This past year has been a saddening one for many conservatives, who lost William F. Buckley, Jr. in February and then United States Senator Jesse Helms earlier this month, on Independence Day. The former was, in many respects, the founder of modern conservatism and its most articulate voice for over four decades. The latter was conservatives’ most reliable leader in the United States Senate for just about as long, never afraid to fight the battles that needed to be fought to hold liberal initiatives at bay, including ending the Senate’s cowardly history of avoiding recorded votes so they could avoid political accountability for them. Both of these leaders helped shape and advance modern conservatism as the most consequential political ideology of our generation.
But the loss of Tony Snow, the former White House Press Secretary to President George W. Bush and, previously, a prominent Fox News anchor, is in many ways the most hurtful loss of them all. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005, Snow died this morning at age 53. Unlike Buckley and Helms, who died octogenerians, one can only imagine what great contributions Snow may have made had he not been taken from us so early. Yet, in his short 53 years, Snow also was an historically consequential and impactful conservative force in our nation. What were Snow’s contributions to modern conservatism? There are many, but at least four of them were profound:
First, as a speechwriter to former President George H. W. Bush, he was a strong and articulate political force for conservatism in a White House that did not always seem to like the word “conservative.” Amidst this political climate and at the highest level of American government, Snow served conservatism’s cause when it needed him badly. In fact, had there been more Tony Snows at that time, Bush likely would not have compromised his core “no new taxes” pledge, which quite probably would have afforded him an additional term and kept the Clintons from ever ascending to their level of national influence.
Second, as one of the first Fox News anchors and commentators, Snow helped build (along with Roger Ailes) a station that, in its coverage of politics and public policy, has become the most influential such station in the nation“and, significantly, also the first and only non-liberal one. The success of Fox News, whose ratings now vastly exceed those of competitors CNN and MSNBC in prime time hours, proves the point that conservatives had made for decades that the established media held transparent liberal biases that most Americans found annoying. With Snow’s leadership, they now have an important alternative, and they are embracing it.
Third, when President George W. Bush called on Snow to replace Scott McClellan as White House Press Secretary in April 2006, Snow immediately restored the administration’s ability to articulate (as McClellan never did) why the U.S. engagement in Iraq was a national security imperative and all the ways that the U.S. was, despite conventional wisdom, actually prevailing in this conflict. At a time when Iraq was issue one on the national agenda, Snow stood strongly against the notoriously aggressive and contrarian White House correspondents, saying the things that needed to be said, especially regarding the global war on terror.
And finally and not insignificantly, Snow never shied from speaking openly and passionately about the role his Christian faith played in his work and life. In an age when our nation, itself founded by devout Christians who preached the importance of this nation’s connectivity with God, has come to view such expressions of faith by public figures as somehow poisonous, Snow challenged that premise. He openly expressed and lived his faith throughout his prominent career and long before his 2005 cancer diagnosis.
Just a little over two months ago, on April 29th, Snow spoke at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix, sponsored by The Center for Arizona Policy. He addressed the important topic of “Making Our Days Count,” and his message for conservatives was that they should carry themselves with optimism, dedication and faith. He described this theme in great detail in an extraordinary July 20, 2007 essay for Christianity Today in which he wrote: “God bids us to choose.Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do.”
I will not likely ever forget that night. Knowing of my affection for Snow, Michael Johns, a close colleague of Snow’s in the George H. W. Bush White House and an IC contributing editor, introduced me to him (see accompanying photo). As Snow first saw Michael, his eyes beamed with delight, reflecting the bonding nature that can only be shared by two men who have spent most of their adult lives in the conservative trenches. Then unknown to all of us that he was in the final weeks of his life, Snow still spoke of the future, including his excitement over what was to be his forthcoming affiliation with CNN and his prediction that John McCain will be the next President of the United States.
Snow left some hugely positive fingerprints on this world during his short 53 years, while maintaining his unaltering commitment to deeply-held principles. In this day and age, that is no small accomplishment.
Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law in Phoenix, Arizona and blogs for GOPUSA.com.