Sunday, December 21, 2008

RIP Paul Weyrich

By Rick Morris

There is much symbolism in the fact that 2008 has seen the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr., Jesse Helms and now Paul Weyrich. With the conservative movement facing its gravest challenge since the circumstances that catapulted Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, talk is circulating everywhere about what it will take for policy mavens on the right to restore limited constitutional government. Of course, the bitter irony is that present circumstances are largely in place due to failings of those falsely claiming to be adherents of Reagan’s path in the executive and legislative branches – and the discrediting effects that have come from that.

Regardless, it can truthfully be said that the path back to power for the right (and don’t delude yourselves, Koskids, everything is cyclical) will be paved by a modern adaptation of Weyrich’s methods and teachings. Paul Weyrich truly was an American political pioneer, helping to take the early conservative movement that came out of the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and mold it into an intellectual force in the ‘70s that set the stage for the Gipper’s triumphs to follow.

I will quote at length the words of his close friend and fellow activist Morton Blackwell this past fall at a Weyrich tribute. On a personal note, I once interned for Blackwell’s organization in event planning and put together the weekend seminar at Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, although I did not get to meet Weyrich. In reading these heartfelt words, you can’t help but be glad that they were spoken when Weyrich could still appreciate them, before his recent health problems deepened even more. Here are some excerpts of Blackwell’s tribute:

“Next to Ronald Reagan, no single person has achieved more to advance the cause of American conservatism than Paul Weyrich.

Paul came to Washington 42 years ago to work as press secretary for conservative U.S. Senator Gordon Allott of Colorado. At the time, liberalism was riding high.

There were very few conservative op-ed writers. There was no talk radio as we know it today. Fox News and conservative blogs like Townhall and RedState did not exist.

Lionel Trilling wrote at the time that ‘liberalism is not only the dominant ideology; it’s the only ideology in America.’

Some of the few conservatives who worked in the D.C. area didn’t dare call themselves conservatives.

After Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Nixon/Agnew ticket resulted in another disappointing setback for conservatism. But beginning in the early 1970s, conservatism was on the march. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 constituted a major triumph for conservative principles.

... And none of it would have happened without Paul Weyrich. Now it’s time to honor him.

As a congressional staffer, Paul watched the powerful, liberal coalition of academics, think tank analysts, members of Congress, White House aides, interest-group officials, and journalists running America and wondered: ‘Why can’t we put together an operation like that? …

Paul, Ed, and I were among an informal group brought together by conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie in 1972. We were determined conservatives who began to discuss how to build a powerful base of conservative activists and leaders who could eventually win in American politics.

Central to our plan was to create new, effective, conservative groups. Paul Weyrich turned out to be, by far, the most successful creator of new organizations. Below is only a partial list of the conservative organizations he engendered or was key in starting:

• Heritage Foundation
• Free Congress Foundation
• Free Congress PAC

• Coalitions for America
• House Republican Study Committee
• Senate Steering Committee

• Council for National Policy
• International Policy Forum
• American Legislative Exchange Council

• American Association of State and Local Officials
• Conservative Leadership PAC

Paul sparked many people to create and lead a wide variety of other effective, new conservative groups. Our informal group met frequently throughout the 1970s to brainstorm new ideas and put them into effect. …

Here’s another thing most people don’t know about: Paul’s central role in overturning the defeatist Republican leadership in the Congress.

For decades the House and Senate Republican leadership contentedly accepted their government limousines and gave little thought or effort to overturning the Democrats’ congressional majorities.

Paul saw that only a new generation of conservative Republican congressional leadership could wrest control from the leftist Democrats in charge of both Houses.

Key to that achievement was creation of the House Republican Study Committee and the Senate Steering Committee. Paul and Ed Feulner persuaded some solidly conservative U.S. Representatives and Senators to take on that project. But that was only the important, first step.

Paul then led the bigger and more complex task. It required many steps:

1. To recruit and train a new generation of conservative candidates all across America.

2. To generate political and financial support for those candidates so they could win nomination and election.

3. To identify, recruit, and train conservative Members of both Houses who could eventually become the congressional Republican leaders.

4. To work quietly and systematically to line up support in the House and Senate Republican conferences for action-oriented challengers against the content-free incumbent party leaders.

5. To build up an efficient network of trustworthy conservative congressional staff who would have to do much of the work of advancing conservative principles in congressional activities.

Paul did all of that and more. It was both a massive and complex task.

Paul began a weekly strategy luncheon which he hosted in his office. He recruited as a luncheon regular a very bright new congressman named Newt Gingrich. I was there as Paul first explained to Newt what a “wedge issue” is.

Paul took the lead in an astonishing variety of tasks:

• training a new generation of grassroots conservative activists and leaders

• recruiting solidly conservative candidates

• generating support for conservative candidates in nomination and general-election contests by introducing them to conservative donors and to the leaders of new conservative organizations

• helping newly elected conservatives hire solidly conservative staff

• lining up support for activist conservatives in party leadership contests in both Houses of Congress

Of course, most of these activities necessarily take place behind the scenes, so people not directly involved never have learned of Paul’s leadership role in them. Now you know.

Most effective conservatives do know that Paul is the ‘go to’ guy when you want to make something happen. Paul’s effectiveness is famous.

Over the last 40 years, I’ve been in uncounted thousands of conservative meetings, large and small, where everyone looked to Paul to put the heat on specific people to do the right thing.

You probably remember the children’s story where some mice were troubled by a cat who was catching and eating many of them. One mouse came up with the great idea of tying a bell around the cat’s neck so they could hear him coming. Another mouse raised the question, ‘Who shall bell the cat?’

Belling the cat is dangerous business.

Fortunately for all of us, Paul Weyrich is fearless and ready to do whatever must be done to advance conservative principles. He has never aspired to win a popularity contest. Regardless of the consequences to himself, Paul keeps his commitments, and woe unto anyone who breaks his word to Paul.

The truth is that many people are (wisely) afraid of him. Many a waverer has been brought back to the ‘straight and narrow’ for fear of angering Paul.

Serious conservatives treasure Paul’s judgment, and the smartest ones often follow his advice. If one wants support from conservatives, earning Paul’s respect is very, very valuable.

Next, let me tell you one of the best things Paul ever did for us. Having once been invited by mistake to a left-wing coalition meeting, Paul studied how the left operated. Then he adapted for conservatives the techniques for building powerful coalitions.

Paul organized the first successful conservative coalition meetings. Soon Paul’s model began to produce major results in a wide variety of policy areas. Briefly, here’s how it works:

1. Invite people who share common interests and who will commit to take actions to further those causes.

2. Invite people who have the personal ability to make things happen, through their financial resources, their communication vehicles, their grassroots following, their network of contacts, or their expertise.

3. Avoid inviting people who are merely note-takers for others.

4. Prepare an interesting, action-oriented agenda of topics for coalition meetings.

5. Brainstorm ideas for appropriate actions regarding the topics discussed.

6. Call for volunteers to take specific actions.

7. Note those who volunteer to take actions and hold them accountable for doing what they agree to do.

8. Have the meetings chaired by someone who has resources to commit, who has considerable prestige, and whom participants would fear to disappoint.

The beauty of this model is that each person in the coalition remains independent. No one is required to do anything by a vote of the gathering. Yet an enormous amount of action can result.

People are dropped from the meeting if they come only to promote their own projects, never volunteer to take actions to help the projects of others, or consistently fail to do what they volunteer to do.

That all sounds simple, but in practice, conservative coalitions pioneered by Paul Weyrich multiplied the effectiveness of conservatives in the public policy process.

Paul created a number of different coalitions and still personally chairs his famous Wednesday luncheons when Congress is in session. About sixty people regularly attend.

Other conservatives have replicated Paul’s model effectively for national coalition meetings. Now such coalitions operate locally and do important work in many states.

A little-known aspect of Paul’s career is his huge effort to identify and train pro-freedom activists and leaders in the former Soviet empire.

He understood that the fall of communist regimes would amount to nothing unless anti-communists there learned how to operate successfully in the democratic process. From the Iron Curtain to far Siberia, Paul brought expert, American, conservative faculty to teach practical political skills to grassroots activists.

Over several years, Paul personally made more than 40 trips over there.

He identified good people and brought first-class training to them. Conditions were often primitive, and there was more than a little personal danger. But as usual, Paul poured his talent and resources into doing the right thing.

We should thank God that Paul remains active in politics. Today, through his principal organization, the Free Congress Foundation, he continues to do tremendous work on behalf of our country and our conservative principles.

He is writing and publishing more now than ever. Hardly a day passes without powerful, interesting, current quotes from Paul in the print and broadcast media on the hot issues before our country.

Several years ago, Paul had a nasty accident when he slipped on the ice. This left him crippled and in constant pain. Ultimately, doctors removed his legs. In spite of the resultant disability, Paul labors on, always courageous and highly effective.

Still an inspiring movement conservative, Paul is an outspoken critic of Republicans and Democrats who don’t advance our economic and social values.

Without Paul Weyrich, there would likely have been no conservative movement worthy of the name—and no Ronald Reagan presidency.

If there were a Mount Rushmore for conservative leaders, Paul’s face would have to be on it.”

Blackwell may be the most eloquent speaker anywhere on the subject of Weyrich’s work. This video contains more such thoughts:

The principles for which Weyrich fought his entire life will come into power once again – and when they do, it will be because of his determined admirers following the blueprints he left behind. RIP to a great American, Paul Weyrich.

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