VTR Date: April 11, 1984
Guest: Viguerie, Richard
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THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Richard Viguerie
Title: “Re-electing Reagan”
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. Now, if I don’t stop inviting Richard Viguerie to be my guest on THE OPEN MIND or on my other weekly program, FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK, some people may say that I share his politics and policies. And I don’t. But I do delight in his always brilliant articulation of new right ideas, and I’m always in awe of the skill he’s displayed in raising money for conservative causes, leading The Wall Street Journal, of course, to title him “King of the Right-Wing Political Fundraisers”. Richard Viguerie’s new book The Establishment Versus The People, has just been published by Regnory Gateway, and the question it poses, “Is a new populist revolt on the way?” continues to merit our closest concern, particularly since at times it seems to connect Mr. Viguerie of the new right with those of the old left who might agree with his belief that before long average Americans will rise in revolt against the concentration of political power in the hands of the establishment, and that power will come to our nation’s most neglected class: people who work for a living.
Mr. Viguerie, thanks again for joining me here on THE OPEN MIND.
VIGUERIE: It is always a pleasure, Dick.
HEFFNER: Well, you know, I don’t think that most of us had identified you and the new right and conservatism with this populist theme. And The Establishment Versus The People, as we’ve talked about it before, is a fascinating endeavor on your part, in my mind, to make a connection between yourself and those old radicals of the past. How do you account for it?
VIGUERIE: Well, Richard, it occurred to me a few years ago, and a lot of my friends, colleagues, associates said, “Republicans come and go here in America, and sometimes Republicans win, sometimes Democrats win, sometimes liberals win, sometimes even conservatives win. But the big boys, the establishment, always wins”. And it really came as a shock after a year or so of the Reagan administration looking around and seeing that we’d had an election, it was supposed to be a revolutionary election, watershed election here. And what was really different? We had deficits that would have been inconceivable even under Jimmy Carter’s administration. We had trade ongoing with the Soviet Union, we were bailing out the big banks, we weren’t paying much attention to crime, drugs, pornography, violence in schools, schools that didn’t teach, quotas, affirmative action. The issues that Reagan campaigned so hard on in 1980, most of them were kind of gone by the wayside and we were dealing with a lot of Wall Street’s issues and not very many of Main Street’s issues. So I began to realize that there is an elite establishment out there, an old boy network, and Republicans and Democrats are all part of it. And people at the grassroots level, they’re kind of left out of the whole process.
HEFFNER: But you know, not so long ago the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who was an admirer of yours…
VIGUERIE: And I of him.
HEFFNER: And I know that…came to FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK and talked at length about his support for Ronald Reagan and spoke about nothing along these lines. You couldn’t hear a word about the desertion that presumably President Reagan has provided from the conservative principles that he campaigned on. Why do we find that Falwell takes the one position and Viguerie takes another?
VIGUERIE: Well, there’s, I will take a back seat to nobody in my admiration and respect for my friend Jerry Falwell, but I must hasten to remind everybody, Jerry is the Reverend Jerry Falwell. And I heard a long time ago as a businessman that when you get a reference from a prospective employee from either a politician or a minister, look at it very carefully and you’ve got to realize those are very decent men and for the most part they’re not very critical of people who, particularly people by name. And Jerry has had an awful lot of nice things to say about Teddy Kennedy even these days. And Jerry’s a very nice, decent person, and he doesn’t like to be critical of people. But I know that Jerry is disappointed, as are most all conservatives privately, with a lot of the things that had not happened in this administration.
HEFFNER: Then what would you have happen in terms of, well, we’re taping this show at the end of March 1984. It may be seen next week, it may be seen next month, it may be seen in a couple of months from now. If you don’t mind putting yourself out on a limb then, chronologically speaking, what do you think ought to happen in terms of finding the kind of leadership you want for this nation?
VIGUERIE: Well, first of all, conservatives are not going to do much else politically this year other than support the reelection of Ronald Reagan. I think we’re going to give that our best effort and our full effort. And then wait and see what happens after this election. And if after the 1984 election we see what looks like is going to happen, the Republicans and Democrats are going to come together, and they’re going to say, “Well, the only responsible thing to do now that we’ve passed all this social legislation, and now we’ve got to find the money for it, we’re going to raise taxes for the fourth time and the fifth time in the last few years”. And if that happens, I think that you’re going to see some new leadership spring up in this country by people whose names are not very well known and whose names I don’t even probably know now. We saw it in Michigan, Dick, just a few months ago. The Governor Blanchard was elected on a campaign of no increases in state taxes. He increased taxes 37 percent. And literally men who worked on the assembly line who were Democrats and worked for Blanchard in 1982 led tax revolts and caused the recall of two Democratic state senators. And then the Republicans were elected, throwing the Senate to the Republicans for the first time since Watergate. So I think we’re going to see leadership come up from the grassroots, which is going to make this populist movement, if it does develop into a political party in the future, a unique party. Because most third-party efforts have developed from the top on down, whether it’s a John Anderson or Lafollette or Strom Thurman or George Wallace, it’s a person who put together an effort to run for president. I think this is going to be a grassroots effort that maybe will throw up its leadership from its ranks. And it’ll be a very unique movement.
HEFFNER: What do you think its platform will be?
VIGUERIE: Its platform is going to be to return power to the people. Thomas Jefferson, our first populist perhaps here in America, said 200 years ago, “There are two types of parties in the world, that which tries to pull all power to itself”, and there are those people that don’t want to share power with the people. They don’t think the people are bright enough to make the decision for themselves. Then there are people that trust the people to make the decisions. And we’re going to set up, if it becomes necessary in ’85, ’86, whatever, an organization, a party that will trust the people to make their decisions themselves. And let the people just spend their money, take less of people’s money, let people make the decision where their children will go to school, let people make the decision about what their children are going to be taught in school rather than coming out of the National Education Association Union in Washington. It’s going to be a movement that’s going to have heavy emphasis on people making their own decision at the grassroots level.
HEFFNER: The puzzling thing thought is that President Reagan did in a 1980 campaign on a platform that wasn’t terribly far removed from what you’re saying, certainly in feeling tell. And yet when he got there to the White House he moved from that posture, in your estimation. Doesn’t that mean that there is something basically inevitable about moving away from that negative posture that you’re talking about?
VIGUERIE: Well, I don’t know if it’s negative, Dick, to say that we should have less taxes, that government, as Ronald Reagan said, is too big, it does too much, it governs too much, it regulates too much, it taxes too much. I don’t think that’s negative to be concerned about crime and drugs and pornography. Fifty thousand children disappear in America every year, are never heard of again. And that’s not negative to be concerned for those parents and those children. In schools where about the only thing that’s not allowed is prayer. Schools are dangerous for children these days. Millions of parents are literally afraid to send their children to school, they’re afraid for their safety. Minorities, blacks, are afraid to have their children go out into the neighborhood because when they open the door they’re accosted by prostitutes and drug pushers. And their children go to schools that are physically unsafe and are graduating functional illiterates. I don’t think that’s negative.
HEFFNER: What I mean by “negative”, Richard, is that this is a cry, and a very well-meant and a very well-heard cry against the negative things in our society. But practically speaking, unless you wanted to say that Ronald Reagan didn’t mean what he said in 1980 and in ’76 and before then, that when he came to the White House and when he was faced with the responsibilities that he does have, very little could change substantively in terms of the big government that you’re talking about.
VIGUERIE: Well, we certainly know that very little did change, Dick. And as to why it is, is one of the big unsolved mysteries of our time.
HEFFNER: But why do you think? Why?
VIGUERIE: I guess that it’s because of the establishment, whether it’s in Washington or New York, whether it’s big government, big labor –excuse me – big media, big education, the big unions, the big banks. The president, when he comes to Washington, is surrounded with this institution, this structure, this elite. The first thing he did when he came to Washington was not run out and meet with a lot of his supporters, but he went to dinner at Katharine Graham’s home, went to the exclusive F Street Club in Washington, to reassure the establishment, “Relax, everything’s fine. Don’t worry”. And he didn’t go to his supporters and say, “Boy, we’re going to take care of the State Department, we’re going to take care of taxes and those deficits”. So, for some reason there is an old boy network that the president is tied into. You know, the president was very fond of going to Bohemian Grove, a very exclusive men’s club in California. And there’s just an old boy network that runs this country. And the people who go to the state universities, the small businessmen, the teachers, the people at the grassroots level have very little to say in this country. Conservatives are smart, we’re bright, but we haven’t figured out how to get at the seat of power in this country. And a quick story, Dick. A friend of mine, Bill Mittendorf, the President of the Organization of American States, or the American representative to the Organization of American States, tells a story of how active he and people like Strom Thurman and others were in the 1968 campaign for Nixon. And they were successful. And they were so excited. They had their ideas of who should be in the Cabinet and who should staff the important positions. They had an eight o’clock meeting in the morning, the next morning after the election, with the president. So they’re walking down the hall, going to President-elect Nixon’s suite, and who is coming out of the suite – their meeting is already over with – Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Mel Laird. The ballgame was lost before eight o’clock, before their breakfast. So, as smart as we are, we haven’t figured out how the big boys, the elite, really runs this country. They’re pretty clever people. But we’re going to figure it out.
HEFFNER: Well, you say, “We’re going to figure it out”. But why should one be sanguine? If one has had a group of presidents recently who did respond to conservative calls, though you feel they abandoned them in term. Whether you’re talking about Richard Nixon or Jerry Ford or Ronald Reagan.
VIGUERIE: Jimmy Carter…
VIGUERIE: …ran as a populist.
HEFFNER: Well, why should one listen to Richard Viguerie and say, “He’s right. Right on. In another few years, four years from now, eight years from now, twelve years from now, we are going to make a change”. Doesn’t it seem as though you’re spitting against the wind?
VIGUERIE: We might very well, because my, although I don’t believe we will. But if the people look at us very carefully, I certainly would not blame them. As my wife, every time I get excited about a new possible presidential candidate, says, “Richard, will you never learn? They all disappoint you. Why is this one going to be any different than the others?” And I give her reasons why that one isn’t different. So, you know, I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown. I keep trusting Lucy and she keeps pulling that football away from me. But I think that people realize that they’ve got to do something different. That’s one reason why Gary Hart is doing so well in the polls. I don’t think people are enamored with Gary Hart’s views; they don’t even k now what they are. What Gary Hart has going for him is that he is not Alan Cranston, George McGovern, John Glenn, Walter Mondale. He is somebody who is talking about the establishment causing our problems. He’s campaigning against the Washington insiders. And when the people look, Dick, at the problems that this establishment has brought upon the American people…A no-win War in Vietnam with 58,000 American boys killed, a no-win war that our politicians got us into in Vietnam, 54,000 dead. A bankrupt social security system, a bankrupt Medicaid system. National deficits at $200 billion. High taxes, high interest rates, unemployment, flood of illegal aliens, a flood of subsidized products from foreign countries putting our own people out of work here, crime out of control, drugs, schools that don’t teach. Look at all of our problems. And it sure wasn’t the conservatives that brought us this, Dick. It was the best and the brightest of Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
HEFFNER: Ah, but you say, “Not the conservatives”. But you had a number of years of a Richard Nixon administration. There were two terms, Nixon and his successor, Jerry Ford. You have had Ronald Reagan. What has happened with the…I mean, again I come back to the same question. I know you’ve said, “I don’t know how to figure it out”. But what does happen? Because, in a sense, if you can’t answer that, then don’t you have to assume that what you’re talking about is not what most American people are talking about and thinking about and feeling?
VIGUERIE: Oh, the people want something different. That’s why they rejected President Jerry Ford, because Carter said, “I will bring new people to Washington”. But he didn’t bring new people. Remember Hamm Jordan’s famous comment that, “After this administration comes to Washington, if you find Cy Vance as Secretary of State, and Zbigniew Brezinski as National Security Advisor you will know we have failed”. And sure enough they were in those offices, and sure enough they did fail. And then people said, “Okay. Jimmy Carter didn’t tell us the truth, and Ronald Reagan’s running against the Washington establishment. We will go with him”. And so they rejected Carter. And I think President Reagan could be in a great deal of trouble if Gary Hart, his opponent, because he will be running against the Washington establishment. These people…
HEFFNER: Would you support Gary Hart?
VIGUERIE: Oh, no. No, no, no, no.
HEFFNER: You’re both running against the establishment.
VIGUERIE: Yes, but I’m not so sure that when he got to Washington he would do just like Jimmy Carter did, and he would bring the establishment into office of keep many of those that are there. The Gary Hart idea of America is quite different than the vast majority of Americans. Know, that if we move out, the next day the Soviet Union moves in. And they move into not only Nicaragua, where they are now, but El Salvador and Honduras and Costa Rica, and then maybe into Mexico. And if we think we have seen a flood of refugees from the boat people in Southeast Asia, we haven’t seen anything until the tens of millions of feet people come up from Mexico and flood America and put Americans out of jobs fleeing communism in Central America.
HEFFNER: But Richard, you seemed to reject a moment ago the posture of earlier administrations in thinking the same way about Vietnam and thinking the same way perhaps about Korea back longer ago. I don’t understand that criticism. What posture do you take? You’re talking about the earlier populist; there was a strain of isolationism. Do we find that in Viguerie and his followers?
VIGUERIE: Oh, not at all. Quite the opposite. The conservatives, the populists, quite frankly, unlike the leadership of most of the people in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party at the top level, we are very concerned about the threat this country faces from the Soviet Union. We don’t think that the big businesses, corporations in America ought to be selling the Soviet Union equipment that they can use to strengthen their military. We don’t think we ought to be loaning the Soviet Bloc countries money at six and seven percent when our own people can’t borrow any money at 14 and 15 percent even. We are concerned about he 1.6 billion people that are being held as slaves today as we talk behind the Iron Curtain. I think detente is an immoral position. To say to the Soviet Union – which is what détente says – “Keep those 1.6 billion souls. Do anything you want to them. Just leave me alone. Let me trade with you, let me loan you some money, let me sell you some sophisticated computers so that you can shoot down Korean airlines or any, run amok wherever you want in the world. But just leave us alone, and you can do whatever you want to those 1.6 billion people. And we won’t make an effort to tell the people in the Soviet Union the truth about what you’re doing, or the people in Cuba. And we won’t stop selling you sophisticated equipment, won’t stop loaning you money”. You know, it doesn’t take a mental giant to figure out that doesn’t make any sense.
HEFFNER: But why do you say this now and still, almost in the same breath, talk disparagingly about our involvement in Vietnam, which was based upon the kinds of thinking that you’ve just expressed?
VIGUERIE: Because our purpose in Vietnam and Korea, Dick, was not to win a war. It was a no-win war. Our leaders sent hundreds of thousands of American boys into battle with the goal that we were not going to win. We wanted to have a stalemate. We wanted to just engage in a defensive posture and say we’ll draw a line and don’t come across that line. And we know that throughout history when you tend to be a defensive person you tend to be a loser. And to send American boys into battle without a goal of winning, with having the Washington politicians make the decision…You and I, I’m sure, remember that Lyndon Johnson staying up late at night and deciding which span of a six-span bridge he was going to knock out. He wanted to tell the general, “Knock out the second and the fifth span of the bridge”. The President of the United States needs to be making those decisions? Let the generals win the war. Right now we’re having a lot less people with us, not only American soldiers, but civilians who died without cause because the politicians sent boys in without an objective of winning.
HEFFNER: What would Richard Viguerie’s new right populist party do in precise terms? You‘re saying we should now be involved in a war which we set out to win. Where? When? How do you pick your battlefield?
VIGUERIE: Well, no, I did not mean to say, if I did, Dick, that I wanted to be involved in any war. That’s the last thing I want. But I think that we are heading towards a strong possibility of war if we follow the path of the establishment. What we need to do, Dick, is to engage in peaceful, nonthreatening type of activity. For example, when the Koreans’ plane was shot down, the president, in essence, did nothing. He was very critical of Jimmy Carter not doing more…
HEFFNER: Well, that was peaceful and nonthreatening, right?
VIGUERIE: Well, yeah, but I think you can do other peaceful, nonthreatening things. Saying, for instance, “We’re going to require you to take your 900 spies out of here. We’re going to ask you to close your San Francisco Consulate office, which is nothing but a spy-gathering operation for Silicon Valley secrets that America has there. And we’re going to require that you not engage in allowing your ships to come over here. We’re not going to allow your ships to dock here. We’re not going to engage in trade with you. We’re going to tell the world that you have been violating the Salt I treaty, that you violated the Kennedy-Khrushchev Agreement. We’re going to tell the world about you, that you are an evil empire, that you are a threat to the world”. And instead, the president said, “We will have business as usual. We won’t engage in any of that type of activity that would threaten big businesses’ profits with the Soviet Union”. And we cannot continue business as usual, strengthening and building up the Soviet military. And if we don’t do something to quit strengthening them, we’re going to be faced with a war.
HEFFNER: But let’s be fair to the president. You may talk about the evil empire. He did say it, as President of the United States. Didn’t he mean it?
VIGUERIE: Yes. And I applaud him for that. And the wrath of much of the establishment came down on top of him because he did that. Big business didn’t like that. “Oh my gosh, that’s going to keep us from selling our computers and our ballbearing grinding equipment to help the Soviets build their missiles”. And the liberals didn’t like that type of language. And I applaud the president for it. And he was right. And other presidents should have been telling the American people the truth. The people were not told the truth in the 20s and the 30s about Germany. And it came to a big shock to a lot of people about the desires that Germany and Japan had on the world, because our leaders did not tell us.
HEFFNER: I notice in The Establishment Versus the People, as you give advice to the next presidents, the next people to sit in the White House, you say one of the things, “Tell the truth”. You seem to feel that the present incumbent has not sufficiently.
VIGUERIE: It’s not the presidents deliberately lie. We know some do. But for the most part, they’re silent. They just, they will not keep a campaign promise, and they will deny that they’ve not kept a campaign promise. They will see the Soviets engaging in activities that threaten the life of Americans, and they won’t say anything about it. They will engage in activities that are opposite the campaign promise, pledges they made, and deny that they’ve done it. And I think that the American people would like a president that would tell them the truth. If economic times are bad, as it was in 1980 and ’81 and ’82, American people want a president to say, “Hey, we’ve got to tighten our belts. We’ve got some hard economic times coming. And we’re not going to be able to continue to have all these programs that we’d all like to have”. And I think the people would like to have a president that speaks the truth to it. The people don’t like to hear it though, Dick. And the people are part of the problem, not only the president. The people didn’t want to hear what Winston Churchill had to say in the 30s until they were really, not on their knees, on their back. And I think the same thing in this country. At some point, the American people are going to turn to those who have been speaking the truth about the danger that we face, not only in this country, but throughout the world. I hope that they don’t wait too long to turn to that leadership.
HEFFNER: Just in the few minutes we have remaining, I can’t help but ask you about the school prayer amendment, where the president fought the good fight, did what he said what he’s do initially, and lost.
HEFFNER: Now, this certainly must be a reflection of the fact that at least the representatives of the American people weren’t ready to go along with him, weren’t ready to go along with those promises. Can you accept that?
VIGUERIE: Well, I don’t know about accepting it. I recognize that it’s there, but it’s a big part of my book, Dick, that people over here, say, 70, 80, 90 percent, “We want this”; and their elected leaders, that one percent in Washington, the congressmen and senators, say, “Nope. We’re going to ignore you on busing, on prayer in school, on quotas, on desire to do something about crime and drugs. We’re going to spend more money. We’re not going to give you tax cuts like most people want. We’re going to raise taxes”. So that’s my point, that at some point this country is going to maybe just explode if these Washington politicians continue to ignore the people. I do applaud the president’s effort in this, and I’m very appreciative of it. I wish that the people in the White House, his advisors, had been as supportive.
HEFFNER: Do you think he made a sufficient effort?
VIGUERIE: I think the president did. I think a few of his advisors did. But I think it is well known that the vast majorities of his top advisors could have cared less.
HEFFNER: Who in the White House scuttled his participation?
VIGUERIE: Oh, I don’t know. The moderates, the liberals, the big business advisors are well known. And I have been very outspoken in naming them, and I think that in this election year, when we’re all anxious to have the president reelected, that I probably would like to go a little soft on some of the ones I’ve been very critical of in the past.
HEFFNER: You mean Viguerie is trimming his sails?
VIGUERIE: Viguerie is going soft. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: Well, you know, last time you weren’t so soft.
VIGUERIE: Yes, but last time the president wasn’t in a tough reelection battle. And even though I have a lot of disagreements with the president, I think he’s been too soft on a lot of important issues. I thin that there is night and day difference between this president and Walter Mondale, and I’m going to do everything I can to get him reelected.
HEFFNER: Richard Viguerie, thank you for joining me today to discuss The Establishment Versus the People. I hope you come back to THE OPEN MIND.
VIGUERIE: Always a pleasure, Dick.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you too will join us here on THE OPEN MIND. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.