Paul Weyrich — “The midwife of the New Right”… “Pope Paul”…“The Man Who Taught Conservatives to Network” — passed away this morning after a long illness.
Weyrich was called a lot of things — and some of them that originated on the left are unprintable — but one thing admirers and enemies of Paul Weyrich found inarguable: that in 66 years of life, the man who launched the Heritage Foundation and Free Congress Foundation and played a key role in mobilizing cultural conservatives into political battle was someone who left postwar conservatism and the world a different place than it was before he came on the political scene. In short, he was a man of consequence.
Born in Racine, Wisconsin, Weyrich had a passion for politics almost since childhood. Active in Young Republicans at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), the young Weyrich quit college to become a political reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel and later became a television reporter in Kenosha, Wisconsin and then in Denver, Colorado.
In 1967, Weyrich came to Washington as press secretary to conservative Sen. Gordon Allot (R.-Col.). At one point, Weyrich later recalled to me, he had received an invitation by mistake to a luncheon of liberal staffers on Capitol Hill. Weyrich attended anyway and, in his words, “I saw all the liberal groups and staffers going through issues, giving assignments to people, and agreeing to meet again. Conservatives needed to be doing the same thing and I decided to do something about it.”
Beginning with staffers from conservative House and Senate offices, and later with leaders of national right-of-center groups, Weyrich began regular lunches and meetings that are today a staple of the modern conservative movement. With the financial support of Colorado beer baron Joseph Coors, Weyrich and fellow Hill staffer Ed Feulner launched the Heritage Foundation in 1973. A counterforce to the liberal Brookings Institute, Heritage would grow into one of the most respected “think tanks” and provide the intellectual firepower in the Reagan Administration in 1980 and to Congress after Republicans won control of both Houses in 1994.
In the 1970’s, Weyrich helped launch the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (which later became the Free Congress Foundation) and the Moral Majority. Both groups were pivotal in mobilizing religious conservatives into political activity for candidates and, in 1978, played critical roles in the elections of such conservative titans as Sens. Bill Armstrong (R.-Col.) and Gordon Humphrey (R.-NH) and Reps. Newt Gingrich (R.-GA) and Dan Lungren (R.-Col.).
Quoting Napoleon’s celebrated question “How many legions does the Pope have?” Weyrich once told me, “Believing Christians now have many legions — and they’re voting.” (Raised a Roman Catholic, Weyrich himself became angry when a priest attacked something his then-boss Allott was supporting in the Senate; he thereupon joined the Eastern Rite Orthodox Church and later became a deacon).
Weyrich attempted to bring change and fresh activity to every aspect of politics. As more and more countries became democratic and elected their leaders, Weyrich became president of the Krieble Institute from 1989-96 and trained political activists in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. (At one point, he and fellow Krieble trainer Gary Hoffmeister performed a vaudeville skit to demonstrate campaigning to budding Russian politicians). The former TV newsman founded the satellite television station National Empowerment Television and later hosted a talk show on satellite radio.
Occasionally, Weyrich critics on both the right and left would bring up his penchant for abrupt replies and gruffness. His response to me was “I never wanted everyone to like me — just enough people so we can get political change.”
In September of this year, more than 400 friends, Members of Congress and other political leaders packed the Four Seasons Hotel to pay tribute to the activist, who had been in failing health from a spinal injury in ’01. In thanking his friends, Weyrich recalled how, in spite of his health problems, life had been good to him: an only child, he had had a strong marriage to wife Joyce that produced five children; interested in the U.S. Senate all his life, he got to work there; a lover of trains, he served on the national board of Amtrak and the Amtrak Reform Council; a lifelong conservative, he played a major role in shaping its modern form.
And, even when we disagreed or he took issue with HUMAN EVENTS, Weyrich was a faithful reader who would frequently cite columns in our publication. I already miss Paul Weyrich very much. We all will in the future.