The first paragraph of Michael Lewinski’s October 7, 2020 letter to the editor (The Herald) reads, “For the first time since the 1950s, Conservatives have a chance to dominate the Supreme Court with originalist, textualist judges who will interpret the Constitution as it was meant to be.”
I would like to begin by unpacking some of the political events of those 1950s, Mr. Lewinski referred to as his starting point for a discussion of Conservatism.
The Presidential election of November 1994 was the first time Republicans won control of both Houses of Congress since 1952. Winning the Senate 48-47 and the House 221-213.
Former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower won 55 percent of the popular vote and carried 39 of the 48 states in the 1952 election. The first Republican president since the Great Depression.
President Eisenhower was naive about domestic politics. Consequently, those with influence within the party were very effective in promoting a number of corporate executives to fill cabinet positions, especially in the U. S. Department of Agriculture, grain marketing, food processing and distribution as well as other administration agencies related to shaping agricultural policies.
The advisory committee included three from Safeway food stores, two from Quaker Oats including Eisenhower’s brother Milton and Donald Lauries, company president.
The new USDA secretary, Ezra Taft Benson’s religion-infused political-economic philosophy meshed well with the “cheap food” goals of the advisers. In his first official “General Statement” to farmers, the secretary called for “nationwide repentance” and a “return to fundamental virtues.”
It was a stern chastisement of farmers and rural America on their political waywardness.
History is a good guide for studying shifting political trends. That’s why we have elections. Agriculture and food were top political and economic issues debated during the campaign. “So goes agriculture, so goes the nation” became a familiar political slogan.
The Republicans, after only two years in control of the House and the Senate appraised the results of the 1957 elections when the Democrats picked up 14 more seats in the Senate and 51 more the House, a return to control of both houses.
Benson’s reaction: “As Republicans we had to face some hard facts, no matter how we explained it, our party had taken a terrific shellacking.”
Vice-president Richard Nixon, defending Benson’s policies told reporters, “The farmer never had it so good. We done what was right for farmers. We took the first shellacking in the farm states.”
Conservative Richard Viguerie, often said to be the architect of the modern conservative movement, wrote about the future of conservatism in his 2014 book, “Takeover: The 100-year War for the Soul of the GOP and How Conservatives Can Finally Win it.”
Decades ago, Viguerie started his direct-mail strategy designed to build on a conservative coalition of groups and supporters.
Much credit has been given Viguerie on the long road bringing the Republican party back to power in Congress with the 1994 “Republican Revolution.”
Paul Weyrich was executive director of the direct-mail organization in the early days. Joseph Coors (Coors Brewery Golden, Colorado) and the company provided a lot of start-up money.
Weyrich, Viguerie and Coors founded the Heritage Foundation, the highest profile and most influential conservative think tank in Washington (also with Coors funding) and the American Conservative Union.
How did the 1994 revolution work out in the view of some leading conservatives? Bruce Bartlett was a domestic policy aid in the Reagan Administration and deputy assistant secretary under President George H. Bush. In a CNN interview, Bartlett said Bush is not even a conservative with a small “c.”
Now back to Viguerie’s “100-year War.” He set 2016 as the target date for success in finally winning that war. Viguerie endorsed Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz for president, saying Cruz is the only movement conservative candidate that can unite the conservative coalition. He told politico.com on December 9, 2016, ”this is the candidate we’ve been waiting for over 25 years.”
But Viguerie had to settle for reality television star Donald Trump as the second choice. It appeared Viguerie was willing to compromise his decades-long classic conservative principles. On April 11, 2017, Viguerie told dailybeast.com “Conservatives like me, we’re just wildly excited. For most conservatives, Trump’s victory is even better than Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.”
Earlier I said history is a good guide to shifting political trends. Viguerie served as official fundraiser for segregationist George Wallace’s presidential campaign. Supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, once arguing Republican Eisenhower was too moderate for conservatives.
“Ike” believed in the “middle way” for governing. The US archives reveal a quite detailed history of Ike’s middle way philosophy as shown in US archives.gov. “Eisenhower, the Frontier and the New Deal: Ike considers America’s Frontier is gone, Embraces, Adds to FDR’s Legacy.” Ike proposed the US Supreme Court should also rule by the middle way as well.
As the result of death and retirement, Eisenhower nominated five justices to the Supreme Court, Earl Warren as Chief Justice, John Marshall Harlan II, William Brenner, Charles Evans Whitaker, and Potter Steward.
Mr. Lewinski concluded: “We must go to God for inspiration and wisdom. We must ask Him to have mercy on people in blue states who are suffering under Democratic leadership. We need to ask Him to inspire those who put them in such dire circumstances to mend their ways.”
It’s likely Viguerie’s conservative legacy will be tarnished by attempting to realize his illusive dream of classic conservatism by supporting President Donald Trump.
S.E. “Bud” Durcholz, Ireland.