Death of a Great Reaganite - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Death of a Great Reaganite

When I was growing up the draft was an ugly rite of passage for young men. During the 1960s and early 1970s getting a low lottery number could mean death in Vietnam. Nothing seemed likely to change in the midst of the Cold War.

But when I turned 18 in 1975 no “Uncle Sam wants you” notice arrived in the mail. The United States was defending itself as a democratic republic should defend itself: through the voluntary efforts of a free people. America had created the All-Volunteer Force—which, despite a rocky start, quickly became the finest military on the planet.

I hadn’t followed the political battle leading to the AVF, since I had been attending a small high school on a minor U.S. base in Great Britain, a bit out of the loop, so to speak. When I returned to America I didn’t know who to thank for the freedom to choose my future, though I was indeed thankful. But I met the man responsible three years later while attending Stanford Law School.

Martin Carl Anderson, who died a week ago, then was in residence at the Hoover Institution. He began his policy work a decade before and advised Richard Nixon early in his presidency. Anderson joined Ronald Reagan’s near miss presidential race in 1976. In 1978 the former was preparing to organize the issue side of the 1980 campaign.

A classmate had worked for Darrell Trent, another Hoover scholar, who ended up as deputy secretary of transportation. My buddy couldn’t keep working during the school year—he would lose his federally-funded free ride as a native American—and asked if I wanted to take the job, with a partial tuition rebate, small salary, office at Hoover, and chance to meet scholars like Milton Friedman, who then was in residence. How could I say no? During my first meeting with Trent I encountered his friend Anderson.

I thought it was happenstance, but years later Anderson told me that he had been reading my articles—a regular column in the Stanford Daily and contributions to the Stanford Arena, the Conservative Student Union paper I edited. When he heard his friend had hired me, he wanted to meet me, with an eye to the future.

Anderson left to set up the Reagan operation in March 1979 and told me to stay in touch. As I approached graduation in June I told him I had a job offer from the Pacific Legal Foundation and had to give an answer within a week. He called the next day and asked me to join the campaign—handle issues, work with the press, travel with the campaign, assist the candidate, and do whatever might be needed. What more could a 22-year-old political junkie ask for? After taking the bar exam I drove down to Los Angeles and started with the campaign. My first trip was with Anderson and Reagan in a small plane up to Sacramento. The adventure continued through the coronation convention in Detroit, victory celebration at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on November 4, 1980, and on to the White House.

All because a fellow named Martin Anderson saw potential for a campaign-yet-to-be. He took a chance on an unknown and gave me an unexpected chance to make a career in politics and policy.

Anderson was a stellar example of an intellectual able to translate detailed academic research into policy ammunition. Like Milton Friedman, who more famously did the same, Anderson did not work alone. In 1965 he married Annelise Graebner, who became a significant policy advocate in her own right—working at OMB during the Reagan administration, for instance—and joined Anderson in many of his later writing projects.

Anderson received his PhD in industrial management from MIT in 1962. He then taught at Columbia Business School, becoming one of the university’s youngest tenured professors. In 1967 he began advising Richard Nixon. He went on to become a special assistant to Nixon and later a special consultant, before joining the Hoover Institution in 1971.

Anderson had many interests, but one overriding philosophy: He believed in individual liberty. And he raised a “big tent” to advance those views. He met Ayn Rand and numbered many Objectivists among his close friends. He worked for Nixon, a man of unprincipled practicality. Anderson joined Ronald Reagan, working with budget hawks and supply-siders alike. Anderson went on to advise a rogue’s gallery of Republican presidential candidates, including George H.W. Bush, Pete Wilson, and Bob Dole.

Anderson began his policy career with an explosive attack on one of modern liberalism’s early attempts at social engineering: urban renewal, through which slums would be cleared and new communities created. No surprise, the effort was extraordinarily expensive and socially destructive. In 1967 the MIT Press published The Federal Bulldozer: A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal, 1949-1962. The volume is largely forgotten today—only Michael Barone mentioned the book in the many assessments of Anderson’s life that I’ve read. But Anderson turned his academic work into a devastating political attack, and exhibited unusual genius in garnering media attention. The publisher wanted to follow precedent and purchase a small ad in an academic journal. Anderson told me that he convinced them to use the money to send book copies to heads of local urban renewal agencies, and then to members of the press with a suggestion that they contact the officials for comment. His critics found one error: the cover photo was of a front loader rather than bulldozer, a mistake he acknowledged with a smile.

Anderson was a draftee who did not come to support conscription as a form of national hazing, that if he had to do it, everyone should. Instead, he turned his intellect and energy to ending the draft as Uncle Sam was dragooning tens of thousands of young men every year to serve in the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War.

Most striking about his efforts is how he seamlessly joined policy research and political maneuvers. He wrote articles, produced books, ran conferences, and cooperated with others on the issue. But unlike most policy intellectuals, including yours truly, he created a political strategy to bring his abstract intellectual preferences into legal reality. He sold Nixon on the virtues of a volunteer military, suggested what became known as the Gates Commission to study the issue, and ensured the presence of the right members, such as Milton Friedman. Anderson left the Nixon administration before its ugly implosion, but returned to government with Ronald Reagan to address the AVF’s deficiencies, an effort in which I was involved as his assistant. The results were dramatic: a military of much better quality than with conscription. (Draftees may be equally patriotic, but it’s far better to rely on people who want to be there, succeed at what they are doing, and develop their skills accordingly.)

Anderson served Reagan as chief domestic policy adviser (along with my friend Kevin R. Hopkins I worked for Anderson as a general issue aide-de-camp). Anderson’s most important work was shaping the economic agenda, particularly finding a way mold a consistent economic program amid sometimes bitter arguments over tax and budget policy. Anderson was a consistent supporter of economic liberty and free markets, pressing for low taxes, restrained regulation, and budget cuts. And he made no effort to hide his commitment to individual liberty. For instance, he opposed Washington’s draconian drug laws and had to leave that issue to others, lest he be accused of interfering with administration policy.

Although Anderson was loyal to those he served—he never published a kiss-and-tell memoir—he did not let personalities get in the way of principle. He never spoke ill of Nixon despite the latter’s destructive denouement. However, when Nixon proposed essentially a negative income tax in the guise of the Family Assistance Plan, an approach also advocated by Milton Friedman, Anderson brought his accustomed skills into opposition. In 1978 Hoover published Anderson’s Welfare: The Political Economy of Welfare Reform in the United States.

In 1996 Anderson critiqued the academy in Imposters in the Temple: A Blueprint for Improving Higher Education in America. Among his extended essays published by Hoover was An Economic Bill of Rights, a 1984 work that offered a program to protect Americans’ economic liberties from the depredations of avaricious politicians. Had his program been adopted, we all would be much better off today.

However, Anderson’s most important work after leaving the Reagan administration was explaining and amplifying President Reagan’s work and legacy. In 1988 he published Revolution: The Reagan Legacy, a wonderfully readable account of what Ronald Reagan’s success and presidency meant. Anderson not only worked with non-intellectuals. He wrote for normal people as well.

Those of us who worked for Ronald Reagan knew he was not the “amiable dunce” of Clark Clifford’s arrogant imagination. Indeed, Reagan was more widely read than most of his critics, with economic and philosophy tomes on his bookshelf; while traveling Reagan frequently handed me articles that he urged me to read. In 2001 Anderson and his wife Annelise joined historian Kiron K. Skinner to produce Reagan, in His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America.

Like most everyone in or seeking high political office Reagan employed ghostwriters on occasion; while in law school at Anderson’s behest I wrote a few columns and radio scripts for Reagan (what better thrill than to make a little extra money writing for the Governor, as everyone called him?). But Reagan always touched up, and sometimes heavily edited, the work of others. Moreover, the Andersons found a treasure trove of the articles and scripts in Reagan’s own hand. The latter wrote the vast majority his material from start to finish. No one was putting words into his mouth. Two years later the two Andersons along with Skinner released Reagan: A Life in Letters, revealing fascinating glimpses of the former president’s life through the letters he wrote.

Even more significant was Reagan’s Secret War: The Untold Story of his Fight to Save the World From Nuclear Disaster, written by both Andersons. They explored declassified documents which demonstrated Reagan’s determination to eliminate the threat of nuclear war. This work highlighted two aspects of Reagan’s presidency: He was in charge of his administration and he was horrified by the threat of global conflict. Again, the Left got him almost completely wrong. Reagan abhorred what he called the Evil Empire for all the right reasons, but was determined to avoid war. He recognized that Mikhail Gorbachev was different from previous Soviet leaders and enthusiastically worked with the latter to end the Cold War—earning denunciations for appeasement by some neocons.

Although Anderson operated at the pinnacle of the American political system, he was an ideas man uncomfortable with the vicious bureaucratic infighting typical at that level. He got out of the Nixon administration early. He left the Reagan administration after little more than a year, complaining that the internal battles were more vicious than under Nixon. After that he concentrated on offering advice as an outsider. His commitment was to liberty, not personality, and certainly not to power.

And he retained that belief even as his slowed down. His final book, also co-authored with Annelise, is scheduled to appear next month from Hoover: Ronald Reagan: Decisions of Greatness. More important to me, Anderson gave an extraordinary opportunity to an unknown student activist who never had thought about the possibility of going to Washington to try to put his passionate beliefs into political practice.

In recent years Marty, as I will always know him, and I only talked occasionally, and not nearly enough. But I will always picture Anderson as I first found him—intellectually active, calmly argumentative, soft-spoken, physically vigorous, and politically astute, a principled activist and coalition builder with eclectic interests.

Martin C. Anderson fought the good fight until the end. We are all better off because of his manifold efforts. Marty, RIP.

Doug Bandow
Follow Their Stories:
View More
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
Sign Up to receive Our Latest Updates! Register

Notice to Readers: The American Spectator and Spectator World are marks used by independent publishing companies that are not affiliated in any way. If you are looking for The Spectator World please click on the following link:

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!

Fourth of july sale

Join the Fight for Freedom

One Year for Only $47.99

The offer renews after one year at the regular price of $79.99.