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National Review tries a transatlantic tack

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O'Sullivan brings with him what the Post's Eric Briendel terms ``a unique dual vantage point ... from encountering the conservative movement in two cultures and contexts.''

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That dual vantage point includes contacts with a wide range of potential contributors from the United States and abroad. Edwin Feulner Jr. of the Heritage Foundation says approvingly that when O'Sullivan edited Policy Review, ``He liked to stir up controversy and to bring in writers whom some people regarded as `heretical.'''

One event to which National Review and other conservative publications will have to respond is the end of the Reagan era. President Reagan's two elections marked the political culmination of National Review's quarter-century crusade for conservatism. American conservatives will again find themselves out of power with the election of either Michael Dukakis or (to a lesser extent) George Bush.

Many conservative journalists find the prospect of change bracing. Ironically, the Reagan years have not been altogether good for conservative intellectuals, in part, because they may have become complacent. ``After Reagan's election, we kind of put our feet up,'' Brookhiser concedes, adding that it may have ushered in a ``narcotic phase'' in conservative editorial offices.

As a result, conservatives face the need to rebuild, or at least repair, their intellectual superstructure. ``For 20 years conservatism defined itself too easily as standing for anticommunism and fiscal responsibility,'' columnist George Will says. ``Reagan has changed that, now that he characterizes the Soviet Union as an over-armed Canada and has raised deficit spending to intergalactic levels.''

Yet many conservative intellectuals seem sanguine, even excited about the future. They assert that the conservative movement is in robust health. They note that even if conservatives find themselves in political opposition, they will not be exiled to the intellectual wilderness from which Buckley and National Review were instrumental in leading them.

If conservatism has not necessarily become the establishment in America, it surely has become a counterestablishment to be reckoned with. It's a far cry from the '50s, when the accepted wisdom, according to one conservative writer, was: ``You have thinking people and you have conservatives.''

The editor of The American Spectator, R.Emmett Tyrrell, fairly bubbles at the possibilities for influence open to a new generation of conservative intellectuals in their 30s and 40s - people ``on both sides of the Atlantic who came of age during the protests of the '60s, Vietnam, the dissolution of empire, and the rise of entrepreneurship'' - who are emerging in top editorial positions.

O'Sullivan, who describes conservatism as the ``dominant creative force in American intellectual life,'' says of the invitation to join National Review: ``It was simply too good an opportunity to pass up.''

O'Sullivan as others see him

Conservatives who know John O'Sullivan describe him as though composing dust-jacket blurbs:

Midge Decter, executive director of the Committee for the Free World: ``A brilliant journalist, gifted, experienced, deft ... extremely lively.''

R. Emmett Tyrrell, editor of the American Spectator: ``Very literate, comfortable with ideas ... extremely jolly.''

Eric Briendel, editorial-page editor at the New York Post: ``Very curious and interesting mind ... exemplifies the adage that editors `should always be consistent, never predictable' ... usually interested in one or two issues not on anyone else's agenda.''

Edwin Feulner Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation: ``Like the young Bill Buckley, irreverent, quick-witted ... one of the best writers of political analysis and satire on either side of the Atlantic.''

Columnist George Will: ``A genuine transatlantic figure ... combines a reflective intellectual side with a knowledge of daily journalism.''