Bruce Herschensohn, the wise, witty and warmly admired conservative influencer and media personality, has passed away in California at the age of 88.
In his lifetime, Bruce touched every piano key on the political right as a presidential advisor, honored filmmaker, author, scholar and commentator for 15 years on Los Angeles’ KABC radio and TV, where he often debated former U.S. Senator John Tunney and other political interlocutors.
Born Stanley Bruce Herschensohn in Milwaukee in 1932, Bruce arrived in Hollywood at age 18 as a staff messenger at RKO Pictures, then later worked for General Dynamics Corporation in their media film division, developing his interests and expertise in both communications and national security, both of which would become his lifetime passions.
He rose to become a documentary filmmaker, including the well-regarded 1964 study of President John F. Kennedy’s resolve against the U.S.S.R. (“Years of Lightning, Days of Drums”). Bruce then ran the motion pictures division of the United States Information Agency, our nation’s key public diplomacy effort in the ideological confrontation with the former Soviet Union.
He won an Academy Award for his short documentary “Czechoslovakia:1968” in 1970.
Bruce then served as an assistant in the White House of President Richard M. Nixon as well as on the transition team for President Ronald W. Reagan. In the mid-1980s, back in California, many of us “Reaganites” met Bruce and rushed to support his political path.
After an unsuccessful Republican primary campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1986, he won the GOP Senatorial primary in 1992, but lost a competitive general election campaign to Democrat Barbara Boxer, a race his supporters felt was marred by last-minute dirty tricks.
Bruce became a fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and at the Claremont Institute in Southern California. In his later years, he taught at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, where he offered his seminar students a detailed, insider’s understanding of American national security interests and the key decision points faced by modern presidents.
Bruce wrote novels about both the Cold War and the confrontation of radical Islamic terrorists with the West, as well as several scholarly books clarifying Communist China’s history of threats to liberty in Asia (specifically, South Vietnam, Taiwan and Hong Kong).
Although he was not religiously observant, Bruce was a strong defender of Israel. His well-regarded book, “Lost Trumpet’s : A Conservative’s Map to America’s Destiny” featured a brilliant short history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
If the “Mount Rushmore” of modern political conservatives features Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan, the “Mount Sinai” of American Jewish conservative thinkers would surely include Bruce Herschensohn alongside Leo Strauss, Harry Jaffa, Frank Meyer, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Milton Friedman, William Safire, Ben Stein, Elliott Abrams, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Levin, Yoram Hazony, Marshall Breger, Ruth Wisse, Lucy Dawidowicz, Arnold Steinberg and David Horowitz, among others.
The “Mount Sinai” of American Jewish conservative thinkers would surely include Bruce Herschensohn.
John Podhoretz, William Kristol, Mona Charen, Jeff Jacoby, Jonah Goldberg, Roger L. Simon, Andrew Breitbart, Ben Shapiro and Evan Sayet are just a few more of the many who likely benefited from Bruce’s example of rigorous intellectual integrity.
More interested in ideas than involvements in political gamesmanship, Bruce was principled and disciplined — and even a bit iconoclastic in his personal style.
He favored formal dress in dark suits, and would order grilled cheese sandwiches any time, any place — without concern for social or health consequences.
My favorite memory of Bruce was when we took a wild adventure in 1990 to Nicaragua at the end of the Cold War to witness and celebrate the defeat of the Sandinista communists in a rare free election.
At some risk, we braved bad weather, a rickety plane, a rumored threat of trouble at the airport from the outgoing anti-American regime and a sketchy drive through the urban streets of Managua.
In the capital city’s soccer stadium, we joined a small U.S. congressional delegation and waved the blue and white flag of the pro-American new government of President Violeta Chamorro amidst a sea of red flags and intimidating chants from the pro-Sandinista crowd.
Bruce kept all around him calm and entertained with his sense of humor.
We escaped and survived, but the pro-democracy forces, unfortunately, did not. Former Marxist Guerilla Daniel Ortega soon regained power and remains one of Central America’s longest-tenured dictators.
Years later, I asked Bruce what he made of the continuing tragedy of Nicaragua. His eyes focused and he asked me what I thought. I shared that “the enemies of freedom are unrelenting.”
My beloved mentor smiled and softly replied, “you have learned well, my friend.”
Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.