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FROM THE MOYERS FILES: Grassroots activist Richard A. Viguerie talked with Bill Moyers about the past and future of American conservatism, October 29, 2004.

MOYERS: Many of you watching know I've been around politics a long time. I was there forty years ago next Tuesday when Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater in the '64 election and people said conservatives were finished in American politics.

Well, they were wrong. Conservatives came back to remake our political order. Outsiders then, today they are the establishment. They control the White House, Senate, the House of Representatives, and through their domination of direct mail, talk radio and cable TV they have been the prime movers of our political discourse the last 25 years.

Watching politics turn sharply right, I spotted Richard Viguerie in the intersection directing traffic. He was a young man then, as was I. And he was a genius at something liberals didn't understand: direct mail, going right to people's homes with letters containing unfiltered conservative messages they couldn't get from newspapers or television or mass circulation magazines. Those letters also raised tens of millions of dollars directly from the grassroots — money to finance the conservative movement.

Richard Viguerie transformed politics. And it's no wonder conservatives call him the 'voice of America' — the fundraising godfather of the movement, whose efforts launched a thousand political action committees, lobbying organizations and public policy foundations. You can read how it happened in his new book written with David Franke: AMERICA'S RIGHT TURN: HOW THE CONSERVATIVES USED NEW AND ALTERNATIVE MEDIA TO TAKE POWER. Richard Viguerie is with me now. Welcome.

VIGUERIE: Thank you Bill, good to be with you again.

MOYERS: 40 years ago, the War in Vietnam brought down Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats. Is the War in Iraq going to bring George W. Bush?

VIGUERIE: It's making his re-election very much up for grabs. There's a lot of disagreement among conservatives. Most conservatives support his efforts in Iraq. But there's a strong element that had some serious problems with it.

MOYERS: You can't be too happy with this war. The cost the catastrophe in Iraq right now.

VIGUERIE: No, and I don't think anybody's happy. But conservatives have mostly different problems then the Iraq War with George Bush and the Republican leadership. It appears to me Bill, that early on in this Presidency, 2001, the leadership of the Republican Party made a conscious decision to run for re-election based on a one word strategy. Unfortunately that one word strategy was bribery.

We're going to bribe the voters. And they wanted to bribe the seniors with prescription drugs plans. Bribe the farmers with more subsidies. And recently multi-billion dollar bail out of the tobacco farmers. The Christian with faith based initiative, the Hispanics. Just one group after another. And in essence said, "If you've got votes, we've got money. Let's talk."

MOYERS: When all of you in early conservative movement started, you were all idealists. It was all about principal. Now, I think it is all about policy. I mean, you bought into the very place, the Democratic establishment was after it had been in power 40 years. It's power, and greed that dominates the Party.

VIGUERIE: It's, well, you have to remember there's two different things Bill. There's the Republican Party, and then there's the conservative movement. And the conservatives that I grew up with, Ed Feulner, Paul Weyrich — Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich — and the religious conservatives. We still have all those principals. Nothing has changed there. We have accomplished a lot. We had... it was a time we had nominated anybody for president. We did that with Goldwater in '64. Then we hadn't elected a conservative to office. And we did that in 1980. Now, our next challenge is to nominate, elect and govern as conservatives. And we've not had a President who governed as a conservative.

MOYERS: You cannot be happy with those historic deficits reaching so far in to the future. Your five grandchildren are going to be paying them off long after you've been swept away by the Rapture. Right?

VIGUERIE: Oh, absolutely Bill. And I don't know Bill if it's going to happen at 7:00 in the morning, or 8:00 or 9:00. But, somewhere around there the morning after the election, November 3rd, the war starts...

MOYERS: The war...

VIGUERIE: ...for the heart and soul. It's gonna be a war.

MOYERS: Between?

VIGUERIE: Between the traditional conservatives, those who identify with Ronald Reagan, people like myself. And, the big government Republicans. And then also maybe the Neo-cons. But...

MOYERS: And the Neo-Cons are those actually, are those folks who believe in American empire.

VIGUERIE: Exactly.

MOYERS: They are the architects of the Iraqi War.

VIGUERIE: Yeah and the traditional conservatives like myself, we've got a great concern about that. And I want to say very strongly, that almost every conservative that I know is strongly supporting the re-election of President Bush.

MOYERS: You're going to vote for Bush.

VIGUERIE: Oh, absolutely. No question about it. Now I'm doing what I can to help his re-election. But when the voting is done and the ballots are counted, then we're going to choose up sides and fight for the heart and souls of the Republican Party. It would be on our side, the traditional conservatives. The other side, people like Rudy Giuliani, Governor of New York, Pataki, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's going to be an interesting battle. Normally Bill, it wouldn't be a fair fight. Cause we've got the troops, we've got the organization...

MOYERS: Talk Radio...

VIGUERIE: We've got the organizations... the resources, the issues. One thing we lack, a horse. We've got no horse. Hopefully, someone will come on the scene soon. But, but we had a lot of advantages when we came along. When Goldwater defeated in '64, Nixon's resignation in '74, Ford's defeat in '76. Swept away most of the older Republican leaders.

MOYERS: That defeats were cathartic.

VIGUERIE: Absolutely. And it allowed younger ones, people like Newt Gingrich and Ed Feulner and other young conservatives to rise up to positions of leadership that normally would have taken another 20 years to happen.

MOYERS: But, you know, Richard it seems to me that conservatives have never had more power, or been more intellectually bankrupt today. And they're intellectually bankrupt, if I... with all do respect, because the very people you mention, Vin Webber and Newt Gingrich, they're now inside players. They're lobbyists for big organizations, and big interests, just like my old friends in the Democratic Party and the Johnson White House stayed in Washington and went to work for the tobacco industry, and for all those other industries.


MOYERS: It seems to me, well, Richard Perlstein wrote a great book about Barry Goldwater. And he said there's a rot setting in at the heart of the conservative movement because of the spectacle of greed and corruption and all of this going on in Washington.

VIGUERIE: Rick said in my office a couple weeks ago, we had this exact conversation. And I would disagree that there is a problem intellectually with the conservatives. Cause we're the ones with the ideas. We're the ones that say, "Hey, Social Security's going to go bankrupt." The Democrats are saying, "Leave it alone."

MOYERS: Democrats said that too.

VIGUERIE: Oh, and we're the ones with the idea of how to re-energize...

MOYERS: A bad idea is better than no idea.

VIGUERIE: That's what I'm concerned about for the conservatives. Because we normally would win. But, if we don't have a candidate out there, you can't beat somebody with nobody.

MOYERS: What are you really fighting for?

VIGUERIE: I'm going to be fighting for the agendas that Ronald Reagan articulated so well in the 60's, and 70's, and 80's. Lower government. Whenever government grows... it has been growing ever since you and I have been politics.

MOYERS: George W. Bush has presided over the biggest expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson.

VIGUERIE: You and I are going to agree on that Bill. And I'm ashamed to say it. It greatly discourages me. Conservatives are very discouraged. We signed up for a long battle here. And we're not going away. And we've been here for 40 years plus. And we're going to be here November 3rd, fighting for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

MOYERS: Here's something else that I want to ask you about. You grew up the son of working class people, right?

VIGUERIE: Absolutely.

MOYERS: You spent six or seven summers in the oil fields working your way, right?

VIGUERIE: My dad was a union member.

MOYERS: Yeah. All right, my father was a union member too. So how can you be happy with a party that used to be for small business people and entrepreneurs? And that is now enthralled to multi-national corporations? Isn't...

VIGUERIE: I'm not happy.

No, that's a serious fault line that runs through the Republican party. Bill we were... we kind of came together, my generation and before. Because, we were all united against the Communists. We knew the brutality and evil of communism. And the united the conservatives in the 50's, the 60's, the 70's and the 80's.

MOYERS: The liberals united you?

VIGUERIE: Yeah. Exactly, for sure.

MOYERS: And now, Islamists.

VIGUERIE: Nothing focuses the mind quite like that impending hanging. And it was dark days back in the 60's and the 70's.

MOYERS: You do need an enemy now right?

VIGUERIE: It's not an enemy, if there's an enemy. It's big government. It's these multi-national corporations that we want to empower the individual. We want to take power away from the government, and give it to the individual.

MOYERS: You know, Richard I've listened to Rush Limbaugh, I listened to Sean Hannity, I watch Bill O'Reilly from time to time. I read his books, I watch the internet. It seems that you are still the victim. You conservatives seem to act as if you're still the victims. You're the establishment now.

VIGUERIE: Well, the Republican Party is the establishment. The small government conservatives are still on the outside. We don't think of ourselves as a wing of the Republican Party. We are the Republican Party. It's the conservative votes, issues money that drives the Republicans success electorally. But, we haven't been able to govern. And we're still fighting to govern as conservatives.

MOYERS: But, George Bush the first and George Bush the second would not have been elected without you guys. What do you...

VIGUERIE: That's the song we sing, Bill, you're singing our song.

MOYERS: Exactly.

VIGUERIE: And I remember a reporter asking Lou Cannon as a matter of fact, the WASHINGTON POST asking an anonymous, high ranking Republican official before Reagan was sworn in, in 1981, January. Saying what are you going to give the Religious Right? Those moral majority types who are so helpful to President-elect Ronald Reagan's nomination election. He said, I'll tell you what we're gonna give 'em. We're gonna give 'em symbolism. And this is too true. Too true.

MOYERS: Richard, you've got faith based initiatives, you've got-tax cuts, so many things.

VIGUERIE: That's not something that...

MOYERS: wanted. You've got so many... George Bush has access, I'm not making this up. He is given the Religious Right and the political Right so much.

VIGUERIE: Well we...

I don't want to indicate that he hasn't done a lot in terms of advancing conservative agenda. The judicial appointments has been you know, very good. We're very pleased with that. And the tax cuts, we're happy about that.

There are just too many things that have allowed the government to grow. And it's not that they've allowed the government to grow. He's been out there driving it. Faith-based initiative is not a conservative initiative. That's a big government initiative.

MOYERS: Actually John Kerry has been for faith based initiative too, I mean...

VIGUERIE: Yeah, that... it's not a necessary principled conservative position.

MOYERS: Let me come to next Tuesday. When I called you earlier this week. You said, "Bill, I'm biting my fingernails." And I see they're even shorter today then the last then the last time. What do you think?

VIGUERIE: I think that Bush is going to win reasonably comfortably. I don't think that it's gone the way it should have. It shouldn't have been a blow-out.

But, they have not fought it on issues and principles. It's been too much Iraq, and not enough about the difference, ideologically between conservatives and liberals. This could be a realigning election.

And if the Republicans do keep the White House, and increase their numbers in the Congress this will be three elections in a row, that the Republicans have won. They've had the Congress now for 12 years, if they win this next election here. I think we're beginning to see not a 50/50 nation, but maybe a 53/46, 47 nation.

MOYERS: But, with that kind of dominance in power hegemony you're running into the same situation the Democrats did. They got it all, their guys stay in Washington this... to the going home to serve the populous cause. And pretty soon that rot sets in.

VIGUERIE: There's no eternal permanent victories out there. It's always a fight. Because you're exactly right, we have to be ever vigilant that the big interests that have an interest in big government, keeping it in the hands of a few people, instead of empowering the individuals. We have to have that fight ongoing Bill.

MOYERS: What are you going to do when you wake up on Wednesday morning?

VIGUERIE: Just continue doing that, Bill, which I've been doing for 45 years. Every day I get up thinking what four, five, six, things can do today to advance the conservative agenda? We've been doing that for decades, and the left hasn't done that. The left has been thinking of it as a sprint, election from election.


VIGUERIE: Always a pleasure Bill.

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