(Feb. 8) George Shultz’s signature service as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state gave ample evidence that the conservative movement can be very wrong.

Shultz, who died Saturday at age 100, deserves to be ranked among the greatest public servants this nation has ever known. All the encomiums to him since he died rightly note that he served in World War II, in four Cabinet-level positions, and in lead roles in academic and in international business. They note his graciousness, intelligence, and sense of duty. And, of course, they note that he “helped” Reagan win the Cold War.

What few tributes to Shultz capture, though, is just how much Reagan relied on him. They also miss just how little appreciated he was by the Gipper’s own conservative supporters until years after the Reagan presidency ended.

If you attended any Conservative Political Action Conference from 1983 through 1988, back when CPAC was still the meeting place for conservative thought and networking rather than the province of demagogues and grifters, you might remember that the mere mention of Shultz’s name always elicited more hisses than cheers. (Not boos, mind you: Conservatives back then were still too polite for that.) If memory serves, there were several years in which Shultz wasn’t even invited to speak. When he did speak there, he usually was greeted with a sort of grim politesse along with pointed questions rather than with warmth or enthusiasm….

… Conservatives thought he was too cautious, too nuanced, and too friendly to the professional foreign service ranks they entirely distrusted. As it turned out, the conservative movement was wrong about Shultz. His steadiness and lack of flamboyance was a sign not of weakness but of wisdom. Rather than being the emissary of the foreign service to Reagan, he was Reagan’s emissary to the foreign service so that it would not so avidly undercut his aims. …

[The full column is at this link.]


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