M. Stanton Evans has watched conservatives come and go for 50 years, and has long lamented their tendency to catch “Potomac fever” as soon as they come to power.
“When our people get to the point where they can do us some good, they stop being our people,” he said in enunciating what he calls “Evans’ Law of Politics.”
Through good times and bad, Mr. Evans has used his syndicated columns, his books and his whiskey-wry humor to steady the spirits of fellow conservatives for 50 years.
“I was never for Nixon until Watergate,” he once told a press conference at which others on the right joined liberals in demanding that the scandal-scarred Republican president step down.
Mr. Evans, a traditionalist who at 71 won’t touch a computer or a cell phone, has been at the center of the slowly building force of conservatism for half a century.
“I entered Yale in the fall of 1951, and about November of that year Bill Buckley published ‘God and Man at Yale,’” Mr. Evans said while being interviewed at a Union Station restaurant he favors because he can smoke there without hassle.
“The Buckley book caused a huge furor at Yale,” he says of the elite campus that Mr. Buckley accused of promoting collectivism. “Everybody was attacking him. I got the book, read it and thought: This is a very accurate description of what’s going on here.”
Graduating in 1955, he turned down a job in advertising and took instead a series of jobs at conservative publications. In 1959, he joined the staff of the Indianapolis News, serving as editorial page editor until 1974.
Mr. Evans made his bones as a conservative in September 1960, when he and other young leaders assembled at the Buckley home in Sharon, Conn. Inspired by Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s rallying cry to conservatives at the 1960 Republican National Convention, Mr. Buckley gathered a group of activists — the founders of Young Americans for Freedom — who aimed to “institutionalize the youth” on the right.
“And the people organizing it asked me to draft a statement of what we believe,” Mr. Evans recalls. “So I did, and it was given to a committee that made a few changes, and Bill Buckley made a few changes. But other than those changes, it was my draft.”
It became known as “The Sharon Statement,” a widely quoted declaration of principles of the modern conservative movement in America, enunciating a doctrine of limited government and ordered liberty.
In 1977, Mr. Evans founded the National Journalism Center, which liberals have tagged as a “right-wing ideology factory.” Dedicated to training people for jobs in news and punditry, it has produced as alumni such scourges of liberalism as Ann Coulter, Michael Fumento, John Fund, Maggie Gallagher and Richard Miniter.
He has done long stints as a syndicated columnist and as broadcast commentator, working at National Public Radio, Voice of America, and CBS, and has written seven books, most recently “The Theme Is Freedom.”
In 1976 with Mr. Evans as chairman, the American Conservative Union (ACU) ran an independent expenditure campaign in support of Ronald Reagan’s first try for the Republican presidential nomination. That primary campaign established Mr. Reagan as the conservative alternative to the Ford-Rockefeller wing of the GOP and laid the foundation for the Republican victory in 1980.
Mr. Evans’ mission of late has been to undo what he regards as the damage that the left has done to the image of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He recently delivered to his publisher the long-awaited manuscript of his biography of the anti-Communist senator whom liberals long have labeled a “witch hunter.”
Three years ago, when transcripts of the famous McCarthy committee hearings of the 1950s were released, most of the American press repeated old claims that the Wisconsin Republican had destroyed the reputations and lives of innocents by naming them as communists.
Mr. Evans says news organizations cannot name a single innocent victim of Mr. McCarthy’s investigations.
“I’ve spent the last two or three years burrowing in the archives researching my book on Joe McCarthy … and if people ask me about what’s happening now, I say ‘If it happened after 1954, I don’t know anything about it,’” he says.
Mr. Evans is skeptical about complaints made by some fellow conservatives that the USA Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism initiatives encroach on Americans’ civil liberties.
“I have no problem with wiretapping al Qaeda,” he says. “I’m much more worried about this generic growth of the state, intruding into everything. We have a move now in some states to prevent people from smoking in their own homes on the basis that it’s not good for their children.
“I worry that I won’t be able to smoke in my own car,” he says. “In a few years, it will have a device so that when I light up, it will automatically drive me to the police station.”
As Mr. Evans sees it, “You’ve got diabetes police, obesity police and the nanny state growing at an exponential rate.”
Mr. Evans is fed up with a Congress that he has struggled for years to populate with Republicans.
“The Republican Party in Congress basically has given up on stopping the growth of big government,” he says. “They’re adding to the problem almost daily with their earmarks and their pork.”
He lost patience with the GOP-dominated House two years ago, when Republican leaders coerced lawmakers to approve a prescription-drug plan for Medicare.
“I call it the ‘House of Reprehensibles,’” he says, adding: “We don’t have any real political resistance to this growth of the domestic state across the board. So I’m much more focused on that than on the Patriot Act, which is a real effort, however inept, to deal with a real problem.”
Mr. Evans, now a visiting professor of journalism at Troy University in Alabama, recalls that today’s era of Republican dominance began in a now-forgotten time of ideological crisis. It was in the late 1950s, the final years of the Eisenhower administration, when Nelson Rockefeller was being touted as the next leader of the GOP.
“Rockefeller represented something called ‘modern Republicanism’ that supposedly was going to become the party,” Mr. Evans says. “It became clear to some of us that had to be stopped and reversed because if the Republican Party was co-opted by the liberal ethos, then you had no place to stand to oppose the growth of [government].”
The conservative “game plan,” he says, “was first to get the Republican Party back to its conservative principles, then go on to win political victories in the national arena and in the states. And that’s basically what happened.”
Gains and regrets
From the Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964 to the “Reagan Revolution” in 1980 to the 1994 GOP sweep of both houses of Congress, he says, “The things that we hoped to achieve politically were largely achieved.”
When the movement began, he says, “We had two ultimate goals. … First was the communist problem. The liberal Democrats seemed incapable of resisting. America was caving in everywhere — Yalta, China, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola — one capitulation after another.”
In turn, the “modern Republicans” seemed incapable of resisting the Democrats. “So we had to turn all that around and have the Republicans stand up for something, then to get some national influence on policy and then whip the Soviets. That happened. Ronald Reagan did that. He resolved a lot of things.”
But Mr. Evans’ chief regret is one shared by fellow members of conservatism’s old guard.
“We lost on the other goal, which was to control the growth of the domestic state,” he laments, but says, “I was part of something that was much bigger, and I have no regrets. The most important thing in my life was that I was a part of that, just one of many people, but a part of that.”