We Have Lost a Friend

Posted: Jan 04, 2018 12:01 AM
We Have Lost a Friend

WASHINGTON -- My friend and colleague Donald Rieck, president of The American Spectator Foundation, died late last week in an automobile accident. He leaves two charming and very young children. He also leaves many friends throughout the conservative movement and shocked colleagues at The American Spectator. He was 50 years old.

Don was, as Roger Kaplan chronicled in his Spectator obituary: "A force to be reckoned with. Burly, direct, always busy, he was the kind of man who let you know he wanted whatever he asked for yesterday, even if he had not mentioned it to you yet, and yet you never thought he was putting pressure on you he was not putting on himself and above all, you knew, with Don, whatever the stress and strain, you were in this together, the glory of our cause and the success of our magazine."

When I told Don I favored Donald Trump for the 2016 election, he swallowed hard and continued to carry out the tasks assigned him with his customary brio. In time, he came around. He was a sensible man. He was deeply conservative and highly practical. When I think about how conservatives such as Don responded to Trump's election as opposed to the response of the never-Trumpers, I come away with even less respect for the never-Trumpers. Don Rieck had as much amour-propre as the next guy, but he also wanted his conservatism to triumph. With Donald Trump, it triumphed.

The conservative movement is abounding with intellectuals. Most are not up to the grade of an earlier generation of conservative intellectuals, but they are intelligent enough. Yet what conservatism is truly in need of is what we might call "the business guys." That is to say, guys who make things work, or guys who make the intellectuals run on time.

Which reminds me of another business guy that the conservative movement lost this month, though thankfully not so abruptly or tragically: Ed Feulner. Ed, the founder of The Heritage Foundation, is stepping down as interim president. After spending months looking for his successor, Ed finally found his replacement in Kay Coles James. We wish her the best. Ed seems to think she is the best.

From 1977 to 2013, Ed led The Heritage Foundation through a period of unmatched growth. Its budget grew from around $1 million in 1976 to almost $92 million in 2015, and with that growth, its influence grew apace. Ed had surrounded himself with intellectuals at the conservative movement's premier think tank, but he also brought with him the business guys, which is to say, people who could organize the foundation to serve as a corporation of ideas. Under Ed, the foundation produced a product -- position papers, social science studies, that sort of thing -- that official Washington would read. In fact, official Washington felt it had to read the product. Before Ed took over the foundation in 1977, the think tank had had four different presidents in four years. Ed solved its problem, and he came in again in May of last year to run things when the foundation found itself in a rough patch.

True business guys are hard to find -- particularly business guys whose business is ideas. They have to balance enormous egos (they're intellectuals) with practical questions, and fundraising with budgets to disseminate their products. Ed was a master at it, and Don admired what Ed had achieved wholeheartedly. He met with Ed to gather ideas and understand Ed's technique. One of Don's proudest achievements was conferring on Ed the Spectator's annual Service to the Movement award. Another hero of Don's at the foundation was John Von Kannon, also known as "the Baron," a masterful fundraiser who died in 2015 and, by the way, was on the Spectator board of directors for many years. In fact, the Baron began his career at the Spectator as our publisher.

The reason I say that the business guys are irreplaceable is someone has to raise the money for the intellectuals to spend. Someone has to render order to their often-disorderly lives. Hayek, Friedman and the rest of the conservative intellectual corps would remain lonely voices in the wilderness if a business guy were to not step in with the funds and the organizational sense. That is why a foundation's philanthropists are so crucial. They originate the money and often bring in the right business guy for the organization. Ed found the funders. Don did, too. The conservative movement, contrary to myth, is very small compared with the organizations of the left. Its whole budget amounts to a pittance when compared with the left's overall expenditures. Reviewing the political scene today, I think you would agree with me. Guys like Ed and Don have done rather well.