Max Kampelman, RIP

One of the themes of my Age of Reagan books is that to a certain extent Reagan’s administration represented a coalition government, as he had a number of prominent Democrats or ex-Democrats (like Minnesota’s Jeane Kirkpatrick) serving in senior posts.  One of the most significant was Minnesota’s Max Kampelman, who passed away last Friday at the age of 92.

Kampelman had been very close to Hubert Humphrey, and in fact was widely thought to have been slated to be secretary of state if Humphrey had won the 1968 election.  It is a measure of how far to the left the Democratic Party moved in the late 1960s and 1970s that Kampelman felt more at home serving Ronald Reagan by the time 1980 rolled around.  Even while serving in the Carter administration as a human rights negotiator at the Madrid meetings that were established by the Helsinki Accords, Kampelman reached out to Reagan in 1979 to express his agreement with Reagan’s position on the proposed SALT II treaty.  Here’s my account from Age of Reagan I:

[Scoop] Jackson and [Pat] Moynihan were not the only Democrats with whom Reagan found common cause on SALT.  Reagan had received a letter months earlier from attorney and long-time Democratic Party wise man Max Kampelman. . .  telling Reagan that “One of the great problems we face in the country now is that of SALT, and it is my impression that we may find ourselves on the same side of that debate.”

Reagan responded enthusiastically to Kampelman’s letter (as he had also done with Jeane Kirkpatrick’s famous “Dictatorships and Double Standards” article in Commentary) and was so favorably impressed with Kampelman’s work at the Madrid meetings (Kampelman routinely got under the Soviets’ skin with specific human rights charges), that Reagan asked Kampelman to stay on at the Madrid post after Reagan entered the White House, and later he elevated Kampelman to key roles in the arms control negotiating unit.  Kampelman was one of the only holdovers from the otherwise dolorous Carter staff.

Footnote: I was told second-hand once that Kampelman, who started work for Humphrey in 1946, had seen a letter to Humphrey in 1948 praising Humphrey’s famous pro-civil rights speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention.  The writer?  Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan.  I’ve never had time to try to chase down the letter, which may not exist in the Reagan archives in Simi Valley.


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