THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Richard Viguerie
Title: “The New Right,” Part I
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. My guest today is Richard Viguerie, regarded by many as perhaps the most astute and certainly the most persistent, determined, and directed leader of the country’s new right, the strong and well-focused conservative movement. Focused on the singular issues Mr. Viguerie deems essential to the well-being of our nation. Pro-right to the life, anti-equal rights amendment, anti-gun control, anti-forced busing, anti-affirmative action, pro-prayers in school, pro-tax cuts, pro-budget cuts, pro-military superiority, pro-right to work. As his friend Jerry Falwell indicates, Richard Viguerie represents middle-class Americans who are tired of big government, big business, big labor, and big education, telling us what to do and what not to do. Well, Mr. Viguerie isn’t at the moment a candidate for office, though a few years ago he suggested he would run for vice president or even president of the united states if he weren’t satisfied that the major parties had fielded a sufficiently dedicated conservative. But he does wield enormous power in the new right. Not as a name dropper, but as a name lister. His compilations of the names of American conservatives who can be reached by direct mail to support and contribute to one or another, and then perhaps to all together of the many single issues that make up the new right, make him in turn conservatism’s extraordinarily powerful adjunct. Because he knows computers, knows how to program them with the names of potential contributors to new right issues, he knows how to wring every last cent from them with messages that touch upon the many frustrations of contemporary life, he’s considered an absolute master of political direct-mail fundraising. Where money goes, power goes too. To Richard Viguerie, called by The Wall Street Journal, and by the New York Times at other times too, “king of the right-wing political fundraisers”. Mr. Viguerie, thank you for joining me today.
Viguerie: My pleasure.
Heffner: I appreciate your willingness to come and talk about conservatism generally, and perhaps your new book, The New Right: They’re Ready to Lead. I might note that I was rather surprised in reading The New Right that your brand of conservatism seems almost as negative about the business community in America as it does about labor and ERA and traditional politicians and so forth. I notice in the book here, you said, “Despite its enormous material productiveness, the business community as a whole has proved itself lacking in the moral fiber America so desperately needs in order to survive and prosper”. Is that a fair statement – you wrote it yourself – a fair statement of your attitude toward the business?
Viguerie: I think so. There are things that I agree with on big business. I and the new right. But there’s a lot of problems that we have with a lot of the big businessmen of this country. I think that they are all too willing to sacrifice a lot of principles in order to make another dollar. Trade with the Soviets. They seem to be enormously anxious to trade with the Soviet Union, to advertise in pornographic publications, promote sex and violence on television, in the media. and it just seems like they’re like Lenin, Richard. You know, Lenin was said, was reputed to have said that big businessmen would sell, would vie for the contract to sell the communist the rope to hang the capitalists with, and the last of the capitalists would vie for the privilege of selling the communists the rope to hang themselves with. And it seems like in the 1980s capitalists are still, you know, vying for the right to destroy the values that we hold so dear in this country.
Heffner: Does that mean that the new right has cut itself off from big business and from big labor?
Viguerie: Well, it’s not a question of cutting ourselves off. We’ve never really had a lot in common with big business. More times than not, Richard, the new right sees big business, quite frankly, as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Big business isn’t always that much in favor of competition. They’re not really all that excited about cutting the budget. Maybe they want to cut somebody else’s part of the budget, but their part of the budget, they enjoy. They’ve got a nice sweetheart arrangement, quite frankly, with big government. And we see big business as part of the problem. We have, our causes are not financed by big business. It’s an occasional and very, very rare big business person who will support a new right candidate or cause. We receive our money from the individual contribute giving ten, 25 dollars.
Heffner: that’s what I was just going to ask you. You say, “We, we, we”. Who are “we”?
Viguerie: Who are we? Dick, the new right is conservatives who have been here for many years, who are no different than the conservatives of the ‘50s or the ‘60s, except six, seven, eight years ago they began, some of them, to meet and talk about who we’re always losing. We’re getting 35 percent of the votes on election day, or 40 percent, 45, seldom getting 51 percent. And we just got tired of losing. We began to analyze the left. How was the left successful? Why were they winning elections? And so we developed an aggressiveness about our attitudes. We began to duplicate the institutions, the organizations, the structures of the left and apply them. And we’ve been so successful that now the left is duplicating us.
Heffner: Aren’t you a little bit afraid when you imitate quiet so many of the tactics and strategies of the left that you may yourself become enmeshed in those?
Viguerie: (Laughter) Technology is neutral, it’s morally neutral. It works for anybody. And we, setting up single-issue groups, is very proper. In fact, the liberals have the power that they have now and have had for many, many years because they went out there and organized special interest groups. In the ‘50s it was the civil rights groups. In the ‘60s, Vietnam. In the ‘70s, ecology. And about the middle of the ‘70s the conservatives realized that we had a lot of people out there who were concerned about abortion, giving away the Panama Canal, prayer in school, busing. Neither of the two major parties were speaking out on these issues. So we began to look for people who were leaders in these areas and bring them into kind of a cohesive movement.
Heffner: But weren’t you concerned in the ‘50s and the ‘60s and the ‘70s perhaps with what I might call the morality of the single-issue approach to things, and the success of that approach, when it was left-oriented?
Viguerie: Well, I wasn’t opposed to having single-issue groups; I oppose the philosophy, the ideology of these groups. But I had no problem with the existence of single issue groups. I thought that was healthy, to give an opportunity for people who otherwise had no way to vent their frustrations. We’ve got to have some way that people can express themselves. And if there is not an existing organization, almost certainly someone is going to start one to represent these people.
Heffner: How do you relate that, Mr. Viguerie, to a traditional approach? Let’s go back to the founders, who saw the necessity for voiding, in a sense, the single issue, who saw the necessity for a larger public interest, total public interest oriented approach to politics?
Viguerie: Well, Richard, I think, for the most part the political parties for most of the first 200 years of our history, our country’s existence, the parties took strong stands on the issues. You know, free silver and the land issue, and interest rates. And throughout our history the political parties have gotten heavily involved in issues. But for some reason or another, the last 20, 30 years, we’ve got a lot of technocrats or whatever it seems to be running political parties. And the political party is becoming very bland, and they just don’t’ want to get involved in quote-unquote controversial issues. Take the Panama Canal for instance. All the polls that I saw showed that 65, 70, maybe 75 percent of the people opposed the giveaway of the Panama Canal. If you just polled Republicans, sometimes it might go up to 80, 85 percent of the Republicans opposed to the giveaway of the Panama Canal. But what was the Republican Party’s position on the Panama Canal? Nothing. They didn’t want anything to do with it. They didn’t want to touch the issue. Well there’s a lot of Republicans that feel very strong about that. How are they supposed to express themselves? So the parties have nobody to blame but themselves, because they just walked away from these issues.
Heffner: Does that mean you’ve repudiated the leadership of the Republican Party?
Viguerie: No, no, no, no nope. I’m a big two-party fan, and only out of frustration have I and others at various times thought it would be good to have a third party, when the two parties seem to be controlled by people who have a moderate or a left-of-center perspective, and the majority of Americans being conservatives, from all the polls that I’ve seen, had no place to express themselves. But no, I am a fan of the two-party system, and would hate to see America get away from that.
Heffner: yet when there has been a consensus approach to American politics, it has been a consensus approach that you haven’t really liked very much. How do you explain that then?
Viguerie: Well, the consensus is, when people who are moderates, establishment types, get together with other moderate or liberal establishment types, and they strike a balance there. It’s Gerry Ford, the day he became president, offered Congress the four Cs. I forget what they all were. Let’s see. Compromise, consensus, conciliation. In other words, we’ll work it out, no matter what the liberal Congress comes up with, we’ll compromise there. And the conservatives said, “We challenge that. We challenge the premise of these organizations and these institutions. Maybe we think that some of these institutions shouldn’t exist. Not just that we want to decrease the funding five, ten, 15 percent”. And what the conservatives have done in the new right, Richard, is to actually start a battle, I guess, a fight. There’s a saying that the man that strikes the second blow starts the fight. And if the man, one man is pushing another and he’s not shoving back there‘s no real fight. So we have said we’re sorry, we disagree with high taxes and big, wasteful government and a weak military. And sure, that’s a problem, because the establishment is not used to having an effective different voice.
Heffner: You’ve said in your new book that others than the conservatives are going to have one hell of a tough time in the 1980s. do you see the future belonging to you and your friends on the new right?
Viguerie: Richard, I could be talking through my hat or smoking something (which I don’t), but I think that the conservatives are poised to really be in the driver’s seat in the 1980s. the last 50 years almost has belonged to the liberals. And for, oh, I guess overconfidence, which is understandable, somewhere around the mid1960s, let’s say, they began to kind of rest and relax, and not keep up with the new technology, etcetera. So it now, because of things like, say, John Andersen, if he decides to start a third party, it’s going to take a lot of money and manpower away from the liberal Democrats. The popular issues belong to the conservatives. It used to be the popular issues were with the liberal Democrats. Now the conservatives have the popular issues. We’re concerned about reducing taxes, reducing the size of government, rearming America, the popular social issues. The leadership; conservatives didn’t have very many leaders for many, many years. During the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, the liberals had the leaders like Hubert Humphrey and Rockefeller and Walter Reuther and Adlai Stevenson. Now these gentlemen are mostly dead, or leaders like Joe Raugh who has led the liberals beautifully for many years, is at a point where he’s about to retire. And the conservatives have their young leadership. People like Warren Hatch and Jesse Helms and Mickey Edwards and Howard Phillips and Terry Dole and Paul Lark, just coming on the scene. People in their thirties and forties. So it’s the conservatives that are going to have a full team of leaders on the field, and the liberals are going to be hurting. So a number of things are happening now to indicate that for the next few years the liberals might have a tough time competing with the conservatives.
Heffner: Well, you know, you talk about leadership. And I was interested in particular that you say about old leadership of the new right, you said, “Two men are more responsible than any other for the strength and vitality of conservatism in America today”. And one of those is Bill Buckley. Why?
Viguerie: Oh my gosh, it would take an entire book, not just a chapter, to list the contributions of bill Buckley to the conservative cause and movement in this country. Bill is a unique person. I think he’s had a foot in both camps, so to speak, in the sense that he is a spokesman and a leader. It came to me late in life that there is a difference between a spokesman and a leader. They do different things. It’s not that one is good and the other is bad. We need both of them. But a lot of people that we have thought of as leaders were really just very articulate spokesmen. They weren’t really leaders. Okay? And Buckley has been both. He’s been a spokesman and a leader. He ran for mayor here. He calls meetings and organizes activities, helped start the New York conservative party, helped start Young Americans for Freedom, initiated a lot of conservative opposition to Richard Nixon. In other words, he has been a renaissance man, if you would. He does all things.
Heffner: Do you feel that he’ll continue to be identified with the various issues that you’ve put together on the new right?
Viguerie: Oh, I don’t know that any conservative issue, any conservative leader agrees with every other conservative issue leader on all the issues. For instance, Bill Buckley disagreed with most conservatives on the Panama Canal. I disagree with most of my associates and colleagues on the death penalty. I oppose the death penalty. And I believe in strict law enforcement and putting repeat offenders under the jail, so to speak, get them off the streets. So, you know, Bill agrees with us on most issues, but I’m sure not on all the issues. And I don’t agree with all conservatives on all issues either.
Heffner: do you think that the conservatives, your friends, the new right group, will be able to stay within the Republic party?
Viguerie: Oh, with…well, let me say that, only speaking for myself, I am not a Republican. I am an independent. I feel very comfortable that way. In fact, I guess almost 40 percent or 35 percent of the American people identify themselves with me in the sense of being an independent. Not all of them are conservatives, but almost a third of the Americans consider themselves independent. But I take the attitude that conservatives should work within both of the major parties, the Democratic Party or Republican Party. And I look for that day when it really doesn’t matter all that much on the November election day whether a conservative or Republican is elected. Excuse me, Republican or Democrat’s elected. Only is the person that’s elected a Conservative. And that’s what I’m working towards, so that the Democratic Party will be conservative, and the Republican Party will be conservative.
Heffner: Yeah, but you were talking before about what…
Heffner: …had happened with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee nature of the parties. Wont’ that happen again then?
Viguerie: Well, that may very well be so, but I’m going to let some…
Heffner: But is he on your side?
Viguerie: Right. I’m going to let some liberal worry about how to, you know…I’ve stayed up nights, and my friends, for 25 years trying to change it around. Let somebody else stay up nights and try to figure out how to change the conservative leadership of this country.
Heffner: Well, in staying up nights, I’m so interested, before you mentioned Lenin. And in your book you say, “We should live by the words of William James”. And when I read this, I couldn’t help but think of Lenin, and Stalin, and the communists in the ‘30s, when I grew up, who were so good at organization, so good at taking over, although there were just a handful of them. “A small force,” you quote William James,” if it never lets up, will accumulate effects more considerable than those of much greater forces if these work inconsistently”. Isn’t there something that might lead some people to say, “Hey, that’s unfair”.
Viguerie: Uh hum.
Heffner: “It isn’t respectful of majority rule. It is respectful only of getting power and using it where and as you can”.
Viguerie: No, it’s unfortunate, Richard, but most great political movements throughout history, the masses are not involved. Most times you’ll find a relatively small number of people who will move civilizations or countries one way or another. Our own country here, we won our freedom from England 200 years ago because, not because of millions of hundreds or tens of thousands; it was a handful of people. Now, take away a Franklin, a Jefferson, a Washington, you know, Adams, a dozen men, and we might still be a colony of Great Britain today. So throughout history it’s been that way. Hopefully, you’ll have the small number of people who will be involved will be men who have the best of motives and are guided by the highest motivations.
Heffner: What happens when men who don’t have the best of motives do have your computerized mailing lists and are clever at writing direct-mail advertisements for candidates and issues?
Viguerie: If the people can’t see through the errors of their ways, then you’re going to have things like you have in the Soviet Union where a handful of people control large numbers. But I and the conservatives are tapping a great concern out there. We’re not able to cause people to participate in the political scene except if the people share our concerns, they are really concerned about high taxes and wasteful spending and the people abusing the welfare system and our weak military. So we are just able to do what we do because we represent a large number of people who share our concerns.
Heffner: What’s going to happen with what you call in your book, The New Right, you talk about the Republican Uncle Toms. What’s going to happen to those Uncle Toms? Have they just died off?
Viguerie: what I was saying there, Richard, was that there are, have been in the past, a lot of people in the Republican party, quite frankly, who really didn’t care to work all that hard in the course of a day and hold a lot of meetings and develop a lot of plans to replace the liberal Democrats. They had a nice little…
Viguerie: Well, I don’t know that it’s all that helpful to articulate specific names. Bt a large part of the leadership of the Republican party hasn’t got up early in the morning and said, “What six things can I do today to turn things around and to elect people who agree with me?” The new right has been criticized by some people because they say we’re shrill, we’re outside of the mainstream. And what they’re saying, quite frankly, is that we are effective, much like the segregationists of the South. They used to say, “Oh, gosh, I love the black people. Some of my best friends are blacks. But it’s these new young radicals that make me nervous. People like Martin Luther King and Andy Young”. What they were saying is, “I’ve got a nice little setup right there. And these people like Martin Luther King are effective, and they’re going to change this sytem”. Okay? And that’s what the new right is doing. We are effective in defeating liberal congressmen and liberal senators and passing conservative legislation, defeating liberal legislation. And this makes the establishment nervous. They’ve got a nice little arrangement here. Bit business all tied in with big labor and big education with big government. And the new right is effective in changing that, and it’s making the establishment nervous.
Heffner: Where does Ronald Reagan fit into the establishment?
Viguerie: Oh, no. that’s what we work for. Not at all. I almost sometimes feel like the establishment myself. The way that, people just treat us different now since the conservatives have won. And I feel very comfortable. we’ve worked hard to be part of the establishment that’s running the country. We’re hardly in that position now, but you can see things beginning to change. You can see people beginning to be open to conservatives’ ideas. Before it used to be holding supply side economics ideas, you were radical. Even George Bush said it was voodoo economics, right? And all of a sudden it’s the establishment, it’s the middle ground.
Heffner: You had said before you went on the air that you had revised this book considerably now before you put it out again, that you had written it to come out, I guess, last summer. Well, it’s a little past mid-April, 1981 now. And so I go back to the new issue of your book, the new edition of your book, and you say “I sense a danger that President Reagan may be making a similar mistake by underestimating the importance of these conservative supporters”. And I wonder whether you subscribe to those words today.
Viguerie: That’s an astute observation, Richard, because…
Heffner: On your part or mine?
Viguerie: On your part. Because I wrote those words maybe four months ago. And yes, I have a significantly different opinion today of President Reagan than I did just four months ago. By the hour I’m falling in love with the man. And I’ve always been an admirer of his, but I haven’t been his number one supporter out there. Okay? I felt that, I was concerned about his really toughness to stay with the issues once he would have gotten to Washington, is the liberal establishment going to pull him to the left? And I just, I’m enamored with the man, I’m just, he’s got an inner strength and toughness there that I had not previously seen. And not only myself, but just every conservative I know has just got a big grin on their face these days and very pleasantly surprised with Ronald Reagan. Couldn’t be happier.
Heffner: does that mean that you think he won’t continue in the mold of, let’s say, Jerry Ford, attempting to…
Heffner: …reestablish the consensus, attempting, let’s say, to do business with the Russians, attempting to let détente develop further?
Viguerie: Well, I think he’s, it’s become very clear in the first hundred-plus days of his administration that he’s not going to have business as usual, that he’s very serious about turning things around, if not 180 degrees, very close to that. He’s made it very clear that his election, he said, was a mandate for some changes, and he’s going to give the American people, he’s going to be an unusual politician. Most politicians, or most people that ran for office for the president, starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, campaign as a conservative and move left. FDR beat about the head and shoulders poor Herbert Hoover for not having a balanced budget, and gosh, became one of the world’s great spenders. And Reagan is an honest politician. He’s campaigned as a conservative, and he’s having a conservative administration . Refreshing.
Heffner: How do you explain that fact that long after Franklin Roosevelt developed as he did, Ronald Reagan made him his hero?
Viguerie: well, there are, anybody who has a major public life, as FDR did, is not going to do everything wrong. There are going to be some good qualities of anybody’s public life. And I think it’s appropriate to point out those parts, those positive parts of FDR’s public life that Ronald Reagan agrees with. And I think it’s constructive. It helps bring people together rather than divide people.
Heffner: Richard Viguerie, we’ve come to the end of our half hour. And I hope that you’re going to come back before the 1982 Congressional campaign, or in the midst of it, and talk about your feelings then about Republicans and Democrats, and see what you have to say about national leadership at that time.
Viguerie: I’d love to. Thank you.
Heffner: Thanks so much for joining me today.
Viguerie: My pleasure.
Heffner: And thanks too, to you in the audience. I hope that you’ll join us again next time here on The Open Mind. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”