of identity crisis today, electing the first non-political president in American history. Pence is showing America that this crisis in the Republican Party is not a crisis at all. It’s still Reagan’s party, no matter who is in charge.

The Reagan family Bible also acts as a sort of touchstone for the conservatives of today. Just as religious relics — clothing, books, and even possessions — connect the faithful to the saints, bringing them strength, so does the Reagan Bible spiritually connect conservatives to the fortieth president.

Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and a leading Ronald Reagan biographer, having written four books on the 40th president, including the forthcoming “Reagan Rising” in March 2017. Scott Mauer, Mr. Shirley’s research aide, assisted with this article.