Morton Blackwell

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The First Lady of American Conservatism

I first met Phyllis Schlafly during the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco. She invited all the Goldwater Delegates, and other conservatives, to a large reception at which she gave a spectacular speech ripping President Lyndon Johnson up and down and every which way.

As Sen. Barry Goldwater’s youngest elected delegate at that convention, I was already familiar with Phyllis’ enormously popular book, A Choice, Not an Echo. Conservatives in my then home state of Louisiana and around the country had already purchased and distributed millions of copies of that little book about Eastern Establishment domination of the Republican presidential nomination process.

To this day, I consider that speech by Phyllis in San Francisco the most exciting talk I have ever heard in my life. For decades I have tried to find a recording of her remarks there, but without success. If anyone has that speech on film or tape, I will pay a pretty penny for a copy.

In the decades since the Goldwater campaign, I have fortunately had many opportunities to work with Phyllis Schlafly in several different organizations and in many important political battles, elections and legislative contests. Certainly no one else comes close to her record as the leader in so many and so varied political activities. Many great leaders focus primarily on one or a few issue areas. Phyllis became a major leader, often the leader, in virtually every issue area of importance to the conservative movement.

Ronald Reagan, whom I served for three years on his White House Staff, earned his nickname as “The Great Communicator.”

When it comes to communications, written or spoken, Phyllis is surely in Reagan’s league. Among my most enjoyable experiences are occasions when I am able to be present when Phyllis makes public speeches before large audiences at colleges and universities. Always there are lots of conservative students present and local conservatives attracted by the opportunity to hear and meet her. But the campus crowds are mostly liberal activists, including a lot of leftist faculty members, expecting to beat Phyllis down with hostile questions.

On such occasions, Phyllis invariably permits long question-and-answer sessions. She always, always turns the table on her rude, obnoxious challengers. She smiles charmingly and mows them down with facts, reasoning, and extraordinary wit. On occasion, such as a memorable public event at American University in D.C., I have seen a vicious leftist pitch a really mean question at Phyllis and then fall back limp into her seat when Phyllis turned the question back on her and hit a home-run answer which brought loud cheers from conservatives and left the liberals dumbstruck.

Finally, Phyllis is remarkable for the large number of conservatives, mostly ladies like herself, whom she has systematically trained to be effective in the public policy process in so many states. Her Eagle Forum members are important, often essential, leaders for good conservative causes in their communities and states. Phyllis trains her people very well indeed.

By Morton Blackwell, Virginia Republican National Committeeman and President of the Leadership Institute

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