by Beverly Eakman
February 5, 2011
I received an e-mail from a fan the other day that gave me considerable pause. Actually, I had received the same question in one form or another many times. This particular gentleman asked whether I thought it was worth the time or monetary outlay (hotel, parking, time off from work and registration) to attend yet another conference hosted by an up-and-coming conservative organization that was trying to “do something” about the leftist-socialist bent which our government, at all three levels, has taken. The conference in question was in Florida. I recognized most of the speakers, some of whom I knew personally. So, my gut reaction was to say “yes, definitely.”
But my brain suddenly was sending me a different message.
There’s an old saying: “It ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings.” Today, that even this line is deemed politically incorrect, so I hesitate to use it. (Truth be told, I never quite understood why this particular allusion to opera had become a part of the American lexicon in the first place.) In any case, it turned out I was struggling with the same conundrum as my fan, albeit from the perspective of a frequent speaker and award-winning writer.
I looked at the day’s headlines and shook my head. Had the Fat Lady already sung?
While the Tea Party has made significant inroads into the patriot-conservative debate, and many praiseworthy organizations have spent thousands of dollars on conferences and workshops since the Reagan era, nevertheless, what we used to call “the backbone of society” is steadily losing ground. Sensible, traditionalist newspapers are cutting back; conservative agencies and publishing houses are closing doors; once-thriving conservative political organizations are struggling and even competing for ever-dwindling funds; and start-up groups are told that benefactors have exhausted their resources. Many of the household-name, old-guard conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union, Concerned Women for America, Americans for Tax Reform and the Family Research Council, among others, have expanded, but in a turf-battle sort of way. For example, the Townhall.com Internet commentaries are an extension of the Heritage Foundation. I was told that they expect their writers to fork over some $3,000 per year for the privilege of being included in Townhall’s daily distributions. If true, that would take considerable chutzpah, inasmuch as so many are already syndicated.
Regardless, a newbie frequently discovers to his (or her) horror that one must have a private benefactor with lots of spare dough even to be considered an affiliate or a “fellow,” much less acquire an office address within the illustrious buildings of “legitimate” conservative enclaves. Such advantages often come at a price; for instance, relinquishing opposition on some cause such as same-sex “marriage,” psychotropic drugging of children or abortion, in order to be considered a player. Indeed, those unwilling to do so may find themselves blackballed.
Blackballing appears in many forms—false accusations of slander, libel, plagiarism, or just plain being ignored (a snub). Slander, libel and plagiarism, of course, could be rebutted via a lawsuit. But smallish organizations and beginning writers (“newbies”) do not have the money, staff or time for long, drawn-out legal actions, so they demure or even give up. Sometimes one is publicly insulted in a meeting or at a public forum by persons he or she believed to be colleagues. Thus ambushed, talented newbies often slink away, fade into the woodwork, and are never heard from again.
Still other worthies simply overextend. Truly believing there is a niche for their activities and wares, they spend all they have and then some, even taking out loans, only to find that those they thought would support their work and/or the uniqueness of their approach have abandoned them. For example, a group may locate a source that offers to record, for free, a conference or panel. But, being “free of charge,” the resulting recording or DVD may contain some obvious glitch or technical error. The magnanimous entity may decide not correct it due to the expense. Inasmuch as their service was “free,” they are under no obligation to do so. This makes the fledgling organization or person lose sales or, worse, appear stupid in mainstream press reviews.
Then there are the lone researchers—unsung heroes who toil for no compensation at all, trolling newspapers, periodicals and the Internet in today’s environment of information overload, looking for nuggets that might help bona-fide writers and speakers on short deadlines. Each “nugget,” of course, must be thoroughly vetted—that is to say, be verified independently and proven quickly. Since no one today can possibly read or see everything, there is a certain dependence on these researchers who do their best to get important information to reporters and columnists—some of whom are then blackballed by questionable, but nevertheless “legitimized” entities whose toes get stepped on in the process.
Meanwhile, the counterculture Left has spent decades consolidating and accruing friendly colleagues. So wealthy have entities like The Washington Post become, that they hand out abridged versions of their literature at subway stations; throw free, localized editions on neighborhood lawns and offices under a different trade name; and disseminate their angle on news articles in flyers, print ads and TV dramas.
The Left doesn’t worry over small divisions of belief. If one colleague disagrees on a certain point, say psychotropic drugging, then their attitude is well, okay: If you can’t work with us on that issue, then work with us on this other topic, and we will still be your friend as long as you aren’t too strident about your pet peeve. That means the Left will work with hard-core pornographer Larry Flynt on, say, free speech. After all, Flynt has an enormous financial empire. Take a look sometime at his building in Los Angeles. Who cares if he is reputed to have raped his own daughter? That is so…not important.
Our side is not like that. We demand alliance down to the last jot and speck.
Thus do countless patriotic, traditionalist organizations labor alone, angling to obtain a well-known keynote speaker here and an in-kind contribution there, especially at convention-time, passing over more articulate, knowledgeable folks for those who got a leg up thanks to a wealthy benefactor or famous parent, hoping to draw in larger crowds. They may pay $20,000 or more for the privilege, while offering those who really know their subject a mere pittance and abbreviated time slots for countless more hours of work. Unfortunately, audiences today have been conditioned by the schools and the media to be more attracted to high name-recognition than actual knowledge. But once the meet-and-greets with the "star" are over, the expensive dinner wolfed down and posters come down, conservatives are left with no media coverage or reviews, no pictures in the mainstream press and little memory of the brilliance assembled and disseminated there.
Word-of-mouth once could be counted on to motivate, inspire and strengthen a coalition of like-minded people. But that model is passé, and conservatives still depend on it. The name of the game today is high name-recognition, published boldly and often in subways, on billboards, in newspaper headlines and on T-shirts. It is sad to think that if Mikhail Gorbachev could have run for President of the U.S. in 1992, there are those who would have voted for him for no reason other than that his name was familiar. This is not a slam at the American people. It is a slam at an education system and popular press that have accustomed decades of young voters to value popularity over principle.
So…what of my beleaguered e-mail fan? When is “too late” really too late? Is it when decent, honest, patriotic Americans can no longer amass a nationwide quorum? Is it when the conservative body-politic really believes that a 52 percent lead in the U.S. House of Representatives represents some sort of “sweep” or national mandate, as opposed to, say, a 70 percent advantage?
Is it when a mere individual, unconnected to some mega-organization, is no longer recognized for “thinking outside the box”? Is it when “fluff” pieces, rife with clever barbs but few facts, regularly trump what used to be called “think articles” and commentaries in leading newspapers and magazines? Is it when leaders are elected on the basis of their advertising prowess, connections and money rather than on the basis of their principles? Is it when voters can no longer distinguish heartfelt beliefs from pretty speeches? Is it when the ability to buy one’s child an Xbox outweighs considerations about American values, constitutional liberties and ideals?
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The answer to my e-mailer’s query remains up in the air. One thing I do know is that we’d all do well to make up our mind by Election Day 2012. For unless we make political strategy our Number One priority between now and then, it is doubtful there will another chance in our lifetimes.
© 2011 Beverly Eakman - All Rights Reserved
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Beverly K. Eakman began her career as a teacher in 1968. She left to become a technical writer for a NASA contractor. She was a former speechwriter for director of the Voice of America and for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger when he chaired the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. She served as a writer for the U.S. Dept. of Justice before retiring from the federal government. She is the author of six books on education policy, mental-health issues, data-trafficking and political strategy with dozens of keynote speeches, feature articles and op-eds to her credit.
She can be reached through her website: