The Public Interest

COMMENT - New left, new right

Irving Kristol

Summer 1966

An old friend, who lives in California and is active in the Democratic party there, visited New York recently. We spent a lot of time together, and I found him to be in troubled spirits. California politics, he confessed, was beginning to slip beyond his comprehension.  First, there had been the whole Berkeley business– and while specifically campus turmoil seems to have subsided, at least temporarily, it is also true that the “New Left”, using Berkeley as a base, was now trying to move into the Democratic party in a significant way. Then there was the victory of Ronald Reagan in the Republican primary, and the discovery of the pollsters that he seemed to have an excellent chance against Governor Brown in November. This was a particular shock, since the Democrats had always felt– and earlier polls appeared to have confirmed their sentiments– that Reagan, as an “extremist,” would have the least chance of election among potential Republican candidates. My friend didn’t understand what precisely was bugging the militants of the New Left or why the citizens of California should show so keen an interest in Ronald Reagan. Neither this New Left nor this New Right seemed to have anything like a coherent program. Governor Brown’s moderately liberal administration ought, by all rational analysis, to have been perfectly in tune with the consensus of political opinion in that prosperous and progressive state. Yet things weren’t working out as one might have expected.

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