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Paul Weyrich, a key strategist of the New Right, passed away on December 18, 2008. He was 66 years old. Sometimes referred to as a “pillar of the modern conservative movement,” Weyrich’s legacy includes cofounding the Heritage Foundation in 1973, pioneering direct-mail fundraising campaigns, and coining the phrase “the moral majority” in 1979, which was later picked up by the Rev. Jerry Falwell to describe the alliance of religious and social conservatives he helped fashion in the 1980s. 1 Weyrich was a member of the secretive, influential Council for National Policy (CNP) and founder of the Free Congress Foundation, which was described by one writer as "an army of well-financed, loyal ideologues, each occupying a place in the power structure and with enough reach to turn ideas into policy." 2
Weyrich’s death was widely noted. David Keene of the American Conservative Union told the Washington Post, “Paul Weyrich was conservative long, long before it was cool. He had little time for moderates or those who simply gave lip service to the values he held dear. His goal was to recruit conservatives, train them both ideologically and in campaign techniques and send them off to do battle with the liberals who dominated Washington in those days. He could be ornery, but he accomplished more than almost anyone of his generation." 3
The New York Times eulogized, “A writer, a lobbyist, and an organizer on behalf of conservative causes and especially social conservatism, Mr. Weyrich … was one of the far right’s most unbending ideologues.” 4
With funds from Colorado beer magnate Joseph Coors and newspaper publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, Weyrich cofounded the Heritage Foundation with Edwin Feulner in 1973 to serve as a counterweight to the Brookings Institution. 5 As Matthew Bai reported, “Determined to foster conservative scholarship and get it into the hands of like-minded policy makers, Weyrich and his compatriots were driven by a single, overarching conviction that grew out of the Goldwater campaign in 1964: government needed to be stingier at home and tougher abroad." 6
Weyrich served as a treasurer of the CNP, a group whose members have included several of the right’s leading financial supporters and political operatives, including Jeffrey Bell, Jack Kemp, Edwin Meese, Richard Allen, and Tommy Thompson. Notorious for its efforts to shield itself from the media, CNP regularly holds invitation-only conferences behind closed doors. In 2004, the New York Times reported: “Three times a year for 23 years, a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country have met behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference, the Council for National Policy, to strategize about how to turn the country to the right.” Added the Times, “‘The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before or after a meeting,’ a list of rules obtained by the New York Times advises the attendees. The membership list is ‘strictly confidential.’ Guests may attend ‘only with the unanimous approval of the executive committee.’ In e-mail messages to one another, members are instructed not to refer to the organization by name, to protect against leaks.” 7
Early in the first George W. Bush administration, Weyrich viewed the right as a juggernaut, saying at a meeting of his Free Congress Foundation, "There are 1,500 conservative radio talk show hosts. You have Fox News. You have the Internet, where all the successful sites are conservative. The ability to reach people with our point of view is like nothing we have ever seen before." 8
However, Weyrich often expressed skepticism about the efficacy of conservative organizing and criticized Republican Party members whose views differed from his own. He once told the Los Angeles Times, "Look at the National Endowment for the Arts as a prototype. Here's a piddling little organization—about $100 million budget out of a $2 trillion budget—and rather inconsequential in national significance. Republicans surely could have been able to shut that down given the fact that it had offended many, many people with the kind of art it had subsidized. But the culture overwhelmed the political process. Why? Because upper-crust, suburban Republican women in the districts of Republican congressmen defended the filth." 9
His views on social policies often veered to the hard right, sometimes putting him in opposition to mainstream conservatives. Remarking on the failure of the right to impose its values in public institutions, Weyrich promoted a separation from secular America, proposing “a separatist strategy as a way to build enclaves with parallel institutions such as ‘schools, media, entertainment, universities’ from which to continue the culture wars—essentially ‘creating a new society within the ruins of the old.’” 10
Weyrich was also an unabashed Cold Warrior who championed aggressively rolling back the Soviet Union. In a 1983 interview, he said, “Defense is a moral issue. There are some things worse than war. One is surrender—the moral consequences are such that the nation would be destroyed. Since I believe in eternal life, if it became necessary to sacrifice my life for my country or my beliefs, well, then I’m willing to do so. The people who have come up with the better-red-than-dead idea are not believers.” 11
With the end of the Cold War, however, Weyrich’s views on national security drifted toward the non-confrontationalism of old-guard conservatism. In an August 2008 editorial, for example, Weyrich bemoaned the Bush administration’s failure to draw closer to Russia and argued that the administration should have supported Russian membership in NATO, which he believed could have preempted the Russia-Georgia conflict. He wrote, “Must Russia be our enemy? If it were, would we be prepared to fight another war? I don’t have the answers but it seems to me we must begin to think outside the box. Surely we must have new advisers with new thinking. The alternative is to risk sinking into the abyss of a new war with Russia. Do we need this? No.” 12
After the 9/11 attacks, Weyrich opposed many of the policies pushed by neoconservatives and other hardliners in and out of the Bush administration, including the invasion of Iraq. According to Charles Ganske of the conservative Discovery Institute, “Weyrich's critique of America's moral direction … led him to differ with other Washington, D.C. conservatives about foreign policy, particularly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.… Weyrich publically expressed doubts about the wisdom of the Iraq War and declared that he hoped to plant the seeds for the revival of the American republic even as he feared that the ‘American empire’—in financial, cultural and military terms—was in a state of collapse.” 13
1. Patricia Sullivan, “A Father of Modern Conservative Movement,” Washington Post, December 19, 2008.
2. Matt Bai, "Notion Building," New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003.
3. Patricia Sullivan, “A Father of Modern Conservative Movement,” Washington Post, December 19, 2008.
4. Bruce Weber, "Paul Weyrich, 66, A Conservative Strategist, Dies,” New York Times, December 19, 2008.
5. Matt Bai, "Notion Building," New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003.
6. Matt Bai, "Notion Building," New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003.
7. David D. Kirkpatrick, “The 2004 Campaign: The Conservatives; Club of the Most Powerful Gathers in Strictest Privacy,” New York Times, August 28, 2004.
8. Matt Bai, "Notion Building," New York Times Magazine, October 12, 2003.
9. Quoted in Patricia Sullivan, “A Father of Modern Conservative Movement,” Washington Post, December 19, 2008.
10. Political Research Associates, “Paul Weyrich,” http://www.publiceye.org/theocrat/Fissures_99.html.
11. Bruce Weber, "Paul Weyrich, 66, A Conservative Strategist, Dies,” New York Times, December 19, 2008.
12. Paul Weyrich, “Russia Should Have Been Part of NATO,” Newsmax, August 20, 2008.
13. Charles Ganske, “Remembering Paul Weyrich: Biography,” Discovery Institute, December 26, 2008, http://www.russiablog.org/2008/12/paul_weyrich_rip.php.