Last week Paul Weyrich, a true American hero, passed away at the surprisingly young age of 66. Weyrich was a political activist and commentator with an almost prophetic sensitivity to the trends of culture and politics. As a leading conservative he will be most remembered as a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) and the idea man who gave Jerry Falwell the concept of the moral majority. Weyrich also actually helped to found many other organizations including: the Council for National Policy (CNP) (an organization strategically aligning social conservatives), the Free Congress Foundation (an association of conservative activist organizations), and National Empowerment Television (a cable TV network, also known as America's Voice, designed to mobilize the conservative grassroots).
Who will take his place? This is the first question that arises at the death of a national leader. This is often the wrong question, because pioneers are usually impossible to replace. A more important question is: who will continue his work in light of the gift that this great man has been to our world? In other words, how do we carry on the legacy of Paul Weyrich? I believe that the man who once advocated the abandonment of many of our basic, public institutions in order to set up values-based alternatives would tell us that it is time for conservatives to re-engage in grassroots politics. He would not encourage us to engage in politics for politics sake. He would urge us to make sure that the conservative voice does not disappear as we enter what many are calling “the most liberal, one party government in American history.”
I think that a recent op-ed (opinion-editorial) piece written just 10 days before Weyrich’s death carries the tone and spirit of the conservative great. “Keeping a Conservative Voice” written by Mike Pence of Indiana, newly elected chairman of the House Republican Conference, sets forth four necessary steps for conservatives to take if we are to carry on Paul Weyrich’s legacy.
Although Pence did not mention Paul Weyrich and was probably not aware of how close the leader was to death, his words are as hauntingly reminiscent of Weyrich’s work as they are instructive. Pence began his article by explaining that only 22% of the voters on November 4th described themselves as “liberal.” He is essentially saying, as Paul Weyrich did in 1979, that there is a moral majority among American voters.
If we accept Pence’s premise, then his first step is absolutely imperative for the conservative movement. Step one is simply to confess that both Republicans and conservatives have lost their way. Private lifestyles have undermined the credibility of the movement’s public policy choices. Observers have noticed that the personal hypocrisy of some legislators is aggravated by governing hypocrisy. Governing hypocrisy is when I advocate one philosophic way of doing things before I get into office, while making laws or administrating programs in an inconsistent manner. For example, Republicans have started drifting toward their own brand of big government, despite years of decrying the dangers of big government. This move has become most glaring as we look at record deficits, federal involvement in education, and the current financial bailouts.
As the result of this double dealing, the Republican brand has lost a great deal of credibility and the word “conservative” is becoming synonymous with words like “narrow minded” or “bigoted.”
Second, these solutions have to be based on timeless principles that every conservative would share - defending the nation, balancing our budget, and promoting conservative social values.
Third, in his December 8th article Pence exhorted conservatives to work with people of every race and socio-economic strata based on the clear principles stated in step 2. Having worked with Paul Weyrich on many projects during the last four years, I am sure that Weyrich would advocate reaching out to blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. We must do everything we can to prevent our 21st century conservatism from being labeled as racist, sexist, or elitist.
Fourth and finally, Pence exhorted conservatives to support the next president in every way that they can. As the loyal opposition, conservatives must work harder at genuine problem solving that looks out for the interests of the American people. This means that conservatives must lay aside partisan opinions and serve the nation based on proven principles.
In my opinion, it is unfortunate that in the current ideologically polarized environment, remaining faithful to conservative principles may put us at odds with the administration on many occasions. There may need to be spirited debates based on principles that we engage in despite our inability to carry a majority vote. Faithfulness and principled leadership should be encouraged by all of us.
In conclusion, let me remind you that every aspect of life, including politics, goes through cycles. There are periods of revival and periods of decline. In today’s culture we need many men to arise with the tireless spirit of Paul Weyrich and the clear message of Mike Pence to preserve our faith, our freedoms, and our national prosperity.