A Movement Conservative Perspective
Remarks Presented at the Faith, Family and Freedom Dinner
Family Research Council
September 15, 2012
Thank you for the great and undeserved honor you pay me tonight. Previously you have given this annual award to people who deserve recognition far more than I do.
The honor is increased for me because I have such a deep admiration for the great achievements of the Family Research Council and your president, Tony Perkins.
Tony and I are both from Baton Rouge. We both are conservative movement activists. Tony and I both now find ourselves leading conservative non-profit organizations officed in the D.C. area. And both of us understand that we depend on generous donors for everything we accomplish.
Unlike me, however, Tony is famous. And he deserves his fame. His frequent and eloquent appearances in national print, broadcast, and online media directly reach millions of people, encouraging them and guiding them to take principled actions on public policy questions.
In my line of work, I seek out people who are reasonably conservative, persuade them that they owe it to their philosophy to study how to win, and then help them learn how to succeed in government, politics, and the news media.
Generous donors have also enabled my Leadership Institute to build a national network of more than 1,350 active, independent, local conservative student groups to fight leftist abuses and bias on college campuses in every state.
My Leadership Institute staff deserve more praise than they get for their remarkable skills and dedicated work for conservative principles.
I aim to build a movement, not an empire. Increasing the number and effectiveness of conservative activists and leaders by teaching them how to win is not inherently newsworthy, and news coverage of political training programs sometimes is less than helpful.
Primarily for that reason, a complete file of the news releases I have generated regarding my work would fit into a slim folder.
When conservative graduates of my training win elections, I counsel them that the way to continue successfully in politics is to keep their principles, keep their word, keep their pants on, and keep their fingers out of other people’s wallets.
Tonight I intend to speak briefly about three matters:
- The rise of social issue conservatives in politics
- The creation of a powerful conservative movement from ad hoc coalitions
- The 2012 elections and what happens afterward.
When I first became active politically, in the national groundswell of support for Sen. Barry Goldwater in the late 1950s and early 1960s, what we now call social issues were not political issues.
In his entire presidential campaign, I believe Sen. Goldwater was never asked if he favored making abortion legal. Neither was he asked if he favored making bank robbery legal.
Abortion and monogamous marriage between one man and one woman were among the many settled legal and moral issues in American culture, and most theologically conservative religious leaders thought political participation was no part of their calling.
But then the political left began to bring into politics its hostility to traditional moral principles, and growing government power became the enemy of family values across America.
The left continues its efforts to undermine family values and religious faith, most recently evidenced by the Democratic Party’s initially forgetting even to mention God in its 2012 party platform. God was an afterthought, inserted because of much criticism.
In the 1970s, the left invalidated in every state all laws which protected unborn babies. They began attacking the traditional institution of marriage. And among many other assaults on our culture, they tried to close down conservative Christian schools.
Fed up, many conservative pastors decided in the 1970s to defend their beliefs through the public policy process. Dr. Jerry Falwell organized 100,000 pastors who led at least two million un-involved Christians in their congregations to register to vote in 1980.
Noting that lightning did not strike down Dr. Falwell, other Christian leaders also formed large and powerful political organizations.
In a few years, whole denominations switched parties. Southern Baptists, who had been overwhelmingly Democrats, became overwhelmingly Republicans.
The surge of theologically conservative Americans into politics changed the composition of the electorate and contributed mightily to the nomination and election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980.
As they do whenever large numbers of conservatives newly decide to become political participants, the leftist politicians, content-free Republicans, and so-called “mainstream” news media warned that what they called “the Religious Right” was a danger to the Republic — dimwitted, uncouth, and savage people who would destroy the Republican Party.
It didn’t work out that way, did it?
Social conservatives began to organize coalitions for specific purposes.
As conservative intellectual Richard Weaver, author of the famous book Ideas Have Consequences, put it,
“Organization always makes imperative counter-organization. A force in being is a threat to the unorganized, who must answer by becoming organized themselves.”
A pioneer conservative coalition builder was Phyllis Schlafly. In her spectacularly successful fight to defeat the so-called “Equal Rights Amendment,” she gathered together Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and anyone else willing to fight against the ERA.
These allies distrusted each other and had intense differences in theology. They had never worked together before. Phyllis pulled together her coalition by saying, “We must be broad-minded enough to allow anyone to oppose the ERA for the reasons of their choice.”
The decision points in the public policy process are mostly elections and legislative battles. In specific elections and legislative battles, a wise conservative will seek allies without respect to disagreements on other issues. The object is to win a majority in that election or that legislative battle.
Some of us were particularly inspired to participate in coalitions by the wisdom of Whittaker Chambers, the former American Communist who became a hero of anti-Communists everywhere.
“I do not ask of the man who lets me slip into his foxhole whether he believes in the ontological proof of God, whether he likes me personally, or even whether, in another part of the forest, at another time, he lobbed a grenade at me. I am interested only that, for the duration of the war, he keep his rifle clean and his trigger finger nerveless against a common enemy. I understand that that is all he wants of me.”
Sometimes social conservatives found themselves working together in coalitions which were very wide-ranging indeed.
In 1994, my wife, Helen, and I participated in the United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.
The leftist celebrity Jane Fonda and former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who had been a Stalinist in the 1930s and never repudiated her support of Stalin, were appointed to the official U.S. delegation by President Bill Clinton.
The left thought the Cairo conference was a golden opportunity to put official United Nations pressure on smaller countries to legalize the killing of unborn babies through abortions.
At the last minute, pro-life Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey got himself appointed to the U.S. delegation.
A small number of conservative Americans got themselves credentialed at the Cairo conference as representatives of non-governmental organizations.
I went there as a temporarily credentialed reporter for the conservative weekly Human Events, but really to help the pro-life forces with procedural advice and with communications.
The U.N. conference operated under strange procedural rules. Decisions weren’t made by majority votes of the national delegations. Decisions could be made only through a weird sort of consensus, so a substantial, determined opposition could block the leftist attempt to force small countries to legalize abortion.
Congressman Chris Smith found himself a minority of one on the U.S. delegation.
Supported logistically by our handful of private U.S. conservatives, he formed an ad hoc alliance of socially conservative delegates from Latin American countries, the Holy See, and (Listen to this.) a number of delegations from Muslim countries who strongly oppose abortion.
Consensus wasn’t achieved at the conference. No pro-abortion mandate was passed. U.S. Delegates Jane Fonda and Bella Abzug went home badly disappointed, and a lot of babies weren’t aborted.
Starting in the 1970s, U.S. conservatives grew some existing conservative organizations dramatically and created many large new ones.
Time and again, they formed coalitions in election contests and legislative battles where conservative principles of limited government, free enterprise, strong national defense, and traditional family values were at stake.
Time and again, the same conservative leaders sat around the same tables to fight on the same side against their common enemies on the left.
Over the years, the diverse coalition of allies coordinated their activities so often that they became rather comfortable with each other.
Each element of the coalition frequently worked with the others while maintaining its own institutional independence. For the first time there arose what could fairly be called an effective conservative movement.
The realization spread, for example, that there could not be political victory for economic conservatives without a working alliance with social conservatives — and that, to win public policy battles, social conservatives must work often with economic conservatives and libertarian conservatives.
Let me turn now to a brief consideration of where we are now and where we should go from here.
Everything is on the line this year.
Personally, I am strongly supporting Mitt Romney, both financially and otherwise.
In the last few decades, I have recruited and trained many thousands of conservative activists and leaders who also now support Mitt Romney and are working hard for his election. I am happy and perhaps a little proud about that.
President Barack Obama is the personification of leftist ideology. The fundamental changes he is making in America are all fundamentally ruinous for our country. He must be replaced if we can do it.
With hardly any exceptions, the entire conservative movement agrees with me and wants Gov. Mitt Romney to win. Good.
The presidential election still could go either way, but I believe it’s more likely that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will the next President and Vice President of the United States. If so, what happens then?
Next would come close to three months of a transition period while the President-elect puts together his new Administration.
In late 1980 and early 1981, I worked full-time in the Presidential Personnel Office of President-elect Ronald Reagan. Then I worked for three years on President Reagan’s White House Staff.
The greatest lesson conservatives learned in that period is that personnel is policy. Where the right people are given responsibility, good things tend to happen.
As we staffed up his new Administration, President-elect Reagan gave us an explicit instruction that, among their other qualifications, he wanted to hire people who were principled conservatives.
Many such people were in fact hired, and they helped make the Reagan Administration productive in many ways for conservative principles.
Not all those hired were actually conservative, of course. In part, this was because some of the decision-makers in our Presidential Personnel Office were primarily head-hunters who had no clear idea what conservative principles are.
I could discuss at some length many who were good choices and some who were not. But this is neither the time nor the place for that.
Suffice it to say that Ronald Reagan’s mandate to hire solid conservatives made possible the many excellent policy achievements which made him a successful President.
There are, of course, other ways to staff a new President’s Administration.
I believe that the most important factor for hiring during the transition for President-elect George H.W. Bush was loyalty. He was and is a very nice man, but if you hadn’t proved your long-term loyalty to that President-elect, you were probably wasting your time to apply.
Thus it was no coincidence that, if you had supported Ronald Reagan for the nomination in 1980 and were serving in the Reagan Administration in 1988, you were not hired by George H.W. Bush.
You might as well have been marked with a black spot. You had virtually no chance for a job in the new Bush Administration. For conservatives in the late Reagan Administration, it was “Prove you were never for anyone but Bush, or you’re out.”
Loyalty as a hiring requirement can have at least two meanings. It could mean loyalty in the sense of commitment to principles, or it could mean loyalty in the sense of willingness to do exactly what you are told to do.
Every Presidential political appointee has some power to make things happen.
A principled appointee will look for ways to implement his or her principles. Those without principles will tend to do nothing unless they are told to do it. A too centralized organization cannot achieve as much as an intelligently de-centralized one.
As my grandmother, who lived to age 95, wisely put it, “Why keep a dog if you’re going to bark yourself?”
If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, there will be no shortage of unattached sycophants seeking jobs and ready to do whatever they are told to do.
Gov. Romney is running on a solidly conservative platform. He has staked out conservative positions on almost every relevant policy issue. This may, and I hope will, result in his victory in November.
But I pray that he will see to it that his new Administration, if it comes to pass, will hire many, many people who have distinguished themselves by long and effective endeavors for the conservative principles he now espouses.
This reminds me of something that happened in the Bush 41 White House.
After the President broke his “no new taxes” campaign promise, I asked for and was granted a meeting with his White House Political Director, Ron Kaufman of Massachusetts.
I had served earlier for three years as President Reagan’s White House liaison to all U.S. conservative organizations.
I was then in my first term as Virginia’s Republican National Committeeman. And I was the current executive director of the Council for National Policy, an organization whose membership includes the heads of most of the major conservative movement organizations.
In his office I told Ron Kaufman that the President’s conservative base was eroding away and that he was in great danger of losing the 1992 elections.
I urged that by hirings and policy initiatives the Administration should take immediate steps to restore the confidence of the conservative grassroots in the President’s commitment to conservative principles.
Mr. Kaufman replied, “We have carefully studied this, and we know that the Republican Party has a lock on the White House.”
It didn’t work out that way in 1992.
I’ll close these remarks by returning to the presidential campaign now in progress. Here’s a question which should stir up the enthusiasm of every American conservative.
Barack Obama. Barack Obama? What did you expect from an ACORN organizer?