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Cultivating conservatism

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

M. Stanton Evans has been an active force in the conservative movement for more than 50 years, dating back to 1955 when he worked with libertarian writer Frank Chodorov at the Freeman. He later worked at National Review and Human Events, and for many years was editor of the Indianapolis News.

A founder of the Young Americans for Freedom the group that played a key role in helping Sen. Barry Goldwater capture the 1964 Republican presidential nomination Mr. Evans founded the National Journalism Center in 1977 to help train conservative journalists.

Last month, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) sponsored a presentation at the Heritage Foundation by Mr. Evans. His presentation, to a group of Washington interns, was titled "The Role of Conservative Ideas in Practical Politics." The following are excerpts from that presentation:

You are, most of you, I gather, conservatives, probably also Republicans, and so there's a little cautionary sign I would raise. That is, try while you're here to learn as much as you can, and to know as much as you can about the system, but try not to become too immersed in it, too politicized.

The real battle isn't here. Don't get too star-struck: "Oh, I got to be in Washington." Do what you can where you are, back on your campuses, that is the front line now. That's where the toughest fight is.

The other thing is ... don't get too bogged down in party politics that [are] very superficial and lead you to directions that I think are really not the right direction. Of course, some of our Republican friends are not always the best guides philosophically on certain issues. I won't get into personalities.

I will recite a little story that I think sums it up. It's a true story. Back after the fall of the Soviet Empire ... [Eastern European leaders] came to Washington to meet with our Congress to find out how we do it. God help them.

They were puzzled by our system. ... In Europe ... there are a lot of parties, 10 or 11 parties, and they don't quite understand the two-party system. And so they met with a Republican Senate staffer, and asked him to explain our system. He said, "Yes, we have two parties here, and only two. One is the evil party, and the other is the stupid party." He said, "I'm very proud to be a member of the stupid party."

He said, "Occasionally, the two parties get together to do something that's both evil and stupid. That's called bipartisanship."

So, don't get too involved in political parties. Maintain some independence from the party line.

It's hard to envision, but I was once your age, in college. And I didn't learn a lot in college. ...

I had a philosophy class, [taught] by a man named Paul Watson, a very famous philosophy professor, and he was a socialist, atheist and everything else. But he was a pretty good professor because he was very lively, energetic, and he would let you argue with him. ...

My conservatism was already crystallizing pretty obviously. After the class was over, a fellow student I didn't really know walked over and handed me a card, and said, "You need to get in touch with these people," and the card was from ISI. And I'd never heard of ISI, and that was one of the most important events of my life, because through ISI, all kinds of things happened and became possible which was not possible before. ...

ISI ... was a lifeline. You cannot appreciate what it was like then. We say today there is a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Well, it is. And most of the people here today, all of us, I guess, are part of it. But back then it wasn't even half-vast. ...

The existence of this organization, and the literature, and the people that it represented that came to our campus, were just beyond belief. It was kind of like missionaries. ... From ISI, we got books, we got pamphlets and literature, publications, and it was a complete intellectual revelation to me and to the small handful of us who were then on campus. ...

The whole sequence of events, looking back on it, looks like it's all kind of programmed, all put together. But it didn't ... look that way at the time. ...

When Goldwater lost [to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964], the very movement supposedly was destroyed, and there were many cries of exultation from the liberals that said, "That's it; they had their fling It's over with, and there won't be any more conservatism from here on out." ... We were buried under the rubble in that landslide defeat. ...

So, we dug our way out of the rubble ... and we got to work, and it's very interesting the things can happen, the way history can turn on its smallest pivot. During that campaign, the Goldwater headquarters here in Washington was sending out surrogate speakers to represent Barry Goldwater. And they were talking to people in California ... and they wanted to send a surrogate speaker there for a fundraising dinner in L.A., and the man running that was Henry Salvatori. And I remember sitting with Henry one day back in the '70s. He told me this story of how he had argued with the national committee about the speaker.

Salvatori told the national committee, "No, no, no. We will get our own speaker, and you don't need to send us a surrogate speaker," and they argued over this. But Henry Salvatori's a very wealthy man and a very determined man, so finally he won out, and the speaker that he had was Ronald Reagan.

So Reagan then made his speech ... for Barry Goldwater. And this was filmed and shown nationally on TV in October '64, and I remember sitting in my living room, watching and saying, "That's the guy who should be running for president right there!"

So, in the defeat, Reagan emerged. ... It would not have happened had Henry Salvatori not been the stubborn-puss he was. Imagine if that speech had never existed. The whole course of history would be totally different. And Ronald Reagan went on the next year to be anointed by the Republican establishment in California as their candidate for '66, and elected governor in '66, re-elected in '70, and the rest is history.

It was Ronald Reagan who brought communism to its knees. ...

It was the ideas; it was the principles; not power for its own sake, not just being there to be part of the system; not playing the game. It was standing up for principles that were basic to the conservative movement. That's something that pragmatism and accommodation and waffling cannot supply. That is the commitment and motivation of people who are moved by principle.

That is the greatest asset the conservative movement has had and will continue to have as long as there are people like ISI, like the Heritage Foundation, and like you, who are committed to the philosophy of conservatism.