The Nation: Right On for the New Right

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 3)

Like the liberals, the new New Right leaders dismiss past conservatives as "reactionaries." Scoffs Lyn Nofziger, a longtime Reagan aide: "The old right were talkers and pamphleteers. They would just as soon go down in flames as win. But the New Right has moved toward a more pragmatic goal of accomplishing things."

Their chief tool, in fact, is not new at all: the U.S. Postal Service. Through direct-mail bombardment, the right alerts its friends to a particular cause and adds to its converts. In this letter-box war for American minds, the top general is Viguerie, who is considered by friend and foe alike the "godfather" of the New Right. At his office in Falls Church, Va., some 300 people crank out 100 million letters a year (200 million in an election year) to 5 million conservatives whose names are on computer tapes. Says Viguerie: "The left controls all communications except one: direct mail. If Walter Cronkite and Katharine Graham don't think our activities are news, then we are out of it."

Often outmaneuvered by the left during the 1960s, the right has now copied the enemy's tactics. Like COPE, the political arm of the AFL-CIO, the New Right has plunged into the grass roots, ringing doorbells, phoning and passing out leaflets. Like the student left, the rightists have taken to the streets to demonstrate. And can they pack a meeting! Feminists everywhere were in an uproar last summer when they found that their state caucuses for the International Women's Year were infiltrated and sometimes taken over by conservative militants deriding ERA and opposing abortion.

"There's no question that the right is I getting increasingly successful on Capitol Hill," says Vicki Otten, legislative representative of the Americans for Democratic Action. She feels that the highly liberal freshmen elected in 1976 have hunkered down in a hurry. "Their mail is running 10 to 1, 100 to 1, against busing, abortion, gay rights. It's phenomenal. They believe that life-style issues will re-elect them or defeat them, and so they're voting with the antis."

But inflammatory issues, whatever their emotional impact of the moment, are not enough to build and sustain a major conservative movement. Arnold Steinberg, a political strategist who has worked for Helms and former Senator James Buckley, believes that an alliance based on these gut issues would attract at best one-third of the electorate. Further recruits can be gained only by reaching out to groups who normally vote Democratic, largely on such bread-and-butter issues as creating more jobs and fighting inflation.

Many New Right leaders seem to be rising to the challenge. They are welcoming and searching out Democratic defectors and trying to shed their country-club image of Wasp exclusivism. Says the Free Congress Committee's Weyrich: "In the past, we conservatives have paraded all those Chamber of Commerce candidates with the Mobil Oil billboards strapped to their backs. It doesn't work in middle-class neighborhoods."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3