Thursday, December 18, 2008

Paul Weyrich, R.I.P.

Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the Heritage Foundation and later led the Free Congress Foundation, has died at age 66. As a writer, one of Weyrich's greatest contributions was his 1999 declaration, in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that conservatives had lost the culture war:
In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.
Weyrich's courage and wisdom will be missed. Michelle Malkin is among those paying tribute to a great leader of the conservative cause.

UPDATE: I met Weyrich while I was working at The Washington Times, and referenced his "cultural collapse" thesis in a column I wrote for the newspaper in 2001. One aspect of the collapse Weyrich decried was the rise of the celebrity culture, wherein the famous people on TV exercise more influence over our attitudes than do the ordinary people in our own real lives. And one incidental encounter with Mr. Weyrich a couple years ago highlighted how celebrity culture now pervades the conservative movement.

It was at Conservative Political Action Conference in 2006, and Weyrich had just received the Ashbrook Award for his contributions to the conservative cause. Weyrich and his family were leaving the ballroom where the award had been presented, and were attempting to negotiate the wheelchair ramp, Weyrich having been rendered paraplegic by an accident several years previously. Part of the difficulty that Weyrich and his relatives had their hands full with gift bags and other encumbrances and so, when I offered to assist, my task was to carry the large award plaque.

Honored to be of such assistance, I accompanied the Weyriches upstairs, through the lobby and to their car -- and returned to the banquet, shaking my head in disbelief. For you see, CPAC was crowded with College Republican kids who eagerly lined up to get autographs and have their pictures taken with conservative "superstars," the famous faces you see on Fox News. Yet there, in the crowded corridor outside the main ballroom, was one of the true giants of the cause, utterly unrecognized by these youngsters. Any of them might have spotted Weyrich's difficulty at the ramp and rendered assistance, but all they saw was an old man in a wheelchair.

The effects of the fame factor are strange and troubling, and since that incident with Weyrich, I've noticed it frequently. Ann Coulter can't go anywhere without security and her appearances at CPAC always draw a packed house. Yet I have seen many great leaders pass through the lobby and corridors of the Omni Shoreham all but unnoticed.

Last year, for example, I had the honor of meeting Phyllis Schlafly in the hotel hallway, as scores of young activists shuffled past without paying her the slightest attention. I'm sure Coulter herself would see this as an outrage -- my God, where would conservatism be had it not been for Schlafly? -- and yet such is the influence of TV-created fame that because Schlafly isn't a frequent guest on Fox, she is less known to young conservatives than, inter alia, Dick Morris.

And thus does the "cultural collapse" continue.

UPDATE: Linked at American Thinker. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Ann Coulter having security is as ridiculous as Van Halen requesting all the brown m&ms be removed from the bowl of m&ms backstage... I mean all she would have to do is say something scathing to an interloper and they'd probably be apoplectic. I would be ashamed to require security, but heck, that's just me. As far as Weyrich and Schlafly, may be on some level it was nice to have a little anonymity. Godspeed to Paul Weyrich.