12.01.2008 0

A Personal Remembrance

  • On: 12/19/2008 10:42:24
  • In: Conservative Movement
  • By Carter Clews

    Paul Weyrich died this morning.

    For those who never knew Paul, let that serve as a prologue to a story I hope you’ll retell many times for countless years to come. To those who did know Paul, it will likely serve as the final chapter in a story that changed the way we all lived. For the better. Hopefully for eons to come.

    The obituaries will tell you that Paul was a “conservative thinker, writer and commentator.” That’s how MSNBC put it. And, as far as it goes, it’s not bad. He was all of that. And so much more.

    Paul Weyrich was a founding father of the modern conservative movement in America. And much that the movement once was and can one day be again, it owes to Paul’s genius, his diligence, and his obdurate refusal to bend with the prevailing wins and sacrifice principle to position, popularity, or profit.

    When I first met Paul, more than 30 years ago, Paul was as young, fresh-faced visionary who had little more than a dream and an inimitable determination to make that dream come true. Not just for himself (with Paul, it was never just for himself), but for his cause. And most of all for the country he loved long since, and we now in many ways have lost for a while.

    It is not stretching the truth in the slightest to say that Paul Weyrich invented boots-on-the-ground grassroots politics. His idea was that winning elections was essentially a numbers game; and that those who added up the numbers well before Election Day – and then made sure those numbers showed up at the polls – would emerge victorious.

    It’s kind of like what a gentleman named Barack Obama did a few short weeks ago. But, Paul, you see, conjured it up, laid it out – and made it work – three decades, and more, earlier. I recall him calling it “The Kasten Plan” (after a long-since departed Wisconsin senator). It should have been called “The Weyrich Plan.” But, that simply wasn’t Paul’s style.

    For those who aren’t aware of it, Paul was also one of the founders of The Heritage Foundation, along with fellow visionary Ed Fuelner. Long ago over lunch in a hole-in-the-wall Capitol Hill eatery (which was all either of us could afford back then), I asked Paul what his reasoning had been behind founding the now-prestigious think tank. Short and to the point, as he always was, Paul replied, “Because as conservatives, we need to win the battle for minds as well as hearts.”

    Enough said. And done. The soundness of Paul’s vision is stands today on Massachusetts Avenue, NE, as a monument to what one man in, and on, the right can mean to a nation now in the know.

    Paul is most famous among conservatives (and infamous among liberals) for his founding, and guiding the fortunes, of the Free Congress Foundation (FCF). The “Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress,” as FCF was known when I first met Paul, was the leading “action tank” of its day. It was there that “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” (and occasional sisters) met to plot the inner workings and outer manifestations of what would one day be known as the “Reagan Revolution.”

    And I have a feeling that somewhere on the Streets of Gold this morning, one of the first people to shake Paul’s hand was that towering figure of the former President with whom Paul worked not only in freeing Congress, but in freeing Eastern Europe, as well.

    Oddly enough, what I will always remember Paul most vividly, and gratefully, for was what some would consider not one of his greatest successes, but what some would see as a failure.

    In early 1980s, I become somewhat obsessed with the idea that conservatives had to have their own cable news and entertainment network. I sensed that we were losing the culture war, and that if that loss became profound, it would eventually subvert all of our political gains. Anyone who has since read Sumner Redstone’s autobiography will realize that he grasped the same concept from the other side of the political spectrum and succeeded disastrously (from a conservative vantage point) where we failed.

    Paul Weyrich was the only conservative leader who embraced the concept of a conservative cable network. And, despite a painful infirmity that would have sidelined a lesser man, he worked tirelessly day and night to bring that network to fruition. Thanks to Paul, it saw the light of day — only to fall to darkness through no fault of his own. For conservatives attuned to the culture war, that was “day the music died.” And we have paid a terrible price ever since.

    But, even with that “failure,” Paul Weyrich succeeded where others dared not even dream. Just as he had done with grassroots politicking, think tanks, and activist organizations, he set the tone and the pace for all who are willing to “march into hell for a heavenly cause.”

    So, farewell, my friend. Well done “thou good and faithful servant.” You left us far too soon, but your legacy lasts. And we who remain vow to write your epilogue in the deeds you would have done.

    Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News Bureau.


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