My friend Reed Irvine died this week. Although we disagreed on some matters, I always admired Reed as one of the toughest warriors I knew. I gave one of my first speeches at one of his events almost twenty years ago. I was so nervous speaking to a conservative audience that I wrote out my entire speech and read it. Afterwards several people came up to me and complimented me on what I had said. But Reed came up to me and said: “You know people get bored when you read a speech; you should make your speeches extemporaneous.” Reed was blunt and to the point and an activist like that. Making a speech off the cuff seemed an extremely daunting task to me then. But after this encounter with Reed, I always did just that. I benefited as a result and my audiences did as well. And I am grateful to him for the advice he delivered in a way that I could not ignore.
What I admired most about Reed was that here was a man in his late sixties and then seventies when I knew him and he had more fight in him than most of the young conservatives I met at the time (Grover Norquist would be the exception) and all of the adults. Reed was like the radicals I had known in his passion for the cause and his persistence in pursuing it. And I wished that all conservatives were like him. If they were the battle would be already won.
I remember an evening in 1990 when Reed would have been 70 years old. It was a little after 8PM and I was lying in bed reading when the phone rang. It was Reed. “You’ve got to call in to Larry King’s show. Carl Bernstein is on talking about his book on his father and the McCarthy era. You’ve got to take him on.” Bernstein had written a preposterous book about his Communist father claming that the McCarthy era was a “reign of terror.” In fact Bernstein’s father was working for the Soviet enemy and the consequences to him were not that great. As Carl’s book showed his father was still lying to his own son about his Communist activities. So unlike a reign of terror was McCarthyism that when Bernstein the younger told Ben Bradlee his editor at the Washington Post about his father’s Communist Party membership, Bradlee kept him on the Watergate story and the hunt for President Nixon. As far as the Washington Post was concerned it was okay for the son of a Communist to bring down a sitting American President in the middle of the Cold War.
“Reed,” I said. “It’s 11PM where you are; you should be in bed, relaxing. Larry King will never take my call and he’ll hang up on me if he does.” (I knew that King was a fellow-traveler in the McCarthy period and he was obviously a fellow-traveler still.) But I said, “O.K. Reed, I’ll turn on the show.”
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. It was Reed: “Are you listening? Have you called?”
“No Reed. I just think there’s no point.”
“But you’ve been there. You know what this guy is doing. King is just fawning all over him. You have a responsibility to refute him with the facts.”
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. By this time I was feeling guilty enough that I assured Reed I would call, and I did. I waited 45 minutes on the line before King picked up my call. “My parents were members of the Communist Party,” I said, “and this is a preposterous book.” King hung up on me.
I have no regrets about making the call. Whether Reed was right about this use of my time or not, he was right about the need for all of us to put our all into these battles. He set the example. For nearly two decades he hammered away at the leftist media; he made the powers in media uncomfortable. He afflicted the comfortable and was a comfort to the afflicted. And lo his irrepressible agitation for two decades at a time in life when he had earned the right to relax and devote himself to himself, bore fruit for the rest of us. The leftist media is on the defensive; its ratings are falling, its audiences dwindling, its credibility at an all-time low. For the first time in the modern history of American elections the leftist media has real conservative competition and has been beaten at its own game. And among the many who are responsible for this victory, and for the fact that their country is now better armed against its internal foes, none is more so than Reed Irvine. May he rest in peace.