Paul Weyrich

By Cornwell, Rupert | The Independent (London, England), January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Paul Weyrich

Cornwell, Rupert, The Independent (London, England)

Republican political activist

In the conservative army that propelled the Republican Party to a generation's dominance of US politics, Paul Weyrich was among the fiercest warriors. Others might do deals with the Democratic foe if they helped advance the cause. Not Weyrich. For him, compromise was a betrayal of core principles, a step back rather than a step forward.

Sometimes he was called America's Robespierre of the right. Unlike the real Robespierre however, he was not devoured by the revolution he led. More than 30 years after he co-founded the Heritage Foundation - one of the foremost conservative think-tanks in Washington and his most visible monument - Weyrich was still a driving force of the conservative movement, even in the last years of his life when he was plagued by illness, and in 2005 suffered the amputation of both legs.

His conservatism above all was cultural. Weyrich in 1979 coined the phrase "moral majority" which, with the televangelist Jerry Falwell, he turned into a movement that became one of the most potent strands of the Republican Party. His signature issues were not so much big government and the Communist threat (though both greatly alarmed him) as abortion, feminism ("feminazis" he dubbed such activists) and homosexuality - all, in his view, acute dangers to the traditional values that had been the making of America.

Such was his influence, especially in the decades before and after Ronald Reagan took power in 1980, that many ranked him among the four main architects of that Republican golden age, along with Barry Goldwater, William Buckley Jr, and of course Reagan himself.

Unlike them, Weyrich lived long enough to witness the conservative cause sink to its lowest ebb in 40 years. But until the end, his only criticism of the Republican Party was that it was not conservative enough. His faith in its future was unshaken. His very last column, for the website of his Free Congress Foundation, published on the day he died, was entitled "The Next Conservatism: a serious agenda for the future".

Paul Weyrich was the product of solid German midwestern stock. A furnace stoker in a Wisconsin hospital by trade, his father nonetheless took a deep interest in both religion and conservative politics. The young Paul did not graduate from his course at the University of Wisconsin, but he approached politics no less seriously.

After working at newspaper and TV organisations first in Milwaukee and then Denver, Weyrich became an aide to Colorado's conservative US Senator Gordon Allott, and established ties with the Colorado beer magnate Joseph Coors. His path to the commanding heights of American conservatism had begun in earnest.

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