The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead
by Richard A. Viguerie, introduction by Jerry Falwell
Caroline House, 260 pp., $8.95
The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority: The Biography of Phyllis Schlafly
by Carol Felsenthal
Doubleday, 337 pp., $13.95
Just after the 1980 election the ABC show called “Nightline” put the satellite technology of television to work to create an extraordinary electronic encounter between Senator George McGovern, Senator Frank Church, Senator Birch Bayh, Jerry Falwell, and Paul Weyrich. The three just-defeated senators had never met their opponents before, and the two sides knew so little about each other that both were disarmed. Instead of the usual political fencing match the debate was a raw, emotional confrontation.
One of the strange things about the debate was the apparent imbalance of the two sides. Three leaders of the Democratic party with long careers in public office were pitted against a fundamentalist minister and an almost unknown political organizer. Yet as organizers for the New Right, Weyrich and Falwell represented a coalition that had raised more money for the 1980 election than the entire Democratic party nationally.
After that election, the New Right organizers could claim that they had helped to elect over two dozen senators and a great many more congressmen, who generally could be counted on to oppose the Supreme Court decisions on busing, school prayer, and abortion, as well as to support Reagan’s economic and defense policies. “Nightline” did not invite any of the new senators to meet McGovern, Church, and Bayh, for good reason: the New Right was not created by politicians but by organizers.
Richard Viguerie’s cheerful, self-advertising book shows how it is possible these days for a group of political technicians to put together a political movement quite independent of any political party or any particular politician. Viguerie is the direct-mail expert whose company, RAVCO, raised the money for most of the New Right political action committees. According to Federal Election Commission figures, in 1979 and 1980 Jesse Helms’s Congressional Club raised a gross figure of $7.9 million, Terry Dolan’s National Conservative Political Action Committee raised $7.6 million, Paul Weyrich’s Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress raised $1.6 million, and the Gun Owners of America, a group to the right of the National Rifle Association, raised $1.4 million. All of these are Viguerie’s clients.
Viguerie could claim to be the founder of the New Right, since it was he who brought the first circle of organizers together in 1974 for the purposes of creating a new conservative movement. His book describes the structure and methods of the New Right, while Carol Felsenthal’s biography of Phyllis Schlafly, read in combination with her own books, tells us much about its intellectual origins.
Richard Viguerie was born near Houston, Texas, in 1933. His father worked at Shell Oil and became a middle-management executive, but while Richard was growing up, his father had a second job hauling sand and gravel. Richard’s mother worked in a mill. Both of them were pious Catholics of Louisiana French descent. Viguerie went to public schools and then to Texas A&I, where the student body was largely Southern Baptist. An …