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 indifferent student, he switched from engineering to prelaw; he attended the University of Houston Law School but quit after two years because of poor grades and took a job as a clerk in the oil fields.
His real interest was always politics. In college he joined the Young Republicans and worked in both Eisenhower campaigns—though his sentiments lay somewhat to the right of Eisenhower’s. His heroes at the time, he writes, were Douglas MacArthur and Joseph McCarthy. In 1960 he went to work for John Tower, then a Democrat, and in 1961 he answered an ad in the National Review and was hired as the executive secretary for the Young Americans for Freedom, which had been organized the year before. Moving to New York and then to Washington, he set about trying to raise money for the YAF by approaching well-heeled Republicans. Finding that he disliked asking people for money in person, he took to sending out letters. In 1964 he decided to start his own direct-mail company with the YAF as his only client. A decade and a half later the Richard A. Viguerie Company (RAVCO) was—according to other sources—grossing $15 million a year.
Viguerie does not tell us very much about his business in this book. This is understandable but unfortunate since direct-mail operations have become central to American public life. Raising funds by direct mail is complex and risky. Lists of suitable names have to be bought or assembled; mailing pieces have to be written and tested; and the names of those who contribute have to be categorized for future campaigns. Direct-mail campaigns can often break even if only 1 or 2 percent of the people on the mailing lists respond. The ratio sounds small, but it is in fact rather difficult to obtain. The problem for the direct-mail experts is to find the right lists for the right users, and this may involve a great deal of expensive testing. According to Alan Crawford in Thunder on the Right, Viguerie raised $2.3 million for the Citizens for Decent Literature in 1971 and 1972, but 81 percent of the money went back into his company to cover his costs and his fees. In 1976 the Bibles for Asia Society reported that he had raised $808,028 for them at a cost of $889,225. Of course the list of contributors gained by such a campaign can then be used again and again at much lower costs. But for many charities and for many politicians direct mail is not an efficient way to raise money. Contributors who believe they are helping to buy Bibles or save whales or elect conservatives may in fact be paying for direct-mail expenses.
The alternative for fund-raisers has usually been to find a small group of large contributors. This is still possible for charities but was made illegal for politicians by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, which prohibited personal contributions of more than $1,000 to any particular candidate. It did not, however, put any restrictions on donations to, or by, “political action committees” of the kind sponsored by Helms, Dolan, and Weyrich.
Viguerie attributes much of his political success to this law. He writes that very few politicians understood the potential of direct mail before the act was passed. George McGovern was one of them who did, and in 1967 he asked Viguerie to help him raise money for his Senate race. Viguerie turned him down on both ideological and practical grounds. He did not like liberal politics, but he also saw no advantage in having liberals on his computers, and thought liberal clients could be bad for the reputation of his company.
From the very beginning Viguerie had set out to compile a master list of conservatives around the nation. Most of his clients were, then as now, not politicians but organizations such as Conservative Books for Christian Leaders, No Amnesty for Deserters, and the National Rifle Association, each pursuing a distinct cause. In the late 1960s, however, Viguerie raised money for Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan, Max Rafferty, the fundamentalist superintendent of schools in California, and Congressman Phillip Crane of Illinois.
His first presidential candidate might have been Richard Nixon except that CREEP delayed making an offer to him until late 1971, by which time he had decided that Nixon had moved too far to the left. He backed the conservative congressman John Ashbrook of Ohio in the Republican presidential primaries and lost, he confesses, a quarter of a million dollars of his own money while failing to win a single delegate vote for Ashbrook at the Republican convention. Just after that election, George Wallace called and asked him to help retire his debt from the gubernatorial campaign. Viguerie had some reservations about Wallace’s “populist ideas,” but, since he approved of his views on busing, law and order, and defense, he took him on as a client. Between 1973 and 1976 he raised $7 million for Wallace.
The Wallace association proved a turning point in Viguerie’s career. It was also politically instructive. What Viguerie says he learned from the association was that party labels do not count and that conservatives should practice coalition politics. He saw that Wallace was exploiting issues that the Republican party was not using but that could very well be used to split the old New Deal coalition of Southerners, labor, and Northern liberals. Lyndon Johnson had maintained this coalition as a candidate but then the civil rights movement split the solid South, and the Vietnam War ended the foreign policy consensus in the party. As Viguerie and his friend Paul Weyrich saw it, the opportunity for conservatives lay in joining supporters of the Wallace backlash to the Republican right wing.
According to Viguerie the New Right was born in 1974 on the day when Gerald Ford picked Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president. “Nelson Rockefeller! The liberal who attacked Barry Goldwater…the high-flying, wild-spending leader of the Eastern Liberal Establishment…. As a conservative, I could hardly have been more upset if Ford had selected Teddy Kennedy.” What really bothered Viguerie was that Barry Goldwater supported Ford’s choice. That day Viguerie called together a group of fourteen conservative friends; they decided that they would have to take the lead and form a new conservative movement. Viguerie’s circle then consisted of former congressional aides, journalists, and lawyers—political activists none of whom had ever been elected to office or had held any important government job.
Viguerie lists four of them—Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, John T. (“Terry”) Dolan, and Morton Blackwell—but tells us little about their backgrounds. Paul Weyrich, then in his early thirties, has described himself as a “political mechanic.” He never went to college but worked as an aide to conservative Senator Gordon Allott of Colorado and then got backing from Joseph Coors, the beer tycoon, to create the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. Howard Phillips, a Harvard graduate, at thirty-three had more varied experience. Among other things, he had been chairman of the Boston Republican party, had managed Richard Schweiker’s successful campaign in 1968, and had been hired by Nixon to dismantle the Office of Economic Opportunity (a project Nixon finally had to abandon).
Terry Dolan, then twenty-three years old, was a lawyer who had come up through the ranks of the Young Americans for Freedom, while Morton Blackwell, thirty-four, also a member of the YAF, had made his career at RAVCO. What these young men had in common was energy, ambition, and an ideological zeal unfettered by loyalty to any politician. What they did over the next four years was to build a network of foundations, research groups, and political action committees (PACs) with interlocking directorates and with the common aim of creating a conservative movement outside the Republican party.
As Viguerie describes it, the New Right was built out of four elements: single-issue groups, multi-issue groups, coalition politics, and direct mail. Conservative single-issue groups had been around for a long time, and some of them, such as the National Rifle Association, had large memberships and considerable political influence. Their interests were, however, so disparate that they had never taken much notice of each other. Viguerie and his friends recognized that large numbers of rank-and-file members of, say, the National Right to Work Committee and the National Right to Life Committee would never be willing to work for the causes of other groups. But they thought they could persuade their leaders to recognize the others’ concerns and to develop common political strategies for election campaigns.
The task of the multi-issue conservative committees was first to bring the separate groups together and then to do the political research for all of them: that is, to identify the liberal office-holders who were most vulnerable to attack and to identify, or to seek out and promote, candidates they could support. At the same time Blackwell’s Leadership Institute and his Committee for Responsible Youth Politics took on the job of training young people for right-wing politics. Dolan’s National Conservative Political Action Committee made studies of how elections could be won for conservative candidates and offered them political services such as polling and the training of campaign workers. NCPAC specialized in negative campaigns. It would attack a liberal incumbent without declaring for the challenger, thus maintaining its political independence and allowing its candidate to deny that he had NCPAC’s support.
Direct mail was the lifeblood of the whole system. Using his computers Viguerie could identify and combine appropriate lists of names and raise money for the single-issue groups, the multi-issue groups, and the conservative PACs; through the PACs he could help elect conservative candidates. Serving such a variety of clients, Viguerie’s direct-mail business became synergistic. Viguerie could use the names of National Rifle Association or National Right to Work Committee members to raise money for a congressional candidate; and the names generated by that campaign could feed into the constituency for the Conservative Caucus or NCPAC. By 1980 Viguerie had the names of four and a half million conservative contributors, with a record of contributions presumably attached to each. This list made politicians like Jesse Helms independent of the Republican party. And it made the traditional form of coalition politics obsolete: the new coalition was made not between the leaders of interest groups but inside the computers by Viguerie himself.
The term “New Right” was coined by Kevin Phillips in 1975 to refer to conservatives concerned more with social issues such as abortion and busing than with economic ones; that is the sense in which Viguerie uses it when he is not referring to his own group of associates. Interestingly enough, however, Viguerie and his associates did not come together over social issues, but rather over Nelson Rockefeller. The first major campaign they undertook was a media blitz against the Panama Canal treaties in 1978. Even today the commitment of some of them to issues like abortion and school prayer seems partial at best. Terry Dolan, who describes his philosophy as “constitutional libertarianism,” has said he is dismayed by the preoccupations of some of his allies. “Government shouldn’t be in the business of trying to wipe out sin.”
In his book Viguerie suggests that he himself would not give these issues the highest priority. “Our primary goal,” he writes, “is military superiority.” He states his views on Russia, South Africa, and Taiwan before turning to “born-again Christian” issues. Viguerie and his associates may have discovered the racial backlash through George Wallace, but the very issues that distinguish the New Right seem to have been after-thoughts. Viguerie remarks that he differs from many conservatives in thinking adultery and premarital sex greater threats to society than homosexuality. But he suggests no legislative remedies for them.
In fact the so-called “family issues” developed outside party politics and simmered for a long time below the surface of the news. Their original sponsors were churches and churchmen. The National Council of Catholic Bishops began organizing against legalized abortion a few months after the Supreme Court handed down the decision in 1973. At about the same time white fundamentalist pastors began to react against various cultural changes of the Sixties, including the changes in sexual mores. While the anti-abortion movement attracted a series of lay organizations which included non-Catholics, the fundamentalist movement remained for some years inchoate. A committee in Texas would protest against the new textbooks, a pastor in the Middle West would decry sex education and secular humanism in the schools. In 1977 Anita Bryant led her much-publicized campaign against gay rights, and that same year Phyllis Schlafly’s independent STOP ERA committee won some impressive victories.
Richard Viguerie does not tell us when he and his colleagues began to see the political potential in these movements, but it was probably around 1977 or 1978 that Weyrich and Phillips concluded that they offered a new key to the Wallace vote. As Weyrich put it, the social issues would be “the Achilles heel” of the Democratic party. Weyrich, an Eastern-rite Catholic, and Phillips, who is Jewish, found their way into the fundamentalist movement through Edward McAteer, a former sales manager for Colgate-Palmolive and the national field director for the Christian Freedom Foundation, and Robert Billings, a former public school principal, who had become an organizer of the Christian school movement. McAteer and Billings introduced them to Jerry Falwell, James Robison, and a number of other television preachers. From their combined efforts came the three political organizations of the fundamentalist right: the Moral Majority (directed initially by Billings), the Religious Roundtable (run by McAteer), and the Christian Voice (a California organization founded independently but affiliated to this group). In the same period Weyrich and Phillips got in touch with the leaders of the anti-abortion committees and eventually developed close ties with some of them. In 1978 the anti-abortion groups contributed substantially to the victory of two of Viguerie’s clients, Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire and Roger Jepsen of Iowa, over two liberal senators.
During the next two years Weyrich and Phillips spent most of their time bringing the various “family-issue” groups together and acquainting them with each other’s concerns. Together they managed to create the ecumenical atmosphere in which Falwell and other fundamentalists, who had initially paid no attention to Roe v. Wade, put abortion at the head of their list of abominations. Phyllis Schlafly spoke at fundamentalist and anti-abortion meetings about the ERA, and Right to Life leaders started talking about the deterioration of the American family in tones reminiscent of Falwell. During the summer of 1979 Weyrich put together a committee known as the Library Court group to coordinate the legislative strategies of what he was now calling the “pro-family coalition.” Among its other achievements the Library Court group has managed to combine the disparate concerns of its members into the omnibus piece of legislation called the Family Protection Act. This, among other things, would prohibit federal legal aid in cases concerned with abortion, divorce, and gay rights, and would restore prayer to the schools.
Just how much the “family issues” weighed in the 1980 election is difficult to determine precisely. What is clear is that the New Right organizers managed to mobilize a great many generally apolitical people around these issues and to translate their concerns into votes for conservatives. In certain races these votes may have been decisive. Viguerie, for one, continues to regard the “pro-family” groups as important pieces in the jigsaw of his conservative movement. Since the election he has formed a new group, the Council on National Policy, to act as a kind of steering committee for the New Right. The membership of this group, which Viguerie describes as a “broad, all-inclusive organization of conservative-thinking people, people who have a lot of leverage,” reflects his judgment of the constituencies that will carry political weight.
The president of the council is the Rev. Tim LaHaye, a theoretician of the fundamentalist right and promoter of the term “secular humanism.” Its membership includes the Washington organizers, Weyrich, Phillips, and McAteer, as well as Billings (now assistant to the secretary of education) and Blackwell (now special assistant to the president for public liaison). Other members are Bill Saracino of the Gun Owners of America, Reed Larson, president of the National Right to Work Committee, and Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation. This list of New Right luminaries also includes Joseph Coors and Herbert and Nelson Bunker Hunt (direct mail is apparently not the only source of funds for the New Right). Prominent on the list are Nellie Gray, the most radical of the anti-abortion leaders, Senator John East of North Carolina, and Phyllis Schlafly.
Many Americans would be surprised to find Schlafly on this committee; one liberal newsletter wrote that her presence on it illustrated Viguerie’s success at “outreach” to single-issue groups. Schlafly is generally known as the head of the anti-ERA movement, and she has spent the past nine years leading the campaign against the ERA. Her biographer, Carol Felsenthal, is probably right in saying that without Phyllis Schlafly the ERA would be a part of the Constitution by now. When Schlafly founded STOP ERA in 1972, she took on what seemed to be a losing battle: Congress passed the ERA in 1972, and a year later thirty out of the required thirty-eight states had ratified the amendment. Schlafly was at the time one of the few people who actively opposed it. Working alone out of her house in Alton, Illinois, she built STOP ERA into a national organization with thousands of members.
Though most of the members were women without any previous political experience, STOP ERA became a sophisticated lobbying group that changed the minds of many state legislators. More important, it made the ERA so controversial that legislators preferred to avoid it—thus turning the weight of inertia against the amendment. The master strategist of the campaign, Schlafly was also its most effective spokesman. Cool, articulate, and self-confident, she appeared on hundreds of talk shows and lecture platforms, finally achieving a celebrity far greater than that of any feminist leader (and indeed far greater than that of anyone else on Viguerie’s council).
To feminists the puzzle of Phyllis Schlafly was how someone who acted so much like a “liberated” woman could be so hostile to equal rights for women. The answer lies between the lines of Felsenthal’s biography. Schlafly was above all else an ideologue of the radical right. While most women arrive at their views on feminist issues mainly because of personal experiences or personal convictions about the way men and women ought to live, Schlafly seems to have come to her position on ERA by a process of syllogism. In early 1972 she was, like Viguerie, primarily concerned about strategic weapons, a free-enterprise economic policy, and states rights. When a conservative friend asked her to speak against the ERA, she replied, “I’m not interested. How about a debate on defense?” At the time she thought the amendment “innocuous and mildly helpful,” but then she read the conservatives’ analysis of it, and she changed her mind: the ERA was yet another liberal attempt to turn the federal government into a dictatorship.
Felsenthal, a journalist and a supporter of the ERA, undertook to write an objective book about the woman who must be one of the best loved and the most loathed women in the country. To a great extent she has succeeded, though toward the end of the book one senses her falling victim to the biographer’s equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. But then Schlafly’s accomplishments are awesome. In addition to running STOP ERA she has written nine books, brought up six children, run for Congress twice, and been a delegate to almost every Republican convention since the Fifties. She earned a law degree at the age of fifty-four and created her own multi-issue lobby group, the Eagle Forum; for the past five years she has been sending out two newsletters a month to some 30,000 subscribers. Schlafly may be a bit larger than life.
Schlafly grew up during the Depression in St. Louis, the daughter of Bruce and Odile Stewart. Her father, a sales engineer for Westinghouse, lost his job in 1930 when he was fifty-one and he never again found work. Phyllis’s mother supported the family by taking a job as a librarian at the St. Louis Art Museum. Phyllis and her younger sister-grew up in what for that family were difficult circumstances. By saving every penny and working at a second job Mrs. Stewart managed to send her two daughters to the elite Catholic school in the city, the Sacred Heart City House. Phyllis—always as she appears today, beautiful, disciplined, and aloof—consistently made the highest marks in the school. Graduating in 1941, she won a full scholarship to a small Catholic women’s college, but since academic standards were too low for her there, she broke with Sacred Heart traditions and transferred to Washington University.
To pay for her tuition she took a job as a gunner in the St. Louis Ordnance Plant, testing rifles and explosives from midnight to eight in the morning. Working all night and studying during the day, she graduated in three years with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a fellowship to Radcliffe where she received an MA in government in one year. Her Harvard professors urged her to stay on for a doctorate, but Schlafly decided against academic life and in 1945 she went to Washington to look for a job. She found one as a researcher at the American Enterprise Association, but then a year later decided to go back to St. Louis. She was working as a researcher-writer at two St. Louis banks and managing a congressional campaign for a Republican candidate when she met and married Fred Schlafly in 1949.
Schlafly’s conservatism came initially from her parents, both of whom were pious Catholics and Republicans. The free-enterprise system had put Bruce Stewart out of work without a pension or any form of social security, but he continued to believe in it and to detest the New Deal with an almost religious fervor. Phyllis grew up in a family where intransigent ideals and standards were all-important. She was taught to believe there was a right and wrong answer to everything. Her father was an engineer, and her husband, though a lawyer, insisted that all of their four sons study electrical engineering “because there’s no chance for confusion or errors in engineering. There’s 100 percent truth.” (As it happens, Viguerie and Falwell also studied engineering. Falwell did very well at it.) Phyllis apparently never questioned her family’s first principles, though she changed her mind on a few specific issues, deciding that the American alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler was a mistake. Her husband, when she first met him, seems to have been a bit further to the right than she was.
In 1964 Schlafly wrote and privately published a short book—really a pamphlet—which caused a small sensation at the Republican convention of that year. In A Choice Not an Echo Schlafly claimed that from 1936 to 1960 the Republican presidential nominees had been chosen by “a small group of secret kingmakers using hidden persuaders and psychological warfare techniques.” These kingmakers, she argued, were members of the Eastern internationalist establishment, such as Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan and Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors. Such men liked the New Deal and Roosevelt’s interventionist policy in Europe so they deliberately put up losing candidates. The career of Robert Taft, she wrote, came to an end at a small dinner party given by Ogden Reid at which Taft said that he did not want to go to war against Hitler if it meant socialism in America when the war was over.
Schlafly believes Taft could have won the presidency in 1940, 1944, 1948, or 1952; he would have won the nomination in 1948 or 1952 but the kingmakers discovered a new propaganda weapon, the Gallup Poll, with which to convince Republicans that Dewey and Eisenhower were more popular with the electorate. Eisenhower, who knew nothing of the tactics used by his supporters to steal the nomination, took control of the campaign and won because of his denunciation of New Deal socialism, and his promises to repudiate the Yalta agreements and get the communists out of government—and the help he got from Senator Joseph McCarthy. Since then the kingmakers have prevented the Republicans from having another winning candidate. But now they have a sure winner in Barry Goldwater.
That year Schlafly began corresponding with Chester Ward, a retired rear admiral and former president of the American Security Council; she agreed to collaborate with him on a book on nuclear weapons. Between 1964 and 1976 the two wrote five books on strategic defense policy, all of which were essentially the same book kept up to date. The central thesis of these books was that certain powerful government officials were plotting the unilateral disarmament of the United States. These “gravediggers,” as Schlafly and Ward called them, were not communists but rather communist dupes who believed in the establishment of a world order. Concealing their real intentions, they met at the Council on Foreign Relations and communicated with each other by code in Foreign Affairs magazine. The authors identify a number of “gravediggers,” but they return obsessively to three men: Paul Nitze, Robert McNamara, and Henry Kissinger.
The books are filled with charts, graphs, columns of figures, “scenarios” in the Herman Kahn style, and intricate discussions of such matters as “throw-weights” and “counter-force capabilities.” To follow the authors through their logical maze is to arrive at a very simple premise: the United States cannot be safe without an invulnerable first-strike capacity.
Arriving at this point, the reader can breathe a huge sigh of relief (particularly the reader of Schlafly and Ward’s book, Kissinger on the Couch, in which the authors take 800 pages to get there). This is metaphorically, and in most cases literally, the fundamentalist view of the nuclear world, and it makes clear why the authors must imagine that so many well-known, well-dressed, and well-spoken people are leading secret lives. But then the reader must wonder why the authors did not state this position sooner, and why they invested so much time and energy in describing the conspiracy.
The authors do occasionally discuss matters less abstract than nuclear strategy, but these, too, fit into the master theory. The Schlafly-Ward explanation of the Vietnam War, for example, is that the United States fell into the trap the communists laid at the Tonkin Gulf. The plan of Nitze, McNamara, and Kissinger was to make sure that the United States did fall into it so as to create the necessity for building conventional, as opposed to strategic, weapons. This would ensure a US surrender before an eventual Soviet nuclear ultimatum. The “gravediggers”—so the theory spins—escalated the war very slowly in order to allow the communists the time to build their nuclear forces; in releasing the Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg (of “the Ellsberg clique”) promoted the spurious notion that the conspirators were trying to win the war—and thus helped them to cover their tracks.
This theory about the Vietnam War is one commonly held in the ranks of the New Right—though not one articulated by sophisticated spokesmen like Viguerie. What is most interesting about it is that it is so much at odds with the analysis of the neoconservative intellectuals in Boston, Washington, and New York who write in Commentary or frequent the Georgetown Center for International and Strategic Studies. Neither Phyllis Schlafly nor Richard Viguerie, nor to my knowledge any member of the New Right, believes that going to war in Vietnam was a good idea. They believe that having gone to war, we should have won it, not with American boys (the veterans figure large in their constituencies), but through the concerted use of air power. As George Wallace’s running mate, Curtis Le May, put it: Let’s bomb them back to the Stone Age. The idea that we should have saved the Vietnamese from communism appeals to them vaguely, if at all.
The point is an important one, for it suggests the gap between the views of Schlafly and those of the bright-eyed stab-in-the-back theorists issuing forth from the Georgetown Center and other centers of neoconservative learning. In fact, the New Right has no foreign policy in the usual sense of these words. The Helms-Viguerie-Schlafly view of the world is that of fortress America (its ramparts now crumbling) surrounded by a pervasive but elusive communist conspiracy and completely friendless except for the Taiwanese, the white South Africans, and (this being a fundamentalist idea) the Israelis.
Phyllis Schlafly’s book on women is far less tightly organized than her other books. The Power of the Positive Woman is an attack on the feminist movement, but it is a guerrilla attack, where the enemy has a fixed position but the attacker does not. Schlafly begins by arguing that women are different from men by “nature”: women are practical people, men are philosophers, women “control their sexual appetites” far more easily than men. She quotes Amaury de Riencourt to the effect that women usually lack the mental independence and power of abstraction necessary for higher intellectual activities (a view that would call into question all of Schlafly’s works, including this one). A hundred pages later, however, she claims that “in business, professional, intellectual and academic pursuits women can compete equally with men because they are just as smart.” Reviewers of this book have treated the contradiction as a slip, but it is useful for understanding the thinking of the New Right. What it implies is that there is a world of values and a world of facts, and the two need never be reconciled: they can exist in parallel forever.
Unlike true fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye, Schlafly does not propose a diagram of the hierarchy within the ideal or “traditional” family. She thinks it is perfectly OK for women to have careers (Mrs. Thatcher, she believes, does a fine job at hers). Indeed she holds that women should work outside the home after their children are grown up—since otherwise their idleness and boredom will allow them to hear the siren song of “women’s lib,” and they will want a divorce. “Everyone,” she writes, “knows wives who successfully started careers in real estate, life insurance, business, and the professions after they were forty.” But, she continues, the trap of women’s lib consists in thinking that you will be happier taking a job as a cook with the US Army than staying at home in your own comfortable kitchen given to you by your husband. Schlafly must know better, but she consistently assumes that all American women are rich enough so that they don’t have to go to work.
Still Schlafly makes what is for her a very odd argument about women’s work. Women, she says, should have equal pay for equal work; but the ERA is unnecessary since women have the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, and other federal laws abolishing discrimination in education. Schlafly must know that these laws would not exist without the feminist movement, but she does not mention it. She must also know that in approving these federal laws she is contradicting her own first principle of states rights and her most basic objection to the ERA. (In one book she actually argues that the states should have the right to punish subversives.) She may also realize that these laws were meant to correct institutional inequities—whereas the central purpose of this book is to assure women that their problems are purely personal and not, as the “women’s libbers” complain, institutional. Again, the contradiction is a familiar one. The professed rugged individualist has historically claimed complete personal autonomy while taking full advantage of government protections and subsidies, and plenty of rugged individualists have called for conformity to strict standards of social behavior and for laws to enforce them.
In instructing women how to be positive, Schlafly decries homosexuality, abortion, divorce, and extramarital sex. She does not spend very much time on these issues—she seems to dislike the subject of sex—but she makes an important general argument concerning them. This is that sexual freedom has dissolved the bonds of the society, leaving nothing but a quasi-criminal anarchy in the home, the workplace, and the school. She claims that “women’s lib” bears large responsibility for this anarchy, and she calls for the strengthening of the laws against it.
To see this argument as a purely moral one would be to miss the point (and thus to underestimate the chances of legislative action on these issues). The continuing promise that runs through Schlafly’s book is that if women behave themselves sexually, then men will have to marry them, stay married, and support them. That there exists a trade-off between sexual propriety and financial security for women is in fact the underlying theme of all the “pro-family” groups from the Right-to-Lifers to the fundamentalists. It is hardly a new message, but a look at the divorce statistics and the gender of most white people below the poverty line suggests why it might have particular appeal at the moment. Rational or not, it offers some kind of hope to women who have no chance of a career in real estate or in the professions.
In the last chapter Schlafly rounds out her picture of the Positive Woman. The PW we have thus far come to know is a cheerful, disciplined, take-charge sort of person who bears considerable resemblance to Phyllis Schlafly herself. The PW, we now discover, “will reject socialism” and will be a “patriot and a defender of our Judeo-Christian civilization.” The PW will think a great deal about the challenges posed by nuclear weapons and support the legislation necessary to defend the country. If she is looking for models, she can find them in the brave women of Brazil and Chile who saved their countries from communism by overthrowing Goulart and Allende. Here Schlafly is quite clearly giving in to her original obsessions with international strategy, for these issues are not winners among women. The polls show that most women voters were against Reagan last year and would be so again because of his stands on defense and foreign policy.
What is remarkable about all of Schlafly’s books is the amount of pure hostility in them. One is struck most forcefully not by what she advocates—that is often difficult to discover—but by the vehemence of her attacks on her enemies: Nelson Rockefeller, Bella Abzug, Henry Kissinger, Paul Nitze (the list is a curious one). In her eyes these people have no shred of legitimacy and no right to exist; they are beyond the moral universe, and nothing they say can be taken at face value. The hostility is interesting if only because it is so characteristic of the political expressions of the New Right. Richard Viguerie, who to acquaintances seems to be a genial sort, tells us that one of the most important things New Right organizers have in common is that they are fighters. “Paul,” he writes, speaking of Paul Weyrich,
typifies the political philosophy of the New Right which parallels the military philosophy of Douglas MacArthur, “There is no substitute for victory.” In fact, Paul likes to argue that we are at war. “It may not be with bullets,” he concedes, “and it may not be with rockets and missiles, but it is a war nevertheless. It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, it’s a war about our way of life. And it has to be fought with the same intensity, I think, and dedication as you would fight a shooting war.”
Jerry Falwell, for his part, is always going on about war. One phrase in his introduction to Viguerie’s book, “The godless minority of treacherous individuals who have been permitted to formulate national policy,” is characteristic of his style when he is speaking to the converted. A number of anti-abortion committees have been taken over by New Rightists who compare legalized abortion to the Holocaust and carry gory snapshots around in their wallets. NCPAC, which Terry Dolan calls a “gut-cutting” organization, has with some consistency misrepresented the legislative records of its Democratic opponents and has upon occasion impugned their patriotism. The way NCPAC has flirted with the laws against false advertising would suggest a degree of opportunism. This may be the case, but it is also true that those who think they are fighting wars, as opposed to electoral campaigns, are likely to feel justified in using extraordinary measures.
Both the style and the substance of New Right politics are familiar, indeed traditional, in this country. Schlafly’s A Choice Not an Echo repeats the theme of the anti-Masonic movement, the Know-Nothing party, and the Populists that a secret cabal of Eastern internationalist bankers is selling out the country to the foreigners. (In 1965, Richard Hofstadter had already called attention to Schlafly’s book in The Paranoid Style in American Politics.) Her charges prefigure the conspiracy theory of the New Right that the Trilateral Commission is selling out the country. Her attack on the feminist movement develops another familiar nativist theme, that the city people with their loose cosmopolitan ways are turning this country into Sodom and Gomorrah. These twin themes have been sounded stridently by some—such as Joseph McCarthy and Billy James Hargis—and softly by others, such as Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham in the early 1960s. But they have never entirely died away. What has changed is the size of the listening audience.
Liberals at this point may take comfort from the very familiarity of the New Right and from the fact that there has always been a tidal motion in American politics. Most of the New Right organizers are young people or newcomers to the scene who have watched while some of their heroes burned out and others turned leftward into comfortable, establishment positions. Some of those politicians who have come to Washington with the help of the New Right might be expected to lose some of their edge and reject their wilder-eyed supporters in the interests of getting along. The nearly unanimous vote to confirm Judge Sandra O’Connor suggests that this sort of accommodation has already begun.
On the other hand, to re-read the perceptive essays on the radical right written by Daniel Bell, Richard Hofstadter, David Riesman, and others in the early Sixties* is to realize that this time around there are no grounds for complacency about “fringe” or “status” politics. In the first place the current primary system and the current electoral campaign laws do not favor political moderates. On the contrary, they favor movements that appeal to “outsiders”; they encourage the use of strong, emotional themes, and they are helpful to politicians who can mobilize small groups of highly committed supporters. The current right-wing leaders, unlike their predecessors, have shown much sophistication in the ways they use television, computerize mailing lists, and arrange alliances.
Far less crazy and far more calculating than, say, Billy James Hargis and Joseph McCarthy, they have deliberately chosen their constituencies and deliberately orchestrated their campaigns. Because the real organizers—Viguerie, Weyrich, Dolan, and the rest—have stayed out of political office, they are in a stronger position to maintain their extremist positions without burning out. Of course the New Right constituencies may melt away if the economic policies of the Reagan administration prove disastrous. In the meantime, however, Viguerie and his friends are by example teaching the Democrats how to train campaign cadres, to stress patriotism and other emotional themes, and to send out negative messages in direct mailings. The danger is not that the New Right will take over the country but that its brand of fringe-group politics will become the American political system.
November 19, 1981