Whiplash-Donald-Trump-Political-Odyssey/dp/089803180X">Whiplash! From JFK to Donald Trump: A Political Odyssey
by Arnold L. Steinberg
(Jameson Books, 640 pages, $39.95)
If you want to understand how a new political movement can come from terra incognita to dominate American politics by the 1980s, read Arnold Steinberg’s amazing and exciting political odyssey Whiplash! Yes, Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan were important and essential, but it took the labors of hundreds of citizen-soldiers to succeed in such an enormous accomplishment. Steinberg was, and is, one of the most important of these dedicated conservatives, and he has quite a story to tell.
Steinberg is an example of how one person can affect the outcome of literally hundreds of political campaigns to the benefit of a growing movement, as a campaign manager, consultant, and media expert (an area where beleaguered conservatives need all the help they can get!). While his is not a household conservative name like Goldwater or Reagan, he is well known and highly respected by the legion of political activists who have been involved in his campaigns.
Steinberg’s tell-all also helps to provide geographical balance to the history of the modern conservative movement — that is, the movement largely launched and centered around William F. Buckley Jr. and his National Review. This movement was anchored in the East Coast and its movers were largely — perhaps mostly — Catholics. Yet the Old Right that morphed into this new conservative movement was Midwest-based and mostly Protestant. Think Senators Robert A. Taft and John W. Bricker, the media powerhouse Chicago Tribune, and (more recently, after World War II) Joe McCarthy.
Notice what we’ve left out so far — most of the country, notably the South and the West. They are largely overlooked in most accounts of the conservative movement. The South awaits its own conservative chronicler, its equivalent of Steinberg, but Whiplash! provides copious details of what was going on in California during those early years of the movement.
We exaggerate to make a point, of course. There was no Internet yet, but we weren’t exactly communicating by Pony Express. Still, those of us located on the East Coast and in the Midwest were so busy starting our new movement that we had little time left to keep current on those far-away westerners. We were aware, to be sure, that our political leader, Barry Goldwater, was senator from Arizona, but we knew virtually nothing about the political environment that put him into office there — just the romantic personal sound bites, like Indian lover, photographer, and jet pilot. California as presented to us by the liberal propaganda media consisted of Orange County and its “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” And later we could follow the fortunes of Ronald Reagan as governor of California, which was a necessary prelude to his becoming president, but we were always short on details. It was as if the Rocky Mountains were not only a physical barrier, but a metaphysical one that resulted in two conservative movements developing simultaneously but largely independent of each other. (The irony is that conservatism was much more of a grassroots force in California, Arizona, and Utah than in the predominantly liberal East.)
Steinberg helps to alleviate this geographical bias by his personal odyssey across the country. He started out as a 12-year-old fan of President Kennedy in Los Angeles who fortunately was exposed to Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman in high school and college. We follow him as he reverses the advice of Horace Greeley and hears the call, “Go East, young man!” That brings him to Washington, D.C. and New York, where he spent several years of immersion in the region’s early conservative politics. That is where we got to know Arnie personally. He served as James Buckley’s media director in his successful 1970 campaign for the U.S. Senate on the New York Conservative Party ticket, and returned to D.C. as a member of the senator’s Capitol Hill staff. Then, in the mid-1970s, Arnie returned to California, where he forged a prodigious and productive career as a campaign strategist who specialized in developing sophisticated polling techniques. This is where we get our lessons on what was happening in California before and after Reagan became President Reagan.
As we noted at the beginning, Steinberg has managed or significantly contributed to literally hundreds of political campaigns in California, both candidates and causes, including referenda and recall campaigns. Name any name, and the odds are that he was involved. Reflecting on this unequaled breath of experience, he concludes: “Creating strategy for a ballot measure campaign (for or against) generally was much more pleasant than working for or against a candidate…. Most candidates are not going to set the world on fire… Few candidates are at the top of their profession as, say, Clint Eastwood. In contrast, in California many ballot measures have profoundly shaped the state, if not the nation.”
Yes (and of course!), Steinberg played a critical role in Clint Eastwood’s successful campaign to be mayor of Carmel, California. Ironically, based on his polling, Steinberg counseled the conservative actor not to run. But Clint, as Arnie indicates, was no ordinary wannabe candidate. He took the problems that Steinberg foresaw seriously, and crafted a campaign prequel to neutralize those problems and win anyway. Unfortunately, perhaps, Clint was more interested in becoming one of Hollywood’s all-time top actors and directors than in becoming a politician of national import. Steinberg could have been his Karl Rove.
It is safe to say that of all the politicians with whom Steinberg has been involved, his highest admiration is for Senator James L. Buckley, who has written the foreword to Whiplash! This was, as we have noted, during Arnie’s Eastern sojourn — crafting a revolutionary and successful media campaign just “five short years after graduating from high school.” We can all remember our “first time” we were seduced by a political campaign, but for Steinberg no later candidates could match Jim Buckley’s personal character, temperament, or understanding of the intellectual and moral roots of conservatism. Those of us who have also been privileged to know the senator, if less intimately, can understand.
When we got to know Arnie (now “Arnold”) during those early days of the conservative movement, he was indeed young — even a decade or more younger than us — and full of self-assured youthful vigor and energy. No surprise, then, to come across this description of him by a leftist from his high school days: “I do remember Arnold Steinberg. Steinberg was a skinny redhead… He was a total nerdy jerk. Every high school has one. Ours was Arnie Steinberg.” We roared in laughter at this unfriendly description, which Steinberg gleefully posts in his political odyssey. That leftist has passed into oblivion, but not Arnie. And, after all, being a nerd in high school is not a bad trait precluding future success. Ask Bill Gates.
In California, politics is inseparable from Hollywood and its denizens. Just as you can use the index to Whiplash! to find Steinberg’s involvement with and assessment of virtually any conservative politician or cause, you can similarly get the inside scoop on virtually any celebrity or entertainer. If he hasn’t worked with them or against them, he still knows all about them, and the throwaway gossip is fascinating and addictive.
Reflecting on his earliest philosophical twists and turns, Steinberg writes: “I had been a pre-teen for JFK. I had quickly moved toward Republicans and Rockefeller, to conservatives and Goldwater, and then objectivists and libertarians, finally arriving at fusionist conservative — all this before graduating from college.” He has remained a fusionist conservative during his fifty years as an activist adult, even as the movement itself has shifted from academically oriented constitutionalism to Reaganism, then neoconservatism and now Trumpism. In addition to the personal narrative and the professional lessons he has learned, Arnie gives us his insights on all these rooms within the conservative mansion, particularly in the last two chapters and the afterword to Whiplash! As Senator Buckley remarks in his foreword, “Conservative readers may disagree with a number of his positions; but if they do, they will find it a formidable challenge to prove him wrong.”
And, we will add, you will find in Arnold Steinberg an inspiration for a life well lived.
And finally, as a P.S. to any leftists listening in: He’s not done yet.
Richard Viguerie created political direct mail in the 1960s to become “the funding father of the conservative movement,” and in the 1980s became a key founder of the “New Right.” David Franke was one of the initial founders of the conservative movement as a teenager, first working at Human Events and National Review. In 2004 Viguerie and Franke wrote America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power.