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Dividing America

Dividing America

Richard Nixon took a final drag on a cigarette, and put it out. He put his arm through that of his wife, Pat, and began the slow unsteady walk through the crowd of assembled White House staff workers and well-wishers. Most would never be this close to him again. It was August 9, 1974. He walked to a waiting helicopter, and at the top of the steps held up an ironic sign, two fingers in a “V” for victory symbol, and then entered the helicopter and the history books  as the only President to ever to resign.  

The following morning, in a small office on Capitol Hill, a small group of Republicans gathered to plan for the political aftermath of a disgraced President of their political party. One plan had already been prepared, in the form of a memo by a former tobacco-industry attorney and Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, (appointed by Nixon) in what would become popularly known simply as “The Powell Memo.”

The Powell Memo spoke to the problems of a Liberal society, where, in tobacco advocate Powell’s mind, free enterprise was being replaced by Socialism. College professors were too Liberal, pointing not to a free capitalist society but towards Socialism. The idea of the Free Enterprise System, the willingness of people to work hard for a living in a business enterprise, was, in Powell’s mind, slipping away. This was dangerous both to society and to the Republican Party.   

People like Ralph Nader were taking on automobile companies for the slightest mistake…like having Pinto automobiles explode into raging infernos upon being struck in the rear end. Powell’s neighbor was the head of the national Chamber of Commerce. And Powell’s memo was a warning. Don’t let these college professors and their Liberal ideas for the public welfare start to creep into every day thought, or we will suddenly become “the Soviet Union.” Powell already knew the statistics. If this Liberal trend continued, one day the tobacco industry’s responsibility for the deaths of approximately 500,000 Americans a year would become the focus of their attention.

As Powell’s memo was absorbed into Republican thinking in the mid-1970s, many of those senior Republican politicians who had watched Nixon’s departure were conscious of the fact that Republican political control could fade as quickly as the sound of helicopters leaving the White House lawn. Republican action was needed and the details were outlined in Powell’s memo. Spreading the word on Capitalism and Free Enterprise, however, required authority and organization. It meant developing support in the form of business-oriented institutions that would lend support to what could be unpopular theories.  

Building organizations like these would require money. Joe Coors of the Coors brewing family was already a willing participant. Coors disliked unions and Liberals and put his money up to prove it. He had already hired a very bright young man by the name of Roger Ailes a former Nixon staffer, a producer on the “Mike Douglas Show,” even a successful Broadway producer, whose personal political philosophy was slightly to the Right of Genghis Khan.  For Coors, Ailes produced something called TVN, which took video clips and sent them to news departments of participating television stations, re-arranging the facts to fit a Conservative point of view.

The same kind of financial support in the early 1970s helped Paul Weyrich and a couple of others start the Heritage Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing conservative political causes. Weyrich and Ed Feulner, who would later become President of Heritage, developed a strong pro-active organization distributing Conservative articles on economics, sociology, and political science to anyone who would listen. They found some bright young academics who believed as they did, or said they did. Particularly significant was their mission of spreading free enterprise to college students, recruiting them into the Conservative movement at places that eventually became Conservative strongholds, like George Mason University.  

Soon it was clear that some academics were Conservatives or, for the right price, could be brought into the Conservative fold. Other billionaires and multi-millionaires, like Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the vast banking and oil fortune of the Mellon Family  began to see the value of offering developing quasi-academic “Think Tanks” that would spread their particular view of society.   

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