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James J. Kilpatrick, Conservative Commentator, Dies

Adam Bernstein

James J. Kilpatrick, 89, a fiery advocate of racial segregation as a Richmond newspaper editor in the 1950s who became a sparring partner of liberals on the television show "60 Minutes" and a syndicated columnist who offered conservative views on subjects ranging from politics to proper use of the English language, died Sunday in Washington.

Mr. Kilpatrick, who gradually distanced himself from his writings on race, became one of the most popular and eminent conservative writers of his generation. His prose style blended the erudite and the homespun, and he became one of the few conservatives syndicated in print nationally in the early 1960s.

His column "A Conservative View"not his only column ran in hundreds of newspapers for nearly 30 years and initially predated the television presence of William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the conservative National Review magazine.

His stature as a writer, lecturer and commentator on public-affairs shows led to his appearances on the "60 Minutes" segment "Point-Counterpoint" in the 1970s. On the program, Mr. Kilpatrick debated such policy issues as family planning and the Vietnam War against liberal authors Nicholas von Hoffman and later Shana Alexander.

"Point-Counterpoint" was memorably parodied on "Saturday Night Live" with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin in the roles. "Jane, you ignorant slut," became a national catchphrase uttered by Aykroyd's character; "Dan, you pompous ass," was Curtin's retort.

Mr. Kilpatrick said liberal critics thought of him as extremely right-wing -- "10 miles to the right of Ivan the Terrible." But "Kilpo," as he was sometimes known, befriended many who were his ideological opposites. In 1998, he married Marianne Means, a liberal columnist for Hearst Newspapers, whom he had known socially for years.

His acquaintances included late Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.), an anti-Vietnam War presidential candidate who was his Rappahannock County neighbor and said he found Mr. Kilpatrick charming and well-versed on 17th- and 18th-century literature and philosophy.

"The man is not locked into a mold. He's not just the curmudgeon you see on TV," McCarthy told The Washington Post in 1973, adding that Mr. Kilpatrick had "kind of a country manor style."

Mr. Kilpatrick saw himself as a "fiercely individualistic" writer who spoke only for himself. He said he was once on television to "take the side of 'The Conservative's View of Watergate.' And I asked myself, 'Just what is a conservative's view of burglary?'"

What are your thoughts on Mr. Kilpatrick's legacy?

By Adam Bernstein  |  August 16, 2010; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein , Civil Rights  
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"Bullfeathers, Shana!"

Posted by: william_r_alford | August 16, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad you led the obit with his genuinely appalling work during the Civil Rights movement, not with his later "adorable curmudgeon" persona.

Posted by: JonquilSerpyllum | August 16, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion, he renounced his segregation views and changed his 1950's position. I would hope that Kilpo's legacy is that people can change. The SOUTH changed and so did James J. Kilpatrick. His soaring intellect will be missed.

Posted by: jayhoopz | August 18, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

The thing written by Mr. K was his fine book, The Foxes' Union and Other Stretchers, Tall Tales, and Discursive Reminiscences of Happy Years in Scrabble, Virginia - life in the country. Memorable.

Posted by: moonoverva | August 20, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

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