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Wednesday, July 1, 1981

A Reviewers Notebook: The New Right

Ideas, said the late Richard Weaver, have consequences. But, when it comes to working their way through society, it normally takes at ]east a generation for ideas to flower in effective action.

Richard A. Viguerie, who runs a most successful computerized direct mail solicitation company, is an action man. He figures his time has now come. The main emphasis of his book, The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead (Caroline House, 186 pp., $8.95), which has an introduction by Moral Majoritarian Rev. Jerry Fal-well, is on the art of piecing together an action-dominated coalition to win elections and undo the past half-century of bad lawmaking. Yet it is the mark of Viguerie’s intelligence that he mentions Richard Weaver quite early in the book.

Viguerie is history-minded as well as action-dominated. It is a good combination, for it provides reassurance that the actions of the so-called New Right will be soberly considered, both for pacing and for placement in a scheme of priorities. The New Right is hungry for a lot of things, such as action on the “social issues” of abortion, prayer in the schools and “pro-family” legislation, but it isn’t asking the President or Congress to derail the big issues of inflation, taxation, the money supply and the need to confront Soviet expansion, which have obvious priority if we are to continue at all as a free society.

I like Mr. Viguerie’s book because it tells a lot of new things about the current organization of conservative and libertarian groups in Washington and around the country without ignoring their historic antecedents. In telling the story of his own genesis Viguerie shows how the New Right evolved out of the Old Right. He began by taking a job with Young Americans for Freedom in the early Nineteen Sixties, working with Marvin Liebman on money-raising. He called on people like oil man J. Howard Pew, former New Jersey governor Charles Edison and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker for contributions, and found them affably disposed. But, as a shy person, he did not feel comfortable in asking for money directly. He started writing letters instead, and so discovered his true metier. He has been at it ever since.

Libertarian and Conservative Foundations of the New Right

The early contacts with Bill Rusher, Bill Buckley and Marvin Liebman in New York gave Vi- guerie, who began his political life as an Eisenhower supporter in Texas, some ideas about the nascent conservative movement. In an appreciative chapter called “The Foundations of the New Right” Viguerie pays homage to a whole host of early libertarians and conservatives, from Human Events publisher Frank Hanighen and National Review editor Bill Buckley to Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, Frank Chodorov, Whittaker Chambers, Milton Friedman, Stanton Evans, Congressman Walter Judd and others.

His ideas were well in order before he realized that his mission in life was to take libertarianism and conservatism out of the talking stage. There were coalitions to be made that would transform the Goldwater minority of 1964 into the Reagan majority of 1980. But first there must come a mastery of techniques making use of the communication marvels of the electronic age, beginning with the computer, the Xerox machine, radio and TV itself.

Viguerie began his direct mail business in 1965 in the most laborious way, with one employee and a contributor list of 12,500 names. He got the list by going to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, who had on file the names and addresses of everybody who had given $50 or more to the Goldwater campaign. The law would not permit anyone to make a photo copy of the list, so Viguerie started writing names and addresses down by hand. After a couple of weeks during which his fingers became numb he hired several women to finish the job for him. Without this list, he says, he wouldn’t be in business today.

Curiously, Senator George McGovern beat Viguerie to the punch in realizing the potency of direct mail. But McGovern had other things to do where Viguerie could spend eighty hours a week on his specialty. The first big Viguerie fees came from a direct mail campaign to raise enough money to pay Alabama Governor George Wallace’s political debts. Wallace seemed more Populist than conservative to Viguerie, who was still looking for an activist movement on which to spend his enthusiasm along with the money he had already earned.

The search for a second generation of conservatives—the true New Right—led Viguerie to people whose names are still not widely known to readers of the so-called Establishment press. This second generation includes Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, Terry Dolan, Lee Edwards, Morton Blackwell, Alan Gottlieb, Reed Larson, Edwin Feulner, Dan Popeo, Lew Uhler and David Den-holm. Weyrich heads the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, Dolan is the energizing spirit of NCPAC, or “Nicpac” which is short for the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Reed Larson is the indefatigable boss of the Right to Work Committee.

Common Interests Lead to a Winning Combination

Together, the New Rightists began to meet for informal luncheons. They had four things in common. The first was a belief in technical ability—direct mail and mass media manipulation. The second was a willingness to work for each other’s ideas without discrimination. The third was a conviction that philosophy must always come before party. And the fourth was an unquenchable optimism that a Fabianism-in-reverse campaign would ultimately turn America away from collectivist delusions.

Using direct mail in unprecedented fashion, the New Right has run off an impressive list of victories. Viguerie and his friends couldn’t stop the treaty that gave away the Panama Canal. But the campaign they fought to keep the canal brought Ronald Reagan back into public consciousness in a way that made his 1980 presidential nomination inevitable. Terry Dolan’s NCPAC wrote 10,000 leading Republicans urging them to tell Senator Howard Baker that a pro- treaty vote would end his presidential hopes. Howard Phillips’ Conservative Caucus mailed three million letters on the canal issue. This stirring of the waters was instrumental in creating majorities that have changed the whole complexion of the United States Senate. The first-time Senatorial winners for the New Right came in 1978, when Gordon Humphrey beat long-time incumbent Tom McIntyre in New Hampshire, Bill Armstrong won in Colorado, John Warner in Virginia and Alan Simpson in Wyoming. In 1980 came even more impressive victories, with New Right candidates ousting McGovern, Frank Church, Birch Bayh and other old wheel horses of the Left.

Coalition building by direct mail communication is at the bottom of the Viguerie success. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell brought his Moral Majority to Viguerie’s side, it assured Reagan of his election. Now Viguerie is worried by Reagan’s failure to appoint more New Rightists to high office. The failure won’t make any practical difference: The Left has run out of galvanizing ideas, and Reagan will insist on his own tax and budget cutting programs. The important thing for Viguerie and the New Right is that they are ten years ahead of the Left in organizational ability—and in the possession of key mailing lists.

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.