Paul Weyrich (1942-2008) (pronounced WHY-rick) was a highly influential intellectual entrepreneur for American conservatives. In 1973, as a young Congressional aide, he co-founded the Heritage Foundation, which became one of the most important Washington think tanks. He dedicated it to the promotion of "conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense". It was funded by Joseph Coors for $250,000 and now has a budget in the tens of millions a year. He coined the slogan “moral majority” as a rallying cry for social conservatives.
Weyrich was a conservative theorist and strategist whose strong principles, articulate fervor and organization-building skills were instrumental in propelling the right wing of the Republican Party to power and prominence in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, and into the 1990s.
Raised as a Roman Catholic in a German-American working class community in Wisconsin, he became a deacon in the ultra-conservative Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which allowed him to openly fuse his religion and his politics. "Defense is a moral issue," he said.
He often said that President Ronald Reagan was too soft on Communism (after 1986), and that he gave too much emphasis to tax cuts while downplaying social issues such as abortion. In 1987 he promulgated the manifesto, "Cultural Conservatism: Towards a New National Agenda," which called for more help for the poor, a voucher system for schools, an end to abortion and tougher divorce laws.
A vigorous opponent of President Bill Clinton, Weyrich in 1993 founded National Empowerment Television (NET), a cable network designed to mobilize the Religious Right. At one stage NET claimed to reach more than 11 million homes, but in 1997 Weyrich was forced out in a takeover.
By 1999 he was deeply pessimistic, lamenting:
- "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority. I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values. I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. That doesn't mean the war is not going to continue, and that it isn't going to be fought on other fronts. But in terms of society in general, we have lost. This is why, even when we win in politics, our victories fail to translate into the kind of policies we believe are important."
With the election of George W Bush in 2000, he became optimistic again, and redoubled his efforts to mobilize social conservatives. However he charged Bush with profligate domestic spending, and he condemned Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that fighting a war to spread democracy rather than to protect vital national interests deviated from conservative principles.
Weyrich founded and wrote the mission statement for the Free Congress Foundation in 1987. It proclaims, "the belief that there is a necessary, unbreakable and causal relationship between traditional Western, Judeo-Christian values, definitions of right and wrong, ways of thinking and ways of living — the parameters of Western culture — and the secular success of Western societies."