As conservatives gather this week to celebrate Phyllis Schlafly, we should take a moment to reflect on the impact this truly remarkable woman has had and is continuing to have on the country, the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
As a young conservative growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, I witnessed her emergence as a national figure with the publication of “A Choice Not an Echo” which sold more than three million copies in 1964 and energized those of us who worked so hard in the campaign to nominate Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Phyllis energized and informed us at a time when there wasn’t much out there. I doubt very much that the Goldwater phenomenon would have taken off had it not been for Phyllis and that little but ubiquitous book.
Her political activity neither began nor ended in 1964. The small town housewife had volunteered as a supporter of Bob Taft prior to the 1952 Republican convention, had run for Congress in 1952 and went on to essentially single handedly turn the emerging conservative movement into a grassroots machine the likes of which the country has rarely seen.
Liberals remember Phyllis mainly because she came out of her kitchen again in the early 1970s to give them, and particularly their feminist wing, the political whopping of a lifetime. The Equal Rights Amendment was the feminist dream of the age. And when Phyllis decided to take it on it had already passed both houses of Congress almost but not quite unanimously and had been ratified by almost thirty states. It was as politically a done deal as anything ever has been, but having read it, Phyllis decided it had to be stopped .. and stop it she did.
They were, of course, beside themselves. Betty Friedan who has thankfully been forgotten in the years since was a leading feminist of the day and shouted that she would like to burn Phyllis at the stake. Phyllis, of course, took delight in the discomfiture of the people Rush Limbaugh was later to dub “Femi-Nazis.” She did more than make them uncomfortable, tough, she built a movement that stopped their effort to enshrine their agenda in the Bill of Rights dead in its tracks.
Since that victory she has been steadfast in her support of conservative principles. She’s written extensively on defense issues, the judiciary and must be counted as among the greatest champions of the American family in the country today.
She’s written 26 books, hosted a radio show, founded Eagle Forum and continues to almost single-handedly make sure that the Republican Party’s national platform remains conservative and strongly pro-life. All in all, she has served as an elected delegate to every GOP national convention since 1952 and is no doubt packing her bags in preparation for a trip to Cleveland next summer.
I haven’t always agreed with Phyllis, but the few times I haven’t, I have had to make sure I had facts to back me up or suffer the consequences. Her arguments, whether to fellow delegates, the media or in debates with her opponents, are always fact-based and intense. Only a fool would relish engaging this woman who is smarter and quicker at 90 than most folks ever were or ever will be. She’s as dynamic today, in fact, as she was back in 1983 when after a meeting with her Ronald Reagan went to his diary and noted that “she’s damned effective.”
Phyllis is widely recognized by conservatives today as the “Queen” of the movement. She has earned the title. We know we wouldn’t be where we are had she not been there from the beginning.
• David Keene is Opinion Editor of The Washington Times, former president of the National Rifle Association and former chairman of the American Conservative Union.
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