Thirty-five years ago, just before I came to the nation’s capital, a political force emerged nationally and in Washington, D.C.
The “New Right” was a movement of conservatives who preached a more consistent and confrontational conservatism and mobilized evangelicals for the battle ahead.
In many ways, the movement was a reaction to liberal Supreme Court decisions, the anti-war movement and the growth of governmental power during and after President Lyndon Johnson’s administration.
The late Paul Weyrich was the foremost political strategist of the movement. He was joined by people such as Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, Howard Phillips of the Conservative Caucus, televangelist Jerry Falwell and direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie, all of whom (though there were differences in style and approach) wanted to steer the country dramatically to the right.
Today, there is a new anti-Washington, anti-government, conservative force in this country, though if the calls I receive are any indication, journalists are having trouble distinguishing among its various elements. The movement isn’t exactly homogeneous.
The Club for Growth, a generally libertarian economic organization supported by wealthy businessmen and anti-government types, isn’t the same as the so-called tea party, which is much more grass-roots, downscale and decentralized.
D.C.-based FreedomWorks sees itself as leading the tea party movement, though it is hard to say that a group that is chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) is anti-establishment. Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund describes itself as a “grassroots organization dedicated to electing strong conservative leaders to the United States Senate,” though it seems more like a platform for DeMint to maximize his own clout.
I have been trying to figure out how the current crop of conservatives — people such as GOP Sens. DeMint, Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.), and Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Paul Broun (Ga.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.) — differ from the earlier version, which included Weyrich and elected officials such as Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.), Steve Symms (R-Idaho) and Don Nickles (R-Okla.).
I’ve finally concluded that the difference really isn’t in their agendas, values or goals. It isn’t their attitudes toward government or the Constitution. Both the old and new New Right generally have the same views on legal abortion, taxes, government spending, government bureaucrats and regulations.
The difference is in how they view the political process — nothing more and nothing less. But it turns out to be a significant difference.
When I spoke recently with a longtime political operative and strategist who worked closely with Weyrich in the early days of the New Right, he had no problem comparing the two movements.