Martin Anderson: Renaissance Idea Man for Liberty

When I was growing up, the draft was an ugly rite of passage for young men.  But when I turned 18 no “Uncle Sam wants you” notice arrived in the mail. 

America had shifted to a volunteer military.  At the time I didn’t know who to thank for the freedom to choose my future.  But I later met the man responsible while attending Stanford Law School.

Martin Carl Anderson, who died a few days ago, then was in residence at the Hoover Institution.  I thought our encounter was happenstance, but years later Anderson told me that he had been reading my articles in the Stanford Daily and elsewhere and wanted to meet me.

Anderson left to help set up the Ronald Reagan campaign operation in March 1979.  As I approached graduation he asked me to join the campaign. 

Anderson was a stellar example of an intellectual able to translate detailed academic research into policy ammunition.  He received his PhD in 1962.  Five years later he began advising Richard Nixon, ending up as a special assistant to President Nixon before joining the Hoover Institution in 1971.

As I wrote in American Spectator online:  “Anderson had many interests, but one overriding philosophy:  He believed in individual liberty.”  He began his policy career with an explosive attack on urban renewal, through which slums would be cleared and new communities created. No surprise, the effort was extraordinarily expensive and socially destructive.  In 1967 the MIT Press published The Federal Bulldozer:  A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal, 1949-1962

Anderson was a draftee who turned his intellect and energy to ending conscription.  He seamlessly joined policy research and political maneuver, selling Nixon on the virtues of a volunteer military. 

Anderson left the Nixon administration before its ugly implosion, but returned to government with Reagan to address the AVF’s deficiencies, an effort in which I was involved as his assistant.  However, Anderson’s most important work for Reagan was shaping the economic agenda. 

Although Anderson was loyal to those he served—he never published a kiss-and-tell memoir—he did not let personalities get in the way of principle.  When Nixon proposed essentially a negative income tax in the guise of the Family Assistance Plan, Anderson brought his accustomed skills into opposition.  In 1978 Hoover published Anderson’s Welfare:  The Political Economy of Welfare Reform in the United States

Anderson’s most important work after leaving the Reagan administration was explaining and amplifying President Reagan’s legacy.  In 1988 Anderson published Revolution:  The Reagan Legacy, a wonderfully readable account of what Reagan’s success and presidency meant.  In 2001 Anderson and his wife Annelise joined historian Kiron K. Skinner to produce Reagan, in His Own Hand:  The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America

Like most everyone in or seeking high political office Reagan employed ghost-writers on occasion.  But the Andersons found a treasure trove of the articles and scripts in Reagan’s own hand.  The latter wrote the vast majority his material from start to finish.  Two years later the two Andersons along with Skinner released Reagan:  A Life in Letters, revealing fascinating glimpses of the former president’s life through the letters he wrote.

Even more significant was Reagan’s Secret War:  The Untold Story of his Fight to Save the World from Nuclear Disaster, written by both Andersons.  Declassified documents demonstrated Reagan’s determination to eliminate the threat of nuclear war.  Reagan abhorred what he called the Evil Empire for all the right reasons, but worked with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War.

Although Anderson operated at the pinnacle of the American political system, he was an ideas man uncomfortable with typical bureaucratic infighting.  He left the Reagan administration after little more than a year and then concentrated on offering advice as an outsider.

In recent years Marty, as I will always know him, and I only talked occasionally, and not nearly enough.  But he fought the good fight until the end.  We are all better off because of his manifold efforts.  Marty, RIP.