Tony Blankley, who now is a prominent conservative political writer and TV commentator, has a long and distinguished career in Republican Party politics.
Always "precocious in politics," Tony Blankley prosecuted street crime as a young lawyer in Los Angeles before coming to Washington in the 1980s to work in the Reagan administration. He went on to help bring about the "Gingrich Revolution" as House Speaker Newt Gingrich's press secretary after the Republican minority offered its "Contract with America" and took over Congress in 1994. Blankley now writes about political issues and makes frequent speeches and broadcast appearances as a political commentator. His home is tucked away in a wooded area outside of Washington where he lives with his wife, three children, four peacocks, two horses, two ponies, two goats, three sheep, four dogs -- and "about 10 cats."
Insight: Why do you keep so many animals?
Tony Blankley: Both my wife and I like animals -- and unfortunately when each wanted another the other wasn't around to say no. We've sort of hit the level where we can't give any more animals our attention, so we've stopped taking in new members of the family for a while.
Insight: How did you become interested in politics?
TB: We talked politics around the dinner table from the time I was a toddler. My dad had been [Winston] Churchill's accountant before World War II and at dinner we always were involved in discussing international affairs, events of the day or history. My dad and I would be constantly dashing to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and dragging a volume to the table to prove a point.
Of course, that sort of thing comes out of the mentality of the World War II generation. I was born in 1948, after the war, but in my parents' generation politics meant life or death. London was being bombed, the windows in my parents' apartment blown out -- because, you know, politics had failed. And so the consequences of bad political decisions were more immediate than in America today.
I can understand why people who came of age recently would think, "Well, why does it matter?" But if you came of age during or shortly after World War II you knew why it mattered. And I was one of those people.
Insight: Early on you were a Democrat, but you eventually went to work in the Reagan administration. How did you manage that?
TB: I organized some friends to carry Adlai Stevenson placards for the 1960 Democratic Convention and a Kennedy operative came up to us and said, "Why don't you carry Kennedy placards -- he's going to win, you know." So I said, "Well, if you can get us in for the big demonstration, we'll switch sides." So we switched sides, got to demonstrate, and I became a kid for Kennedy.
I was a Democrat until I was 13. My best friend's dad and I had been arguing politics for years and he was a conservative. In '62 he was an early financial backer for Barry Goldwater's campaign and he took me out to Palm Springs to meet the great man. I was pretty impressed with Goldwater's speech because he talked about freedom. But he didn't talk about it as something we should be proud that we had; he talked about it as something we were quickly losing and that we had to act to retain. That won my youthful heart. On the way back, my friend's dad gave me a copy of Goldwater's book Conscience of a Conservative, which won my youthful head, and I became a member of Youth for Goldwater.
So I was active in conservative and Republican politics when I started campaigning for Reagan and I was a college coordinator for him back in 1966.
I worked as a volunteer on Reagan's various campaigns, but I didn't meet him -- other than to pass him in the hallways -- until the mid-seventies when, by chance, my best friend in law school married Betsy Bloomingdale's daughter. Betsy and Nancy Reagan were best friends, so we used to sometimes have dinner at the Bloomingdales and occasionally I met Reagan on a social level. …