Mr. M. Stanton Evans

Member (MN-6)
U.S. House of Representatives


M. Stanton Evans - Employment- Founder, National Journalism Center; Chairman, Education and Research Institute; visiting professor of journalism, Troy University; contributing editor and columnist, Human Events; chairman, American Conservative Union (1971-1977); editor, Indianapolis News (1960-1974); former syndicated columnist and political commentator, Radio America, CBS Radio. Works- Author, Revolt on Campus, The Liberal Establishment, The Politics of Surrender, The Future of Conservatism, The Lawbreakers, Clear and Present Dangers, The Theme is Freedom, and Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy. Education- B.A., English, Yale University (1955); graduate work, Economics, New York University; Honorary Doctor of Laws, Syracuse University. Personal- Lives in Washington, D.C.

The Foundations of Conservatism

Thank you very much. Thank you all. It is great to be here. I welcome the opportunity to not only talk to you, but to hear you talk. This is quite a distinguished group.

I heard most of the presentations, although I missed some of it. One of the things that happens to you when you get old, really two bad things, one of them is that you lose your hearing, and I forget what the other one is.

I will probably think of it in a minute.

As to my age, I am not going to say exactly what it is, but I do consider John McCain to be a young whippersnapper who I think has a bright future, and the other thing I would say is that, as was indicated in my vitae, my tenure in the conservative movement is best measured by carbon dating.

I won't go into the details, and that had its downside, but also the positive aspect is it gives you some perspective on things, and that is what I was asked to talk about a little bit today.

Back when I was getting started, it was a very different situation in many ways, in some ways similar. We all know that Mrs. Clinton has complained about the vast right-wing conspiracy, and of course, she is correct about that, and we are all part of it, but when I was starting out, it was only half vast, if that, and the circumstances were in some ways very favorable.

I guess the most favorable thing was back in the early '50s when I was getting started, the country, generally speaking, was in much sounder condition than I think it is now and has been for sometime.

Much to mention here and properly so about the pro life movement. Well, back in the early '50s, abortion was flatly illegal. Abortion on demand was illegal, and there was not an issue. It became an issue in the '60s.

Prayer in the schools was a common thing. Nobody complained about it. It was a very different atmosphere culturally, and there has been a considerable breakdown in that since then.

So there were some good aspects to living in America in the '50s, but there were some very serious problems also, and the number-one problem that I was concerned about way back then and was for many years thereafter and was the problem that dominated the political scene for many years was the problem of communism in the Soviet Union, and it was that issue which really led the debates of that time, although there were other issues about big government and so on, but communism and the Soviet Union were the number-one concerns of all of us conservatives and a lot of other people besides.

As we saw it back then, there were some difficulties in coming to grips with that problem because the country generally had been under Democratic rule until President Eisenhower was elected in 1952, and the Democrats of that era, particularly in the case of China, which is still a problem to this day, were incapable of standing up to the communists, and quite the contrary, many cases seemed to be cooperative with the communists, in that case, taking over China very obviously so. So the Democrats couldn't stand up to the communists and Soviets, and the Republicans couldn't stand up to the Democrats.

It was sort of a domino effect, and we had back then what was called "modern Republicanism," and the leading candidates of that school of thought were people like Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay, who was the mayor of New York, mercifully forgotten I guess, which is a good thing, and we were being told by the media in the late '50s, early '60s, that these people, Rockefeller, Lindsay, and people like them, were the future of the Republican Party.

So, if you looked at the scenario from that angle, it was very discouraging and obviously needed to be addressed, and so those of us who are conservative -- and even that term was not in common use back then, but that is what we were, as we later determined -- wanted to do something about this. So there was in our mind's eye, a sequence that needed to be pursued, which we could not chart with great precision, but in general we knew that we wanted to follow, to change the situation politically in the United States, so that the United States could then stand up to the Soviet Union and the communists, which was not happening in many, many cases then and for many years thereafter.

So the beginning problem was to get control of the Republican Party because that was supposedly the more conservative party, and it was the party that was supposed to oppose what the liberal Democrats were doing but was not doing that effectively, if at all.

So we started with that, and then the notion was if we could get the Republican Party straightened out, then you could elect a conservative Republican President and Congress, and then those people would then fight to the cold war effectively against the Soviet Union. So that was the sequence that we kind of roughly had in mind, and basically, it happened. I mean that's what happened. It did occur.

And the sequence is more clear in retrospect, I guess, than it was at the time, but it really had three key components that I think need stressing, and I am not sure how relevant they are to today. I don't see the same situation today at all, but that could be my own ignorance.

The first thing about the conservative movement that developed in the 1950s and then in the '60s was that it was about ideas and principles. It was not about maneuvering politically. It was not about trying to gain some kind of position in the federal government for any particular person or group of people. It was about the ideas and principles, and the people involved in it, it was a much smaller movement at the time because they, as I have indicated, were well grounded philosophically.

Many were products of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, now called Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the president which is sitting right over there, Ken Cribb, and I was a member of that when I was in college. That tells you how long they have been around.

We did our homework. We knew what the principles were. We read. There was a common body of literature that was read by almost all young conservatives of that day, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Frank Meyer -- and Gene is here -- Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and a list of a dozen or so scholars, writers, to whom we went to school and from whom we learned these principles, and they were the animating force behind the development of the conservative political movement. So that was the first thing.

The second thing was that it was a grass-roots movement. It was from the bottom up, not from the top down. It was not engendered out of Washington, D.C. It was not mandated by any one leader or group of leaders in any metropolitan center. It was something that grows spontaneously at the grass roots throughout the '50s and '60s.

And the third thing, despite what I just said, that we did have leaders, and we had very good leaders who were given to us providentially, I think, because I don't see the same thing now, and this included not only the scholars that I just mentioned, the intellectual leaders, but the political leaders, Barry Goldwater. And there are a few here whose hair is the color of mine who may remember him, and following Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan.

So, for a long stretch of time, we had leadership that stood for these principles, articulated them, and energized the political movement that became known as conservatism and eventually did elect Ronald Reagan, President, and Ronald Reagan in turn won the cold war. That is the way it worked.

As I say, looking back, it seems to fall into place pretty obviously. It didn't look so obvious then. Quite the contrary, we went through a terrible punishing defeat in 1964. Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson by a massive landslide, and we had to dig our way out from under that rubble in order to continue with the conservative movement. And there were many people saying that was the end of it, the conservative movement was over. Time said that; others, forget it, you had your day, there won't be any more conservative movement, and that was the conventional wisdom of that time.

And we were pretty beat up. We were in bad shape, and I have to remind some of you younger people here that back then, we had no grief counselors.

It was a very, very different world, and I don't like to talk about the way it was when I was young, but we had no grief counselors, and there are other things like watching TV. There were no remotes. If you were watching a TV show and you wanted to change a channel, you had to get up out of your chair.

I could go on like that, but you get the idea. We didn't know any better, but we were kind of tough people.

And so we didn't listen to all of this defeatist talk. We just got back to work, and out of that, of course, came Reagan -- the next leader had already surfaced of that election.

Just briefly, I only have about three hours here, and so maybe I'll boil this down a little bit, but there are some episodes that I would mention which would show you that an episode or an incident, a moment, a single decision can change the course of history, and I have some I will mention very briefly.

First of all, sort of bringing all this together, the principles, the grass roots, the leadership and so on, in my view, the two most important elections ever held in the United States, other than the national Presidential elections themselves, were the California Republican Primary of 1964 in which Barry Goldwater defeated Nelson Rockefeller against the mast force of the establishment, and the North Carolina Republican Primary of 1976 in which Ronald Reagan defeated Gerald Ford and began the path that led him to the nomination of 1980, and if he had lost that election, that primary election to Ford, that would never have happened.

And the two things about those elections -- and I was somewhat involved in the second one, I had nothing to do with the first one -- was that they owed nothing to Washington, D.C., zero. They were both elections that were won on the ground by people who believed in the principles of Barry Goldwater, who believed in the principles of Ronald Reagan, and would not give up, even though they were told it was a hopeless task. So those are two of the things that I would mention.

One, another is the way the Reagan movement, Reagan phenomenon developed out of the Goldwater movement. There was a man Ken Cribb knew very well and some of you probably knew also named Henry Salvatori in California, and he told me back in the '70s this story I did not know, and some of you may know it, although I did not at the time, about the 1964 election. He was the finance chairman for Goldwater in California, in Los Angeles County, and the Goldwater National Campaign was going to send him a surrogate speaker for Goldwater, not Goldwater himself, but somebody they would select and send out to California for a fund-raising dinner, and since Henry was the fund-raising chairman, he had something to say about this.

He said, "No. Don't send us your speaker. We will get our own speaker." They said, "You must accept our speaker. You must take the speaker we send you. We have got to have, you know, some kind of direction of this from here in Washington." He said, "No. We will get our own speaker. Don't send us your speaker," and because he was such a stubborn cuss, he won out. He had his own speaker, and his speaker was Ronald Reagan.

The speech that Ronald Reagan delivered on that occasion was then televised nationwide, called a "A Time for Choosing," and a lot of people were sitting in their living rooms. I was sitting down in Indianapolis looking at that, saying, "That's the guy that ought to be running for President, right there," and a lot of other people had that same thought. And in 1965, they got the Reagan for Governor Campaign going. He won the governorship. The rest is history.

So, if Henry Salvatori had not been such a stubborn cuss and insisted on that, that speech would have never happened, and Ronald Reagan might never have been Governor or President. History can turn on a pivot that small.

And then forward to the Reagan Presidency, there are lots of things that Ronald Reagan did to win the cold war in my estimation and I'm sure the estimation of many other people here, and I am not sure how you would sort this out, but in my view, the crucial episode in the whole Reagan Presidency as far as the cold war was concerned was the October 1986 meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, with Gorbachev in which they were discussing some kind of massive disarmament scheme, and Gorbachev was seemingly agreeing to all kinds of things. At the end of the day, it looked like they were going to reach an agreement, and Gorbachev all of a sudden said, "And in addition to this, you must drop the Strategic Defense Initiative," and Reagan wouldn't do it. Gorbachev insisted. Reagan got up and walked out of the room and said, "This meeting is over."

I sat, as many of you I am sure did, watching the television commentator saying, "What a dope Ronald Reagan is to insist on this foolish scheme, Star Wars, and not come up with this disarmament agreement that Gorbachev is willing to give him," and it was treated that way by a lot of Republicans also. I won't name them, but I think some of us remember who they are.

And Gorbachev, we subsequently learned, went back to Moscow and met with the Politburo and said, "Boys, we lost. He wouldn't bite. So we got to fold our hand," and that is what led to the whole Gorbachev dismantling of the Soviet empire and permitting it to be dismantled in the succeeding years because Ronald Reagan stood for principle at Reykjavik against the advice of many of his own counselors and the uniform advice of the all-wise media.

Now, out of this, again, I am not sure how applicable any of this is to today because I am not that conversant with what is happening now, but I would say this, that there are two lessons that I derive from this history. We have a panel that I know will flesh this out well.

The first is that principle makes good politics and always does, if you have the right principles and you know them and you understand them and you stick to them, but that is where the homework comes in, the philosophy, the reading, the background.

The converse of that is pragmatism doesn't work. Every time that Ronald Reagan got into trouble -- and he did in his day, we sometimes tend to forget that -- he had people around him who were urging him to do things that were not so wise. Every time that happened, bad consequences followed.

And that reminds me of a story -- I am almost done here, and I will yield to the panel -- about a family which had two sets of children, teenagers, and some younger children, five and six years of age, and as will happen, the younger children picked up some bad language from their older siblings, the teenagers, and started using some off-color words in their conversation.

And one morning, the two younger children came down to breakfast where the father deliberated family. The father is feeding them, and he turns to the little boy and says, "What would you like to have for breakfast?" The little boy says, "Oh, what the hell, I might as well have some corn flakes," and the father reaches out and slaps him across the face and said, "I never want to hear that said again in this house. You don't talk like that here, you will get worse than that if you repeat that." Then he turned to the little girl and said, "Now, what would you like for breakfast?" She says, "Well you can bet your ass it won't be corn flakes."

So the moral of that is if something bad happens to you, it is a good idea to know the reason.

But I would like to end on an upbeat note. I am sort of stressing things, what used to be as opposed to today, what I don't know really that much, and so I am going to leave that to others who know more, but I am reminded that when I think about it, I am looking at the gloomy side of things today about what Mark Twain had to say about Wagner's music, "It's not as bad as it sounds."

The political situation today is not as bad as some people make it sound, including me.

My time is up. I thank you for yours.

Thank you very much. You are very kind.

We do have time for a few questions, I guess.

ATTENDEE: In those early days, you and your fellow pioneer conservatives, did you get together and lay out a strategic plan or anything like that?

MR. EVANS: No. We were just going day by day. The overview was kind of what I said, but we had no particular blueprint of what we were doing, and again, I stress the fact that the leadership we had was just given to us. I mean Barry Goldwater just emerged because he won his reelection in 1958, and Rockefeller had won in New York. So Goldwater was almost the only viable conservative coming out of that election, and the movement gravitated to him and, of course, helped create him as a force, but nobody planned that, and couldn't have planned it. There's no way to plan that, and the same with Reagan, nobody planned that. It's just like that Henry Salvatori episode. That's the way things happened. So I think the man upstairs was kind of looking after us.

ATTENDEE: I want all the young people in this room to know that Stan is the author of one of the two or three most important books of the last 20 years. It is the complete vindication of a great hero of the conservative movement, Senator Joe McCarthy, and I hope that you never have the nerve to criticize him unless you have first read Stan's book.

My question is what kind of reaction did you get from the mainstream media about that book.

MR. EVANS: Well, first of all, thank you very much. You are very kind, and you wrote a very wonderful column about my book, and you made similar remarks at a meeting we attended together back in January. So I really appreciate those comments.

The reaction in the mainstream media has been less than enthusiastic.

Partly, there has been no reaction, just dead silence, but the very day that we were last together, at Donna's meeting in St. Louis back in January, that very day The New York Times did attack the book, and of course, that in my eyes validated all my efforts because I always go by The New York Times rule which is see what The New York Times is saying and then take the exact opposite of that, and you will have a rough approximation of the truth.

But that has been about it. There has been very little mainstream media attention to the book. What has boomed the sales are columns like yours and the folks on talk radio and others, some here, a couple of shows I did, and the alternative media of the right have really been the force behind the book.

ATTENDEE: Thank you. I really appreciate your work --

MR. EVANS: Thank you.

ATTENDEE: -- and especially with the Young America's Foundation as well and also reminded us of the great thinkers to help us shape our views. I have read all, some of all, except von Mises, and I am still needing to get to him.

You said something in your remarks that I wanted to ask about. You mentioned that Ronald Reagan emerged from Barry Goldwater, and since that time after Ronald Reagan, we have lost leadership. I think most of us would admit to that, but I think there is a lot of complexness in the room, including with myself, where we go from here.

There is one school of thought that says perhaps to lose an election, to get us the leader we need, would be where God has taken us, and others are saying work with what we have. And we heard testament that we have a platform at least that we can support.

Would you comment to give us clarity before we hear about who the Vice Presidential pick will be?

MR. EVANS: Well, thank you, and I reciprocate. I have followed your work for many years, and you do great things.

I have never been of the school of thought that thinks we ought to lose this election, although I have been on the losing side of many elections, probably more than the opposite.

I will say this, which is a slightly different way of looking at it, that quite often you do have to lose one before you win one. You learn from your losses, and it is really the learning process that is important more than anything else.

If you go back to Goldwater, the Goldwater phenomenon actually serviced in Chicago in 1960 at the stockyards, and I was there for that. It was then that he emerged as the leader of the conservatives if and when Nixon lost, which he did, and that led to Goldwater's own nomination four years later. So there was a loss of one before winning one, and then, of course, Goldwater then lost to Lyndon Johnson, another loss, but that was preliminary to Reagan who then eventually did win, although he had to suffer his own losses in the early primaries in '76 before going on to win in 1980.

So, from those losses, lessons were learned, and they really were kind of the lessons I think, at least as I saw them, that I mentioned before, that you have got to hang tough for your principles if you understand them properly, and that you don't start giving stuff away for alleged practical political purposes because that never works. First of all, it usually doesn't win, but even if it does win, then what have you got after you have won?

So I think that is the way I would look at it. Whatever, win, lose, or draw, learn the lessons for the next time.

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