In Reflections of a Neoconservative, the late Irving Kristol wrote that "while in the Army during World War II, I had taken a solemn oath to myself that I would never, never again work as a functionary in a large organization, and especially not for the U.S, government." Except for a period when, as coeditor of Encounter magazine, Kristol "was unwittingly on the CIA payroll," he kept that vow for the rest of his life. There was, however, a period during the 1970s when he came exceedingly close to breaking it.
In 1974, Pres. Gerald Ford hired Robert Goldwin as special consultant to the president, a role similar to that played by Arthur Schlesinger in the Kennedy White House and Pat Moynihan under Nixon. As I discuss in my book, Intellectuals and the American Presidency, one of Goldwin's first assignments was to set up a series of policy seminars with leading thinkers, and the first person he brought in was Kristol, who had an hour-long meeting with Ford in November 1974. In that meeting, Kristol recommended that Ford meet with more intellectuals, and in groups instead of one on one. Ford embraced the idea, and the next month Daniel Boorstin, Martin Diamond, and James Q. Wilson came to the White House for a seminar with the president. Ron Nessen, who may have been the funniest White House press secretary in history, described the meeting as "a working dinner tonight for the President with three distinguished American scholars, or four if you count me."
Kristol, of course, could easily have told Ford and Goldwin to keep meeting with him, and that he would tell them everything they needed to hear. Had he done so, he would have been neither the first nor the last person to try to hoard a relationship with a president. Kristol's generous nature and love of ideas, however, would never have allowed him to take such a short-sighted approach. And despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that he urged Ford to meet with other scholars, Kristol remained Goldwin's most trusted source for ideas to share with the president.
Beyond suggesting other intellectuals for future seminars, Kristol also helped Goldwin by recommending talented people for administration slots, including such positions as librarian of Congress, members of the Council of the National Endowment of the Humanities, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, and director of the National Institute for Education. He was particularly concerned about the librarian of Congress slot, and wrote to Goldwin that "it would be nice, if at some moment, you could explain in a few sentences to [then–chief of staff] Don Rumsfeld why it is so important that this job not be turned over to the librarians." Kristol's interest in these cultural slots demonstrated his lifelong interest in the ability of the culture to help shape politics, and the importance of the government's role in this endeavor.
Of course, Kristol's magnanimity did not prevent others from getting jealous about his preferred status. Hudson Institute founder Herman Kahn told Goldwin that he heard "from Irving Kristol that you are in charge of moving intellectual ideas into the White House. I have lots of them. Should we get together?" Kristol himself was aware of the potential for others to be jealous of his role — and, characteristically, he worked to minimize that problem. At one point, he told Goldwin that he had been talking to Allan Bloom and "got the distinct impression that he sort of feels left out of things." Kristol did not go so far as to suggest inviting Bloom to one of the seminars, for if Bloom did attend a seminar, Kristol wrote, "no one else would get a chance to put a word in edgewise." But Kristol did ask Goldwin to do something, because "given the numbers of splendid young scholars [Bloom] is turning out, he certainly deserves it." Goldwin quickly followed up, asking Bloom to write him "from time to time as thoughts occur to you, on any topic of importance that I might adapt and convey to others here in the White House."
Goldwin was not the only White House staffer enamored of Kristol. Then–deputy chief of staff Dick Cheney was a fan as well, and he wrote in a memo to Goldwin, "I greatly appreciate receiving the stuff you've been sending me. . . . Anything that comes in from Kristol or others, I'd love to see." At one point, Goldwin even suggested "that an effort be made to find a high-level position in the White House or Administration for Kristol, so that we have the benefit of his intelligence and expressive abilities in a full-time basis." The Nixon White House had earlier entertained a similar idea. Neither position materialized, though, likely because of Kristol's vow never again to work for a large organization. Still, Goldwin and the Ford White House continued to rely on him as what Goldwin called the "Universal Resource."
The inability of either the Nixon or Ford White House to corral Kristol was probably for the best. Through both his public writings and his private advice, Kristol was able to serve as a universal resource for the nation.