THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Richard Viguerie
Title: “The New Right,” Part II
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Once again today my guest is Richard Viguerie, regarded by many as perhaps the most astute and certainly the most persistent, determined young 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 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”. Mr. Viguerie isn’t at the moment a candidate for office. A few years ago he suggested he would run for vice president or even president of the United Sates if he were unsatisfied that the major parties had fielded a sufficiently dedicated conservative. But he does wield enormous power in the New Right, not as a namedropper, 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 views 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 is considered an absolute master of political direct-mail fundraiser. And where money goes, power goes too. To Richard Viguerie, called The Wall Street Journal “King of the right-wing political fundraisers”.
Mr. Viguerie thanks for joining me again today. I wanted us to be able to continue the part one of Richard Viguerie. And you know, we spoke last time, and I jotted down some notes, we spoke last time about your keen sense for organization, your new Right ability to learn lessons from the old left. Which is a rather intriguing proposition. Through single-mindedness and brilliant organization to achieve more than your immediate numbers warrant. And I would like to touch again upon the question of whether there isn’t something perhaps terribly undemocratic about this approach to life and politics. Isn’t it a bit scary to go beyond what the numbers justify at the moment?
Viguerie: First of all, Richard, I’m flattered that you’ve had me back, and thank you very much for this opportunity. I of course would challenge your statement that the new Right has gone beyond its numbers. I think with the election of Ronald Reagan we can see clearly that a significant majority of Americans are really frustrated and concerned and really want some solutions to turn things back from the left liberal excesses of the last 20 or more years.
Heffner: Well you know, in your book, this is where we really began with your new book.
Heffner: “The New Right: We are Ready to Lead”. I asked you last time, I got back to it again, about this fascinating suggestion, “We should live by the words of William James. A small force, if I never lets up, will accumulate effects more considerable than those of much greater forces if these work inconsistently”. You seem to be posing the notion that there are greater forces amongst greater numbers.
Viguerie: There are greater, more powerful forces out there, Richard. Clearly then what people in politics and the media has referred to as the New Right. I’m sorry to say that the big media, big education, big labor, big government, big business, if you would. I mean the power structure of this country really has a strong vested interest in big government. They very strongly opposed the election of Ronald Reagan all through the primaries and for 15 and a half years of his public life. Only when in the last few months when he was running against Jimmy Carter in the general election did some of these institutions support him or more or less go neutral. But the New Right has been strongly opposed since the beginning by the powerful elitist institutions of this country.
Heffner: But you know, it’s so strange how similar that sounds, what you’ve just said, sounds like the lamentations of the old left that talk about an establishment.
Viguerie: But it is the establishment. The old left is the establishment, really. Whether it’s in big education, the National Education Association, big labor, that is the old, that is the Hubert Humphreys and the Teddy Kennedys. That’s the Walter Mondale. That’s the old left out there. And they’re the ones that the people have rejected. They’re floundering. People have rejected their ideas. They’re not arguing among themselves trying to figure out where to go from here much like the Republicans were in say the 1930s, the 1940s. they were trying to give the people ideas and solutions to problems that were valid in the 1910s, 1920s, and the people didn’t want anything to do with them. So conservatives have had the new ideas today.
Heffner: It’s such a strange picture of a supine people willing over these years, as you suggest, to be manipulated by an establishment. That’s not saying very much for this country, for the Americans.
Viguerie: Well, I think that over a period of time the people clearly will wake up and recognize that they’re being moved in a direction that they’re not interested in being moved in. and that for a certain period of years I think that quite frankly we clearly have had the American people moved in a direction that they didn’t want to be moved in. somewhere starting in the 1960s with the explosion of big government, in runaway inflation and taxes and weaking of the military. You know, it’s the old thing, you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. And the liberals did fool most of the people for a short period of time, 20 years or so, but now I think the people have woken up and they’ve said, “Stop, enough”.
Heffner: You say 20 years. I remember back in the 1950s when Senator Joe McCarthy was so powerful. And he used to talk about “Twenty years of democratic treason”. Would that mean it’s been 40 years now or…
Viguerie: Actually Richard, I would put it more like maybe 16 years. Somewhere around the time that Lyndon Johnson became president with his great society. Because I remember so clearly when Johnson hadn’t been president very long, there were stories of him staying up late into the night playing games almost with the federal budget to keep it under a hundred billion, that he didn’t’ want to be the first president to go over a hundred billion. And now, what is it? We’re going over seven-hundred billion in 15 or 16 years. So I would date it somewhere probably around the mid-sixties where the great society just exploded and just moved into all facets of America’s life.
Heffner: Do you feel though that that was a function of – well, maybe the word “conspiracy” is too strong – but the function of a cabal, of that establishment that you were talking about?
Viguerie: No, I think they’re sincere, well-meaning people who feel that quite frankly they know how to run people’s lives better than the people know how to run their lives. And a lot of liberals really do feel that they know what’s best for people. Busing is a great example, Richard. They say it really, “In Washington we know best that it’s good for your child to get on a bus, go 30 miles one way to a school across town even though you live next door to a school”. It’s that elitist mentality that a lot of the big institutions , whether it’s big business, big labor, big education, they kind of have the feeling that they know what’s best.
Heffner: You’ve picked an issue that of course is one which you can draw upon a great deal of sympathy. I understand that. What do you do though when you relate yourself to the areas where the huge expenditures that you’ve talked about have gone, the jump from a hundred billion to seven-hundred billion. It didn’t occur in terms of busing, that occurred in terms of meeting what were perceived as social needs, were perceived as individual human beings’ needs.
Heffner: How are you going to address yourself to those? How does the New Right put itself, what’s its posture in relation to human suffering?
Viguerie: Well Richard, of course Americans are probably the most charitable, loving, giving, caring, feeling people in the history of the world. And we’re all supportive of taking care of those people who can’t take care of themselves. But I don’t believe that a 700 percent increase in the budget and of maybe doubling and tripling of taxes in the last 16 years or so can be justified because we have spent it on people who were really in terrible need 16 years ago but now they’re solving all their problems. I take a quote from the bible, “by their fruits ye shall know them”. And we have had 16 years of this liberal approach to governments throwing money at every single problem they can think of and almost every single problem you can identify has gotten worse. Racial strife has gotten worse. Black teenage unemployment used to be lower than white teenage unemployment 20 years ago. It was like seven, eight percent. Now it’s 40, 45 percent. So I think in terms of human suffering it’s the liberals’ approach that is causing the human suffering that we’re seeing in America today. And we need to get back to where we were maybe 20 years ago. Not completely, but in many, many of these areas.
Heffner: I’m interested again that you picked 20 years ago. You say 1960. Why 1960?
Viguerie: Well, that’s, as a conservative, I guess, Richard, I look upon the election of John Kennedy as the beginning of the movement heavily towards the left in American politics. John Kennedy was not near as liberal of course as his two younger brothers, Bobby and Teddy. But it was the beginning. You begin to see the more liberal Congress. You begin to see the liberals flex their muscles, if you would.
Heffner: One of the questions that I wanted to ask you last time and now I can do it on this particular program has to do with the world outside. And I wondered whether the new Right had adopted in any way that mid-American isolationism of not 20, but 40, 50 years ago. What is your posture?
Viguerie: Well, quite the contrary. I think that the New Right, the modern-day conservative, whether it’s a Bill Buckley or Ronald Reagan or Jesse Helms is anything but an isolationist. And I would really question that maybe today’s liberals are the isolationists. They seem to want to…they talk about, “We can’t be the policemen to the world. We must move back and almost have a fortress of America situation”. It is the conservatives that want to go out there and really help the people who say they’ve been enslaved by the Soviets. We want a presence in the world that will kind of draw the line against the soviets and say< “Quit brutalizing the world”. We’re very interested in the welfare of the people of the world. And it seems to me it’s the liberals that kind of like to say, “Well, we can’t really worry about the people in Afghanistan, Poland, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia. Let’s just kind of pull back because those events are out of our hands.
Heffner: You mean you’ve switched positions with the liberals when it comes to domestic and international policies?
Viguerie: Well, as far as military and presence as far as is really feeling that we can’t impact events beyond our shores, I guess things have changed. It was the liberals in…and there’s a great glory, quite frankly, Richard, in the ‘30s that they saw the evils and the dangers of Nazi Germany and it’s their everlasting shame that they don’t see the same evils in the Soviet Union.
Heffner: One of these concerns, of course, that’s been expressed many times relating to the New Right and to your various positions on individual issues has to do with the role of certain church leaders now, the role of Jerry Falwell for instance, and there are a number of other of those. What’s your own posture on mixing these elements together? You don’t’ like it, I gather, when they were mixed in the old liberal regime.
Viguerie: (Laughter) No, as a matter of fact, my only concern is to me, quite frankly, Richard, that the great hypocrisy of a lot of the liberals today in the country who say, “Isn’t it terrible that we have church leaders involved in politics”? And the hypocrisy of these people who have no problem with almost every liberal cause for the last 20, 30 years being led by liberal ministers. It was all right of the Reverend Robert Grelden of Massachusetts and Reverend Theodore Hesburg and New York’s Reverend Sloan Coffee and Martin Luther King and Reverend Andrew Jackson and Reverend Andy Young. All of these men, it was acceptable for them to participate in American politics. But somehow or another when the conservative ministers say, “Hey, enough’s enough. I want to, you know, help influence the direction of government also to a more conservative posture”. Then that becomes detrimental to the political process. And by the way, Richard, I think we have a long history in America of ministers getting involved in politics. In the founding of our country we had some great Protestant and Catholic religious leaders involved. The Civil War, the slavery issue. My gosh, a lot of the leadership came from the religious community saying, “Hey, enough’s enough. I mean this is, you can’t have slavery”. So a lot of our great crusades throughout our American history has been led by ministers.
Heffner: Don’t you think that the concern these days is not for the leadership role played by religious leaders, but rather by the organization of religious groups bringing them into and passing moral judgment upon by these groups politically on political issues?
Viguerie: Richard, I’m just going back to my previous statement that this is as American as apple pie. All through the ‘50s and ‘60s and into the ‘70s we had the liberal ministers and liberal politicians, a lot of the liberal media, talking in very religious terms about the Vietnam war and talk about it as immoral, it is against the Bible, if you would, to do this. And they would relate these tones to the ecological fight, to Vietnam, to civil rights. So this is just following in the path that the liberals have blazed, so to speak, as long as I’ve been in politics.
Heffner: You have accepted that path? You embraced it?
Viguerie: I recognized it for what it was, Richard. That I had a disagreement with their beliefs and their philosophy, but not with their tactics. I thought it was fine for them to participate because for 200 years ministers have been participating in leading some great moral fights here in America. I recognized that I had a problem with their philosophy but not with their tactics.
Heffner: What do you think will be the role now of Falwell and others like him in the next couple of years?
Viguerie: I see a significant increase, quite frankly, of religious people, conservative religious people getting involved in politics. I think that the pendulum swung so far to the left here where you had the Supreme Court saying abortion at any stage was fine, you had the politicians saying Congress can open with a prayer but schools can’t open with a prayer, where you have the enormous amount of sex and violence I the media that we have, television, movies. As long as this is going on, I think you’re going to see the religious leaders speaking out in ever-increasing numbers.
Heffner: You’re not suggesting that the Supreme Court had said, in terms of the individual members, that they embraced, personally embraced abortion, and that abortion was fine.
Viguerie: Oh, no. but, you know, that’s like saying, “I personally abhor slavery but it’s okay to have laws that allow everybody else to participate in slavery”. If a person is not willing to say that not only do I personally oppose abortion but I will do what I can to stop abortion. And you have to appreciate from a conservative standpoint we say abortion is murder and it is not an extension of the role of government in an individual’s life. It has long since been established that society has the power and in fact the responsibility to protect its citizens from murder.
Heffner: And the libertarians among you?
Viguerie: Well, not a lot of libertarians in the New Right. In fact, I don’t know any. There are probably three main areas out there in government life these days, that’s foreign policy, the economy, and what has become known as the social issues. And as far as I’m concerned the libertarians and the conservatives part company on two of the three. So that they’re probably, the libertarians are more comfortable with the liberals than they are with the conservatives.
Heffner: Doesn’t your folk hero, William Buckley, identify himself at times with libertarianism?
Viguerie: Oh, I think that there is a certain amount of libertarianism in everybody, a lot of your liberals. There are certain areas they don’t want the government involved. I think all of us draw the line somewhere where we don’t want the government involved in our lives.
Heffner: Where do you draw the line?
Viguerie: Basically, Richard, I’m a very traditional American, I guess, going back to Abraham Lincoln. And it’s a little bit of a cliché, but I think that it says it very well that Lincoln said, “Government should do for the people only that which they cannot do for themselves”. And so basically I just would like to see particularly the federal government really get out of people’s lives. And a lot of the things that they are doing, let’s say in education, let’s send that back to where it has been for almost 200 years, down to the state, cit, local school board levels. Let’s just get the government out of people’s lives and, as Ronald Reagan says, “Off their back and out of their pocket”.
Heffner: You know, going back to another of your themes, the power of the New Right, the widespread basis for it, there are those who say that contrary to what you have said and to what Jerry Falwell has said, it’s not that the media have underestimated the New Right, but that today the media, maybe this program right now, is overestimating the strength and the power of the New Right and indeed is overestimating the degree to which most Americans, not those who have been organized, not those who have necessarily been reached by you in your direct mail, but that most Americans are really as deeply concerned about the phrase that you say they are “Standing on their tippy-toes waiting to strike down the left”.
Viguerie: You know, Richard, I don’t disagree with you in a sense that the New Right has not claimed a lot of power or successes. We think we’ve had some role to play in the election of congressmen and senators and some small role in the election of the president. But the media has been claiming a lot more for us than we claim for ourselves. We’re very modest people.
Heffner: All right. In all modesty then, what would you say in terms of numbers? What’s the hardcore in terms of numbers of the New Right?
Viguerie: Well Richard, the New Right is not a mass-based political movement. Okay? The media has identified certain people who are involved in politics at local, state, or national levels who have a commitment, an enthusiasm if you would, to engage the liberals in political battle and to try to win. And quite frankly, over the years, just since I’ve been in politics until the last few years, the conservative movement didn’t have a lot of leaders who were out there working ten, twelve hours a day organizing strategy, using the new techniques, the new technology, whether it’s computers or direct mail or whatever it might be, to try and beat the left. It was kind of a nice little soft game almost, and occasionally the conservatives would win. More times than not they’d lose. So it’s just some leaders that are trying to give the American people an opportunity o express themselves.
Heffner; Now you’re starting to sound as if there’s nobody in here but us chickens.
Viguerie: (Laughter) Well, it’s certainly not what the media would have you believe, but it’s, we’ve got a long way to go. We think we’re just getting started . and I think we’ve gone about ten percent of the way. We’ve got most of our work ahead of us.
Heffner: Well, don’t you think your strength comes to some considerable extent from the fear of the liberal community and others who are somewhat in the middle perhaps that you are much stronger than perhaps you are?
Viguerie: Oh Richard, I think it’s always natural almost, if you would, to see your opponent as ten feet tall. You can always see your own warts and blemishes and pimples pretty easily but you always see the opposition as a giant.
Heffner: Okay. Two questions.
Viguerie: It’s seldom the case.
Heffner: All right. Two questions. How many feet tall right now are your opponents, the old left, and the people how are doing what you don’t want them to do?
Viguerie: You know, how can we really evaluate these things with any degree of precision? But I would say generally starting somewhere, I don’t know if it was in 1979 or 1980 or 1981, but somewhere around this period of time last year or two, the conservatives and the liberals begin to be somewhat equal in terms of resources and strengths and power, if you would. And for the next four years between now and the end of 1984, we’re going to see the liberals and the conservatives in America engaged in, I think, an historic fight to see who is going to govern America literally throughout the rest of this century and into the 21st century. And it hasn’t’ been a fair fight, I don’t feel, for the last 25, 30 years. Liberals had things pretty much their own – not entirely of course – but they had the momentum. They were the ones winning two out of every three elections. They had the big powerful institutions, the big government, big labor, big media, big education. They had all of that on their side. And now the conservatives, using a populist technique almost, the mails to a large extent, and you know, paid television, we’ve identified millions of people, brought them into the movement and given them an opportunity to speak out. And now the people are supporting the conservatives, the liberals are being financed mostly by the federal government and by com0pulsory union dues and now we’re beginning to see a fair fight, particularly it will be a lot more fair when the taxpayers don’t have to finance a lot of the liberal organizations they’ve been financing all these years.
Heffner: And you think that the big fight will come in the congressional elections of ’82 and then the next presidential?
Viguerie: And then I think, Richard, you’ll know whether the liberals, really this was just a temporary aberration, the rise of the conservative movement in the last few years, and it is, liberals are going to continue to govern for the next 20 years, or whether this is the last gasp of the left. And we’re going to have to do what the conservatives did in the Thirties and regroup and it might be 30, 40 years before we recover.
Heffner: Don’t you anticipate that they’re doing that right now?
Viguerie: Yes, but I’m not sure they’re, they’ve come to grips with reality. I think there’s still that aspect of the left that is saying, “We were hurt primarily because of Jimmy Carter. It was Jimmy Carter’s personality. It wasn’t our ideas, our issues, our beliefs”. I think they’re significantly out of touch with America and they’re not willing to come to grips with that yet.
Heffner: But certainly they recognize what they have to deal with Richard Viguerie and his direct-mail campaign. And I want to thank you for joining me again on this program. I think this book, “The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead” is quite fascinating. And a couple years from now I’ll get you back here. Tanks again.
Viguerie: Thank you for having me.
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.”