I was privileged to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with John Ashbrook during the last eleven years of his term of service. John’s twenty-one years in the House, from 1961 to 1982, coincided almost perfectly with the birth and maturity of the conservative political movement in the United States, from the nomination of Barry Goldwater to the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. It is fair to say that he was the movement’s first nationally elected figure.
Nothing is easier than calling yourself a conservative in the Reagan era. It was much different in the Kennedy-Johnson era, however, when liberalism had reached its zenith of self-confidence with Great Society and the beginning of the war in Southeast Asia.
Few people, reviewing the conservative debacle of 1964, could have imagined that a fundamental political realignment might be taking place just sixteen years later. During the mid to late 1970s the Reagan Presidency and the political realignment might not have happened, or at least not so swiftly. And when you consider that the growing military power and adventurism of the Soviet Union went practically unchallenged by the U.S. under President Carter, it is not impossible that a delayed realignment beyond 1980 might have come too late to restore America’s defenses and preserve the freedom of the West. John Ashbrook’s unflinching stand for conservative principles in the 1970s surely influenced–and perhaps helped reverse–the final outcome of the global dram of totalitarianism versus freedom which marks our century.
John had enormous courage. He was willing to risk everything for an idea, even undertaking what he surely knew was a hopeless presidential campaign against Richard Nixon in 1972. Still, John believed that the campaign had to be fought to pull the president back to the right-center of the spectrum, and to demonstrate that there were many Americans, particularly Republicans, who wanted a greater conservative presence in setting the Administration’s foreign and domestic policies. He ran knowing he risked losing his national base in the House. He was, characteristically, the first House Republican to call for President Nixon’s resignation.
I regret his untimely passing at fifty-three years of age, in the middle of a hard-fought Senate campaign. As a U.S. Senator he would have made the entire State of Ohio proud–as proud as the 17th District has every right to be for his years of loyal and devoted service.
His legacy lives on in the ideas for which he worked so hard throughout his life.
Jack Kemp, in the introduction to No Left Turns: A Handbook for Conservatives Based on The Writings of John M. Ashbrook (Hamilton Hobby Press, 1986).