Guest: Viguerie, Richard
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THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Richard Viguerie
Title: “The Establishment vs. the People”
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. I was trained as an historian, taught American history and politics for some years, and you might well think that I’m simply reaching back into my recollections of long-past American radicalism as I quote this passage: “Before the decade is out, average Americans will rise in revolt against the concentration of political power in the hands of the establishment. The most powerful force in US politics will be a movement that identifies with and speaks for our nation’s most neglected class, people who work for a living”. Indeed, you might well assume that the next words would be, “Workers of the world, unite”, and that the author were some native Marxist, perhaps an ardent Wobbley. Well, not true. That passage actually is from a new book entitled “The Establishment Versus the People”, by my guest today, Richard Viguerie, spokesman and major fundraiser for American Conservatism, called by The Wall Street Journal, “King of the Right-Wing Political Fundraisers”. Well, perhaps by way of background it’s only fair to remind you that when Richard Viguerie has been my guest before on The Open Mind and on From The Editor’s Desk, I’ve characterized him as regarded by many as the most astute and certainly the most persistent and determined leader of this country’s new right. Focused strongly on such singular issues he deems essential to the well-being of our nation as pro-right to life, anti-equal rights amendment, pro prayers in schools, 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.
Richard Viguerie, welcome again.
Viguerie: Always glad to be here.
Heffner: How do I get this populism out of a conservative, deep, dyed in the wool conservative such as you?
Viguerie: Well, Dick, actually there’s a little bit of a race on right now between some conservatives and some liberals to see who can occupy that populist high ground, so to speak. Recently we saw Congressman Tom Harkin of Iowa, a liberal Democrat, who had looked at the political scene in Iowa, saw that liberals had been going down to defeat with great regularity and conservatives been winning. So if he wants to run for the Senate next year against Senator Jepson, he better call himself something other than a liberal. He kind of likes the term “populist”. The America people, Dick, are really kind of turned off I think with politics as usual, Republicans and Democrats, and even conservatives and liberals. And they’re concerned about issues, whether it’s crime or drugs or education or immigration, and they want something to be done about this, and they don’t see either political party addressing those issues. So they’re looking for some answers. And we need some new leadership in this country.
Heffner: Yes, but you seem to be saying on the one hand that you need leadership, new leadership, to deal with new issues. On the other hand you seem to be talking about semantics; what you call yourself. And you seem to say that there is a premium placed upon being called a populist. And you’ve used that word a number of times now.
Viguerie: Well, as I have looked at the scene in the last year or two, Dick, I have observed that elections come and elections go, and sometimes Republicans win and sometimes Democrats win, sometimes liberals win, sometimes conservatives. But the establishment, the power structure, always wins. The big boys, whether it’s big bankers, big business, big union officials, big government, it always grows and prospers. And the little guy, the average person, the producers, the working men and women of this country, they continue to have more and more problems. Their taxes go up. But the big boys always seem to take care of themselves. And I think that’s what we’re talking about: addressing the interests, the needs of the average person that the establishment is removed from. The establishment doesn’t have a serious problem in their schools with education because their children go to private schools. The establishment doesn’t have to look out the door both ways before they open the door in the morning to make sure there’s not a mugger, a rapist out there. The establishment lives in very secluded, protected neighborhoods. The average person doesn’t. And nobody’s speaking to these issues. Republicans or Democrats.
Heffner: But then aren’t you talking about a never-ending process sin which – well I won’t say the rich get richer and the poor get more children…
Viguerie: Seems that way.
Heffner: Well, you say it seems that way, but aren’t we talking about an almost incredibly natural process, for which there’s always going to be an establishment? It gets the cream on the top?
Viguerie: Well, Dick, I think most people really don’t have a problem with people accumulating a lot of wealth. I certainly don’t. That’s the American dream, that we will all achieve success in a material way, and that we like our big institutions, and it’s served America in very good stead…
Heffner: But you say that…
Viguerie: …except for the last 20, 30 years, Dick. Almost every problem we’ve got in the last 20 or 30 years has gotten worse. Test scores in schools have gone down dramatically. Crime has gone up. Inflation has gone up. Unemployment has gone up. A billion and a half people all over the world live under Communist slavery, and our national defense seems to be weakening, and the Soviets are moving more aggressively. Almost every problem you can think of in the country in the last 20, 30 years has gotten significantly worse, and it seems to me that the person or the group primarily responsible is the power structure, the establishment.
Heffner: Yes, but Richard, as reading your book, reading chapters in this new book of yours, I couldn’t help but think about the populist rebellion of the late 19th century, and of the sons of the wild jackass in the 1920s…
Viguerie: Now that’s a new one on me.
Heffner: well, they were saying…these were the fellows who were saying basically the same thing you did. Until recently we were okay. But they said that 50 years ago, and they said it almost a hundred years ago. What makes you think we’re really facing something different now?
Viguerie: Well, I tell you this, Dick, back in the late 19th century there was a strong populist movement in this country and the populist political party did not progress and achieve the strength of the two major parties. But a very interesting thing happened. The two major parties listened to what the people were saying and they adopted probably most of their programs. And the things that the populists were concerned about in the 1890s and the 1900s, the reason the Populist Party probably fell by the wayside was its two major parties heard the people’s voice and responded and passed into law the things that they were concerned about. And if the same thing happens now, I think the American people will be quite pleased. But somehow or another we’re not getting through to the establishment, and we need to make our voices heard as one so that the big boys will pay attention and pass some laws that will help the average American.
Heffner: Why should the big boys pay attention? What troops do you have? What artillery do you have? How many battalions do you have?
Viguerie: Well, right now there’s not a lot except some angry people. I think probably most Americans maybe identify with the scene from the movie “Network” where the fellow in frustration opens the window and sticks his head out and says, “I’m damned mad, and when I find out who’s doing it to me I’m going to get him”. And I think the American people are beginning to focus on who is doing it to them, and it’s the big bankers and the big businessmen and big government, and it’s the establishment. And the one thing that this movement, this opportunity needs to really develop to a really effective, powerful political force is leadership. And so far, Dick, that leadership has not come forward. But if it should, and there should be some leadership to help relieve this large numbers of people out there, I think that you could see a real shakeup in the political system in this country here.
Heffner: You know, on the other program I do each week, From The Editor’s Desk – well, you were on it very recently, and John Andersen was on it very recently – and I couldn’t help but think, “Here are these two new third parties, maybe the third and the fourth, call them what you want, 3A and 3B. Both claiming to speak in the name of the people. Now, which one?” And how come we find at this particular point two conservative gents – I mean, John Andersen was certainly a conservative when he was a Republican…
Viguerie: When he was a firster Republican Congressman, early days…
Heffner: Okay, fair enough.
Viguerie: …fairly liberal in his latter ten years.
Heffner: And you’ve always been a conservative. Both of you are now pushing for third parties. Both of you are now pushing for change, radical change, too.
Viguerie: Well, you know, one of the kind of clichés about the John Andersen campaign from the 1980s was that his party was the party of the Volvo set and the brie and Chablis community out there. It was the upper middle-class liberal, eastern liberal establishment basically that supported Andersen. Populist positions would be reduction of taxes. John Andersen wanted to increase everybody’s gas taxes 50 cents if you’ll remember from 1980. What is John Andersen’s concern about busing, which probably 80 percent of the American people are opposed to? What’s his position on prayer in school, which probably 85, 90 percent of the people think we ought to have prayer in school? What’s his position on immigration, on crime, on drugs? Does he want to get America back to a basic education system where we stress reading, writing, arithmetic? I think that John Andersen’s constituency out there is basically an establishment, powerful eastern establishment constituency.
Heffner: But, you know, when you talk about cutting taxes. The others want to increase taxes. In the populist rebellion itself, there was a push for taxing the wealth of those who had arrived. There was concern without progressive taxation this nation would continue to be polarized between the very rich and the very poor. What’s the difference now? You’re pushing for planks that the populists would have rejected.
Viguerie: Well, yes. But remember when the populists a hundred years or 80, 70 years ago were talking about a graduated income tax, the establishment was promising everybody that it would never rise above three percent. And now, we saw a time in America’s history recently when it got up to 90 percent. I think the polls that I’ve seen, Dick, indicate that the American people would like something called a “flat tax”. And I think that we’re just tired of having to spend hundreds of hours filling out our income tax and being scared to death as honest, law-abiding citizens that we’ve done something wrong on our income tax that’s going to send us to jail. We saw recently that President Reagan and this Congress added something like 5,000 new, additional IRS agents. We don’t need new, additional IRS agents; we need a simpler tax form. Something that we could fill out on the back of a postcard. Americans are honest. They want to pay their taxes. They just don’t want to pay 30, 40, 50 percent. We think that something like 10, 15 percent would be enough to run this government quite nicely.
Heffner: Richard, do you really feel that we can return to the simple days that would enable us to do things in such simple fashions?
Viguerie: I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a very simple form of income tax, just where we pay 10, 15 percent. I don’t see why we have to have a system whereby we employ in this country hundreds of thousands of accountants and lawyers just to fill out taxes. Dick, we have to do something, because all of our problems are escalating enormously. Right now we have a deficit, a budget that’s out of balance at the federal level alone, $200 billion. Peter Grace, the head of the President’s commission on Cost Cutting, recently announced that he saw in less than 20 years an annual deficit at the federal level of two and one-half trillion dollars. I mean, the mind just doesn’t hardly conceive of that. And he’s saying in six or seven years we’re going to have a trillion dollar deficit at the federal level. I mean, something has got to happen. And we cannot have a situation where the establishment, those who are the best and brightest of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, Dartmouth continue to go through life saying, “Don’t worry. We know what’s best for you. You just relax. We’ll take care of you”.
Heffner: Would you mention Columbia too please? For my sake?
Viguerie: Oh, Columbia is certainly included.
Heffner: This is such a familiar cry – and it is a cry out of the last century. It’s a cry out of groups also that were called “know-nothings”. Didn’t want to be involved with the best and the brightest. Didn’t want to be involved with the intellectual accomplishments of this nation. And I know that you speak in those terms, but I know that you’re a very different kind of person. I know that you’re a person with deep respect for learning. Why then the language of know-nothingism?
Viguerie: well, I certainly don’t identify myself with know-nothingism. I identify myself with the working men and women of this country. I came from a working-class background, and I went to a fine state university, the University of Houston. And I think that people from Middle America, Dick, people who go to state universities, are as well qualified, quite frankly, to help run this country as people who did go to Harvard and Yale and Princeton. You know, it wasn’t middle-class Americans that got us into Vietnam where we had 55,000 American deaths, and got us into Korea where we had 57,000 deaths. It was the best and brightest of Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
Heffner: Well, you know I’m not going to speak for the best and the brightest, because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. but again I’m somewhat concerned – I mean, I know that there are many things that you say that ring a very, very, very loud and favorable bell for me. And I sometimes feel as I read you, Richard, I only wish it could be that way. But let’s take your own populist. You say the, I mean you refer back to the populists of the last century and the early part of this century. You say they were absorbed, they were co-opted by the major parties. But if they were, and if their principles, and if their policies were, how did we come to this sorry state? If we did incorporate much – and we did – of what the populists urged upon us, how did we come suddenly in 20 or 30 years as you suggest to this lower state?
Viguerie: Well I guess the American public, Dick, has been occupied with earning a living, raising a family, and enjoying the good life that we’ve all come, most of us have come to anticipate and look forward to in this great country of ours. And we trusted the establishment. The establishment has done a lot of great and wonderful things. And I’m very much indebted to them in many areas: medicine, just to mention one. And nobody that I know of wants to do away with the establishment. It’s one of the great things about America, that we can rise up. But somehow or another the establishment, Dick, has gotten off track .they have forgotten their values. Where we see Gulf Oil that has oil agreements with the Marxist communist government of Angola, where they are lobbying our government and pressuring our government to leave the communists in power and don’t do anything that will weaken the communists there – because there’s a strong anti-communist movement in Angola that wants to throw the Marxists out – where we have Gulf Oil lobbying America to keep the Soviet-backed Marxists in power. That is immoral and it’s wrong and that’s the type of thing that I’m talking about, and Americans are outraged about this.
Heffner: But, you know, a thing that puzzles me, if I find it here, you quote Lenin as saying, “When the time comes to hang the capitalists, they will gladly sell us the rope with which to do it”. Aren’t you then talking about an ethic? A business ethic perhaps.
Viguerie: Yes, yes.
Heffner: Perhaps when you say, “We’ve been” – you say it very kindly – “We’ve been too busy making a living, taking care of ourselves, to pay much attention to what’s been happening”. But aren’t you talking about an ethic of making a living, a much bigger living for a major oil company, a much bigger living for those who would gladly sell Lenin the rope with which to hang us?
Viguerie: Well, I think most people would consider it reprehensible when they look back now and saw how the establishment, the leaders of the western countries, how they dealt with Hitler in the 1930s. and I think most people would feel that, yes, the easy way that we dealt with Hitler, engaging in trade, appeasement of Hitler, that this significantly contribute to the Second World War. And I don’t think anybody now would say, “Yes, it was fine to do business with Hitler, to make a profit with Hitler”. But yet somehow or another many, not all, but many big businessmen feel that it’s proper to deal with the Soviets, which actually have probably killed many, many times more than Hitler ever dreamed of killing. And that’s immoral.
Heffner: But, Richard, I understand what it is, what you say, and I’ll quote again as I have a number of times that amazing statement of yours – and not amazing in terms of my wanting to disagree with you – “Despite its enormous material productiveness, the business community of America as a whole has proved itself lacking in the moral fiber America so desperately needs to survive and prosper”. And the question that keeps coming up for me is whether you are not then talking about the capitalistic ethic itself and whether you are not indeed attacking it?
Viguerie: Well, you know Dick, to be quite fair about it, in my book I point out that all of the villains are not necessarily the establishment, the power structure. It’s not just the handful of – if you’ll excuse me – the TV big executives here in New York that are helping to pollute the airwaves, but it’s the tens of millions of people that are watching the afternoon soap operas and Dallas and Dynasty. And it’s the millions of good, churchgoing, law-abiding citizens that are watching the garbage on television, the garbage that we see in our theaters so much these days. We’re all part of the problem. Divorce is out of sight. A recent poll estimated that something like 60 percent of the employees are cheating on their employers; maybe they’re taking sick days when they’re not really sick, and that type of thing. Twenty percent, maybe, of the people are cheating on their income tax. Actually, Dick, a major part of our problem is all of us, or many of us have probably kind of gotten off track somewhere in the moral and ethical values.
Heffner: Okay. I, indeed, very much agree with you. But I wonder whether – and I know you’re not going to avoid this – I wonder it doesn’t…everything…3wonder whether everything you’ve said, everything you’re writing now, doesn’t point to the need to modify perhaps that ethic, that capitalistic ethic, that leads Lenin to write as he did, that capitalistic ethic that leads you to say that “Despite the material productiveness, the business community as a whole has proved itself lacking in the moral fiber America so desperately needs.” Now, I’m not, I’m talking about inevitabilities perhaps, and whether you aren’t too. What I can’t get you to deal with that possibility, that you’re talking about something that is just going to be within the context of the capitalistic system.
Viguerie: It may be that in some areas we do have to look at a few – just a few, as a good conservative I have to say – new laws, new legislation. For instance, I don’t know that in the 1980s we should really have a system whereby the big banks of this country can go off and lend money to Soviet countries, Soviet bloc countries that have declared they’re at war with the United States, and lend them this money with no real visible means of ever paying it back, no collateral – and ask our viewers if they can borrow money without any collateral – at sometimes six percent interest, seven, eight percent? And that money is coming out of banks that the working men and women of this country are putting their deposits in and then they may go down to the bank next week or next month and want to borrow money, and maybe they can’t borrow the money for a new car, a new home, or if they can it’s 12, 15, 17 percent. But General Auleski of Poland, he gets money at six percent. And that’s just not right. And maybe we do need to look at some of the ways that our big corporations are operating.
Heffner: Do you think I’ve been misleading myself in thinking – and we’ve known each other for a few years now – I listen to you, I read what you write, I know the important role that you played in the new right movement in this country – my feeling is that, “By gosh, you know, he’s calling himself a populist now, and that’s pretty right on target, because they wanted action, they wanted action at the state level, and if they couldn’t get it there, at the federal level. But that there is some conflict between what Richard Viguerie wants and the moral tone he wants to imbue in this country. Some conflict between that and a kind of free enterprise ethic that he seems also to embrace”. Now you’re talking about, “Well, maybe we need some of these new laws”.
Viguerie: Oh not at all, Dick. I think that most of our problems can be solved if we had a president and some national leaders that would help to focus an almost national spotlight if you would on the problems. If the media of this country began to identify what Gulf Oil is doing in Angola and what Citicorp and Chase Manhattan is doing in these anti-American countries all over the world, and if this national leadership out there were to identify a lot of our problems, say, “Hey, not only is Tom Theobald of Citicorp a problem where he says, “Who knows which system is best, the Soviets or ours; all we worry about is who pays the bills”. Well, we need to tell Mr. Theobald that maybe he’s part of the problem. But also we are all part of the problem perhaps because maybe we’re falling short in our own personal lives.
Heffner: Well, you know, I was thinking about Mary Elizabeth Lease back in the populist days who said, “What the farmers ought to do” – and you’re talking about the contemporary counterparts of the farmers – “is raise less corn and more hell”. And I remember Martin Luther King saying he never knew in history any power group, your establishment, that voluntarily gave up its power. What makes you think it will?
Viguerie: It may not, Dick. Because this establishment is a very small elite. Probably one percent of the population of the country. And it may be that they won’t voluntarily change from…
Heffner: Then what?
Viguerie: Then, then – it’s maybe a little premature, but if another year or two or three goes by and things, and the big boys are still running things for their own interests and not the interests of the American people – I think you might see a new party rise. I’m not saying for sure it’ll happen. But I think it may be, as you point out, the only way that the establishment, those who run the Republican Party and Democratic Party, will pay attention to the American people. Because there’s not a lot of difference in their rhetoric. They sound different. But their policies are all the same. Actually, we saw Jimmy Carter much tougher on the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan than Reagan was when the Soviets shot down that Korean 747. And we see Ronald Reagan out there bailing out the big, big banks, abandoning our ally in Taiwan, practicing détente, bringing Kissinger back into the government, engaging in big business trade, selling the Soviets high-technology computers, pipe laying equipment. So there’s not a lot of difference between the parties. And I would think that at some point this thing may just – almost like a pressure cooker – explode, and the 50, 60 percent of the people out there that don’t agree with the way the two parties are running the thing might just feel that they need another party.
Heffner: You’ve got to come back, then, and we’ll talk about that explosion and when it’s going to come. Thank you so much for joining me today, Richard Viguerie.
Viguerie: My pleasure, always.
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.”