The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present. So says American historian David Thelen. If that is true, let us be in the business of recovery and introduction.
Last summer, the Faith & Freedom Coalition honored Phyllis Schlafly with our Winston Churchill Lifetime Achievement Award. Our objective was twofold: to honor an American who has profoundly impacted national thought in culture and politics, and to rekindle discussion on those timeless principles which Phyllis brought to the forefront of American political dialogue nearly 50 years ago. But a third result was to recognize one of the great ironies in all of American political history. By not acquiescing to the feminist movement of the 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly actually became a forerunner for American women in American politics. In fact, many now hold her as the forerunner for women in conservative political thought.
We marvel at the agility and talent of our founding fathers’ talents and abilities. Washington’s military strategy and diplomatic grace. Franklin’s international negotiation and scientific curiosity. Jefferson’s statesmanlike poetry and architectural proficiency. But consider the breadth and depth of Phyllis Schlafly’s life and accomplishments.
Devoted wife for over 40 years. Mother of six. Grandmother of 14. Ballistics gunner and ammunition tester during World War II. Ghostwriter and campaign manager for candidates and office holders. Two-time candidate for Congress. Advisor to presidents. Lawyer. Activist and founder of a national grassroots network. Perhaps the greatest American pamphleteer since Thomas Paine. Radio show host. Television commentator. Author of 26 books. And I would add: instigator of a movement.
Prior to new media, there was no way for conservatives to quickly and easily educate each other on the lessons of the recent past. Fifty years ago, we relied on classic books or a conservative newspaper columnist appearing once a week to provide an irregular trickle of information. Conservative thought was losing its moorings and was drifting. But in 1964, all of that changed. Phyllis Schlafly’s release of “A Choice, Not an Echo” sold millions of copies and sparked a grassfire of energy and activism never before seen in conservative politics.
Many pointed to Phyllis’ book as winning the Republican nomination for Barry Goldwater. Even though Goldwater went on to lose the general election, a new conservative coalition was born and American politics would never be the same.
The wave generated in the Goldwater years eventually crested and carried Ronald Reagan into office. It is no exaggeration to say that without Mrs. Schlafly, it is entirely possible that Ronald Reagan would never have been elected president. The intellect, persuasiveness, courage, and determination of Phyllis Schlafly have deeply shaped far more than just the halls of conservative politics or of the Republican Party. And perhaps more than any single lesson, Phyllis has demonstrated for us all that one person can have a revolutionary effect on this country.
Nearly three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” I believe that to be true. As we scan the horizon of 21st century American politics, we really see old arguments peddled in new wrappings. So let me urge you to look into a newly updated book? The title “A Choice, Not an Echo” [Updated and Expanded]. Its contents and suggestions have been proven to work. Plus, I really think you’ll like the author.
• Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
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