Kathleen Troia "KT"
McFarland, a 54-year old mother from Manhattan and the highest-ranking
female Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, is on the
verge of making it official - she's going to run for the Senate
against Hillary Clinton.
It would be easy to
describe her as Jeanine Pirro without the baggage, but there is
more substance behind the similar cosmetic political appeal -
KT McFarland possesses more real world national security experience
than any New York Senate candidate since Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Sitting down to coffee
at a midtown hotel, Mrs. McFarland is polished, yet approachable.
Wearing a purple coat and a pin that says "USNA Mom"
- the youngest of her daughters is at the Naval Academy in Annapolis
- she projects a vibrant intelligence. Though this would be her
first campaign, she is clearly comfortable with the world of Washington.
This is, after all, the woman who helped craft Ronald Reagan's
plans to win the Cold War.
It is more difficult
to imagine her as an 18-year old student from Madison, Wisconsin,
who boarded a plane for the first time to attend George Washington
University in 1969. In search of an after-school job to supplement
her scholarship, she applied for a job in the new Nixon administration
as a pool-typist. She never imagined that within weeks she'd be
working for National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, typing
up the daily briefs that wound their way from her fingers to the
president's desk every morning.
As Mr. Kissinger's
influence increased, so did Mrs. McFarland's role. She worked
her way up to witness world-changing events from the inside, such
as the end of Vietnam and the opening of U.S.-Chinese relations.
As well-timed sojourn at Oxford and a doctoral program at MIT
neatly coincided with the Carter years. She returned to influence
with the Reagan administration, working alongside Secretary of
Defense Caspar Weinberger, serving as a speechwriter, crafting
landmark policy addresses such as Secretary Weinberger's "Six
Tests for the Use of U.S. Military Power," which became the
basis for the Powell Doctrine.
In 1985, she left
government to pursue a family life, marrying a New York investment
banker and raising their five children for the past 20 years.
"I felt like I had done my part in public service,"
she says, "but then 9/11 changed everything."
With foreign policy
issues again at the top of America's agenda, there was a clear
logic to her desire to return to the arena. But the absence of
competitive races in New York State motivated her as well.
"I spent 20 years
of my life fighting against single party rule. It was called the
Soviet Union and Communism then," she said. "But we
are now allowing our system in the United States to have single
party rule in many states. I am worried that we are dividing into
'Blue States' where the Republicans don't run and 'Red States'
where Democrats don't run. That's counter to the whole concept
of the United States as a place for competitive debates and competitive
Initially, she contemplated
running for Congress against Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat
who has received few real challenges on Manhattan's East Side.
But the Republican Party's difficulty in fielding a competitive
candidate against Hillary Clinton inspired her to look higher.
Absent a last-minute decision to run by Peggy Noonan (a suggestion
without any basis in rumor or fact that I'm floating here for
fun), Mrs. McFarland would emerge as the strongest candidate for
this admittedly uphill race come the fall. One measure of her
success is that in the past three months - without any declared
candidacy or fundraising apparatus - Mrs. McFarland has raised
more than $600,000 - including donations from Colin Powell and
her former boss Caspar Weinberger.
The presence of a
new possible new primary challenger has left the former mayor
of Yonkers, John Spencer, none too pleased. He has waged a steady,
quixotic effort since last year, and the disorganization of the
state Republican Party has benefited this conservative anti-abortion
activist well. But upon news that Mrs. McFarland might enter the
race, his campaign immediately played the right-wing divide-to-conquer
card, with spokesman Christian Winthrop releasing a statement
saying that, "Anytime a pro-abortion, big-government, elitist
liberal is considering a run for the United States Senate, my
advice to that person is to try the Democrat Party."
Calling a Reagan administration
Cold Warrior a liberal is a pathetic if predictable new low in
the tired old knee-jerk politics of ideological purity.
While Mrs. McFarland
is, like the vast majority of New Yorkers, pro-choice, she is
an unabashed fiscal conservative of the kind we see too few of
these days, concerned about government spending and the national
debt. "Anyone who keeps the family's accounts knows that
you cannot just keep borrowing money," she says, while raising
a red flag over countries like China owning a disproportionate
amount of our debt, sensibly asking: "Is that a leverage
that we really want them to have down the road?"
Likewise, Mrs. McFarland
seeks to distinguish herself from Senator Clinton not through
personal attacks - what she calls "Gotcha! politics"
- but on policy debate. One point of contrast comes in her support
of school vouchers. "As a kid who put herself through college
on a combination of student loans, scholarships and jobs, we as
a society need to encourage the maximum opportunity and responsibility."
"I am in the
sensible center" she says, referring to Republicans like
Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain as contemporary political heroes,
showing why some party leaders feel she would be able to build
the broadest coalition in a campaign. There are many hurdles on
the road ahead - a pivotal meeting in June of Republican county
chairmen, followed by a September primary and a November general
election against an incumbent who is planning to use the campaign
as a launching pad to the presidency - but in terms of style and
substance, KT McFarland may be the best candidate to beat Hillary
Avlon is a columnist for the New
York Sun and the author