POLITICS AND RHETORIC live in symbiotic bliss. Insofar as the emotive phrase sways the voter's heart more than the substantive argument, good speechmakers rank among the nation's most valuable political commodities. As the most updated guide to the ultra-conservative's galaxy, The New Right is the wor'd according to a master of the discipline. Direct-mail magnate Richard Viguerie has diversified and converted his seductive brand of extremist politics into pulp form. The New Right is tailored to become the bible of the conservative movement.
The New Right reads like a hundred direct mail letters stacked an inch high and stuffed with selfrighteous indignation and paranoia. Its grab-bag stocks every conservative phrase since Great Britain wallowed in socialism, FDR sold Eastern Europe up the Volga, and the federal government destroyed the American family. In it we learn; "Separation of church and state...does not mean separation of God and government"; "Most of the liberal leaders are dead, retired, or just too tired to compete in the demanding decade before us"; and "History shows that military strength is the best way to prevent war with an aggressor country."
Last year, the Viguerie Company dispatched 75 million fundraising letters, raising $30 million for clients such as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) ("the conscience of the conservative movement"), the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the Committee for the Survival or a Free Congress, and a variety of single issue groups opposing abortion, gun control and the Equal Rights Amendment. After roughly fifteen years of mailings, Viguerie has honed his prose into a weapon. Political "free discussion" streamlines into a crisp, readable text: paragraphs are short, ideas simple, and arguments emotionally and financially evocative. Evidently, Viguerie now thinks folks are ready to lift the Right's rhetoric out of the mailbox and into the bookmart.
The author writes in his book that the leadership of the New Right first congealed in 1974 when President Ford nominated closet liberal Nelson Rockefeller for vice president. Viguerie and his fellow conservatives were disgusted that other Republicans "had no stomach for a hard-nosed fight" and had decided passively "to put party before principle" in allowing the appointment. Though they realized nothing could stop Nelson from becoming vice president, Viguerie resolved to give up "time I was spending with my family, on golf, vacation, etc...and start doing some leading on my own."
THE PANAMA CANAL TREATY was the first major target on Viguerie's hit-list. While the Republican Party waffled on the treaty in 1978, the New Right organized. It enlisted conservative groups, raised money through direct mail, and flew a "Truth Squad"--including Senators Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Jake Garn (R-Utah)--around the U.S. to denounce the giveaway treaty. While it lost the Senate vote, the New Right had raised and spent $3 million during the campaign and brought "countless members of the Silent Majority into the conservative movement." Viguerie claims the popular swell also put new conservatives in Congress that following November.
Viguerie presents its recent successes as the return of the prodigal son. It is a "young, vital" movement that will lead America back to greatness, over and above the inertia of the established Republican Party. Liberals, he says, are very nearly traitors. "It is not conservatives but liberals who oppose progress, who want to take us back to a past era of few automobiles, undeveloped land, insufficient energy, a gray gloomy world, in which there is always less and less for more and more." Conspiring against the American people are Big Business, Big Media, Big Labor, and Big Government. Everyone loves an underdog, especially when feeling powerless, frustrated and resentful of change.
Viguerie dedicates chapters to a panel of emotional issues, alternately dedicated to bornagain Christians, tax revolters, and military beef-up adherents. The New Right is a coalition of single issue groups like these, who believe every American has a string waiting to be plucked. Laced together, these groups have considerable clout. Perhaps most pernicious and revealing is Viguerie's presentation of the "pro-family movement." He twists the issues to show a government that "encourages" abortions, shows "favoritism for homosexuality," and supports children being "flooded" with pornography. Viguerie beguiles with his facility for exposition: "Who and what are behind the anti-family movement? (Paul) Weyrich lists the major ones as those who do not believe in God: hardcore socialists, economic opportunists eager to make a buck from pornography, abortion, etc., and women's libbers who want a different political and cultural order." And that's the way it must be, because he talks just like you and me.
BUT THEN VIGUERIE wrote for the many Americans who probably won't read another book this year. Because "direct mail is the advertising medium of the underdog," Viguerie writes and manipulates in good conscience with the mandate of the Silent Majority. Minister Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority wrote his introduction. They say that they pray daily. Viguerie says that Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative sold 3 million hardback copies and many millions in paperback; distribution providing, The New Right will probably sell more.
The New Right has constructed an "end-run" around conventional media and government. Americans are donating money to conservative causes and voting against hit-listed liberals without knowing clearly why they think they should. George Orwell once remarked that bad politics derives from improper and insincere use of language. Viguerie's political language is the antithesis of bureaucratese, instead of a belligerent self-centeredness suppressed in the liberal jargon of the well intentioned Seventies, and, unfortunately, one of the most influential hustles in American politics today.