Malcolm Wallop, Stand-Up Guy, R.I.P.

Former Senator Malcolm Wallop died on Wednesday, September 14, after a debilitating illness that had confined him to his home near Big Horn, Wyoming, for several years. He is survived by his wife, Isabel, and four children and their families.

Malcolm was a hero of mine long before I knew him, and so it was a great privilege to work for him after he retired from the Senate in 1995 and to become his friend. After I worked for Malcolm and got to know him, I admired him even more. I loved working for him, as I expect all of his Senate staffers did. He was unfailingly polite and considerate, intellectually engaging, and entirely positive. Malcolm had a healthy sense of his own worth, but entirely lacked the swollen head that afflicts many Senators.

When Malcolm defeated a Democratic incumbent in 1976 (not a good year for Republicans), he came to Washington as an uncompromising Cold Warrior, but as somewhat moderate on many domestic issues. While many conservatives tend to drift toward the center after a few years in Washington (which is variously described as growing in office or selling out), he was so appalled by how Washington works that he rapidly became a hardcore conservative across the board. He joined an extraordinary group of mostly Western conservatives in the Senate, a group which included Bill Armstrong, Steve Symms, Paul Laxalt, Phil Gramm, and Jesse Helms.

He was the first elected official to call for missile defense, which President Reagan adopted in 1983, and became one of the most articulate and aggressive promoters of Reagan’s hawkish foreign policy and military buildup. He was also a determined crusader against Communism. He believed passionately in the blessings of freedom and wanted oppressed people around the world to have the opportunities that are only possible in countries with free markets and limited governments.

He worked tirelessly against the federal bureaucracy’s attempts to regulate every aspect of our lives. Some regulations, such as the low-flush toilet, drove him crazy.

Malcolm also devoted much effort to the federal lands and energy issues that are so important to Wyoming.  He served as ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee at the end of his Senate career. Following his retirement from the Senate, he founded Frontiers of Freedom to continue working on the issues he cared about. It was through my work on environmental and natural resource issues that I first got to know Malcolm and eventually came to work for him as policy director at Frontiers of Freedom. I too had grown up on a ranch in the rural West and had the same kind of first-hand experiences that he had of the disastrous management of our federal lands.

Malcolm often said that if government ownership of land and natural resources was the best way to protect the environment, then we should have found a Garden of Eden in the Soviet Union after the Iron Curtain came down. Instead, there was one environmental horror story after another. Malcolm understood that secure property rights and private property ownership were the basis of environmental stewardship as well as of freedom and prosperity. That is why he became a leading advocate of radical reform of the Endangered Species Act, which is an ongoing failure for wildlife because it is a continual threat to landowners.

He recognized that a New West was being built that didn’t depend on ranching, mining, and logging, but he also thought that the Old West, which he loved, still had a lot of life in it. The problem was that the urban-based modern environmental movement has no understanding or sympathy for the Old West and wants to put it out of business.

Malcolm led a Senate delegation to the White House in 1992 that tried unsuccessfully to convince President Bush not to attend the Rio Earth Summit and not to sign the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Malcolm saw as clearly as anyone in Congress that global warming was a contrived crisis that had been designed to put government in charge of how much and what kind of energy we can use and thereby take control of the economy. As Chairman of Frontiers of Freedom, he helped organize opposition to Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

When he retired from the Senate in 1995, he thought about running for President. His political consultants told him that, yes, he could raise the $20 million (which seemed like a lot of money at the time) necessary to run a national campaign, but no, he couldn’t beat Senator Bob Dole for the Republican nomination. Since the idea of losing to Dole was more than he could bear to think about, he decided not to run and instead became chairman of Steve Forbes’s campaign. When Forbes lost in New Hampshire, he made Malcolm manager of his campaign. Forbes was an improbable candidate, but as soon as Malcolm took over, Forbes started moving up and won the Delaware and Arizona primaries.

A skilled and dedicated legislator, he brought intellectual clarity to every issue with which he was involved. He was a fearsome debater on the floor and in committee, but most unlawyerly. That is, he was willing to concede a point when he saw that it was the stronger one.

When he spoke, Malcolm commanded attention by the power of his thought and the elegance of its expression. Although as a speaker he could fire up committed conservatives, his approach was too coolly rational to have the same effect on the general public.

Malcolm was an aristocrat by birth and an egalitarian by conviction and in practice. He was both rural Westerner and sophisticated cosmopolite, and this combination made him comfortable with and interested in all sorts of people. He enjoyed talking politics with his fellow Wyoming ranchers, chatting about horses and dogs with Queen Elizabeth, and getting into the weeds with policy wonks. He treated everyone with respect, although sometimes he had a hard time concealing his contempt for the fools and poltroons he had to deal with in Washington.

He had a number of memorable and hilarious stories about the antics of his Senate colleagues. No one who heard the story of his first conversation with Ted Kennedy could ever think of Kennedy again without recalling it.

Malcolm had remarkable qualities of mind that were apparent whenever he spoke. He had even more remarkable qualities of character. He was, for instance, intensely loyal. I benefited from his loyalty several times. When it became known that I was one of a small group working to reveal that Speaker Gingrich was a committed environmentalist and the only obstacle blocking House passage of a bill to reform the Endangered Species Act, the Speaker’s office tried to get me fired. My executive director told them to get lost, and Malcolm immediately wanted to telephone Gingrich personally to put it a little more bluntly.

Malcolm was a great leader of the conservative movement because he was principled, passionate, and courageous. And he fought like hell for what he believed in. He loved America and what it stands for.  He thought that being an American citizen was a great honor, and consequently he detested the modern devaluation of citizenship. He was deeply concerned that when people lose their high sense of citizenship it makes it much easier for government to get away with treating them as subjects.

Perhaps the central motivating force in Malcolm’s politics was his reverence for the Constitution. He said on the Senate floor and often repeated that what was most wrong with the Senate was that too many of his colleagues did not view the Constitution as the guide star of their conduct, but rather as something that had to be got around so that they could do what they wanted to do. In Malcolm’s own political conduct, he was always guided and restrained by the Constitution and our tradition of ordered freedom.