December 19, 2008
Paul Michael Weyrich, a founding father of the New Right, has died. Eternity has stolen from us a great man.
I first met Paul (he insisted on being called by his first name; once, when I addressed him as “Mr. Weyrich,” Paul snapped back, “Mr. Weyrich was my father, and he’s dead; call me Paul!”) in 1996. The occasion was the Republican National Convention, which was about to engage in its semi-regular practice of masochism and nominate as its standard-bearer a hapless relic from a bygone era and an equally unsatisfactory running mate. Paul, a conservative organizer par excellence since his early teens, was not in good humor.
His entrepreneurial enterprise du jour was National Empowerment Television, a conservative cable network that barely managed to totter along thanks to a small, but loyal, stable of viewers, until its eventual demise a few years and several tens of millions of dollars later. Even so, Paul had a press pass that gave him the run of the convention and wore the aura of authority like a comfortable suit. In the estimate of this gangly young activist, he seemed much more impressive than the horde of party hacks and newsreaders that descended upon a sweltering San Diego for the ephemeral jollifications.
Lacking guile (and good manners), I approached Paul, introduced myself, and immediately began pelting him with political questions. For some reason, he took an interest in me, and we sat down in the convention hall for what turned out to be an hour-long conversation.
The political nature of our interlocution ebbed and flowed. As I would later learn in close quarters with the man, Paul Weyrich was not your garden-variety right-wing ideologue. His conservatism was genuine and borne from the work ethic and Christian example set by his German-immigrant father, Ignatius, and an aggressive philosophical reflection on ideas and history. First, though, he was a follower of Jesus Christ.
For whatever reason and sotto voce, with the hubbub of a political convention as our backdrop, I indicated to him that in recent days I had felt spiritually stymied and unable to find a church I was comfortable attending. He immediately suggested I seek out the nearest Greek Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church, on the condition I attend three times before making a final judgment.
White man speaks in riddles.
What, pray, was a “Greek Catholic” church, and, assuming such a thing actually existed, how did it differ from Roman Catholicism (the confession I grew up in)? Responding to the second part of my query, and without batting an eye, in a stentorian tone he pithily proffered: “We preach the Gospel!“
This assuredness was exceedingly appealing to an idealistic 20-year-old who, following his reading of Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind and sundry conservative tomes, hoped to toil in the conservative vineyard. My chance would come much sooner than I could have dreamed.
A year and a half after that fateful meeting, and following a brief stint at Gary Bauer’s Campaign for Working Families, I was hired by Paul. This act of magnanimity was common of the man, but often belied by a visage that seemed (to those who didn”t know him) bereft of mirth.
The Free Congress Foundation had no openings at the time, and my skill-set was hardly refined. Paul cast these unconsidered trifles aside: The Movement could always use ambitious young men, and I was set to task answering phones. Two years later, following rapid advancement through the ranks of the fund-raising department, Paul personally appointed me as FCF’s Director of Development with side duties of column writing and television and radio guest hosting.
I share these personal reflections because, in the days to come, I imagine a lot will be written about Paul’s life and accomplishments. It’s already being staggered out by the chattering class: Paul Weyrich as The Heritage Foundation’s first President; the nomenclator who gave name to Jerry Falwell’s rubric, The Moral Majority; the political savant who, when others”conservatives especially”scoffed at the notion, cast his knowing gaze to Eastern Europe and began to build grass-roots resistance to the Soviet Empire; and on and on and on.
Whilst all this is true, it is equally important to remember that although Paul was in the Conservative Movement Inc., he was never of it. His oft-taken stands of principle perpetually put him at odds with his fellow movers and shakers and conservative donors.
When Paul publicly opposed John Tower’s nomination as Secretary of Defense, one long-time supporter withdrew a six-figure grant promised to FCF. An excitable opponent of so-called free trade, Paul, unlike most of his peers, could not count on the perfunctory support of corporate America. In addition, when 43 launched Phase II of 41’s military adventurism in Mesopotamia, Paul”in stark contrast to nearly the whole lot of movement conservatives”stood athwart the neoconservatives’ rendition of history and yelled, Stop!
Paul, the son of Kenosha and a Catholic blue-collar laborer and Protestant homemaker, was a prime target for “selling out” to a political establishment that admired his intellect but found his strict adherence to core values inconvenient. They could not penetrate the force of his will due to the strength of his Christian faith.
Recently, conservatives of varying stripes turned out en masse to honor him at a political, star-studded dinner. In a hand-written letter, I received from him just a few days ago, Paul relayed that while he was deeply touched by the assemblage, he’s never been into honors”save for one.
Though the lovely home Paul shared with his beloved wife, Joyce, has numerous trophy cases and award corners, there’s only one honorific he reveled in”that of deacon for the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church.
It’s no wonder he didn”t want to be called “Mr. Weyrich.” According to Byzantine custom, he should have been saluted as “Father Paul.”
This past Tuesday night I found myself unable to sleep. And so, I made way to my laptop and email account.
With my darling fiancÃ©e’s birthday nearing, I sent an email inviting him and Joyce to attend the party I was throwing at my Falls Church condominium. Paul, in his inimitable manner, replied that he didn”t “make house calls anymore,” prompting my teasing riposte: Too bad; we”ll be playing pin the anathema on the heretic.
Somehow, our back and forth turned to the subject of his late father, for whom he was having a memorial service at Church on Sunday. In his signature “Ariel,” size-11 type, Paul typed:
I miss him every day.
In the days ahead, it is our turn to miss Paul. For, at about 1am this morning, Father Proto-Deacon Paul M. Weyrich returned to both his heavenly and earthly fathers.
O Christ God with the Saints grant rest to the soul of your servant, the Protodeacon Paul, in a place where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing, but everlasting life.
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