As an active Democrat, Kirkpatrick worked on Vice President Hubert Humphrey's 1968 presidential campaign. Like Humphrey and many others in the party, she favored liberal domestic social programs and a muscular foreign policy to counter the perceived Soviet threat abroad. She opposed South Dakota Senator George McGovern's 1972 Democratic presidential candidacy because she disagreed with his dovish foreign policy platform, leading her and nine other party members to form the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) to urge the party to return to its earlier foreign policy positions. In 1976 Kirkpatrick, much of the CDM, and some Republicans advocated increased defense spending and greater scrutiny of arms control agreements and détente by establishing the Committee on the Present Danger. Consequently, as with those with similar backgrounds and beliefs, Kirkpatrick was rather imprecisely labeled a neoconservative.
In a 1979 article titled "Dictatorships and Double Standards," Kirkpatrick charged that Democratic President Jimmy Carter's opposition to right-wing autocrats in Iran and Nicaragua had unintentionally led to their replacement by either radical Muslim fundamentalist or left-wing governments that were hostile to American interests. She advocated democratization while also acknowledging the circumstances of "friendly dictators." The article caught the eye of conservatives running President Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, and as a result Kirkpatrick was appointed ambassador to the UN in 1981. She became a passionate adherent of the Reagan administration's get-tough policy toward the Soviets and was a vocal proponent of the Republican Party's social and foreign policy agendas.
Tired of the internecine squabbling on Reagan's foreign policy team and disappointed to be passed over for national security advisor, Kirkpatrick resigned in 1985 shortly after formally joining the Republican Party. She then returned to Georgetown University and her post at AEI. In 1993 she cofounded Empower America, a public policy organization. Kirkpatrick died in Bethesda, Maryland, on 7 December 2006.
Christopher John Bright
Ehrman, John. The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945–1994. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.; Ewell, Judith. "Barely in the Inner Circle: Jeane Kirkpatrick." Pp. 153–171 in Women and American Foreign Policy: Lobbyists, Critics, and Insiders. Edited by Edward P. Crapol. New York: Greenwood, 1987.