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Phyllis Schlafly’s Political Leadership
Phyllis Schlafly’s Political Leadership
Phyllis Schlafly is a superb example of leadership thorough constant dedication to a single cause, namely the promotion of social conservative values in America. For the past 50 years, Phyllis has devoted her life to the promotion of a vision of what it is to be conservative and American. Phyllis believes that the values of family, church (particularly the Christian church), morals, motherhood, children, heterosexuality, hard work and education form the core foundation of what it is to be American.
All great leaders are tireless workers for their cause and Phyllis is no exception. She works hard to get her message out. She puts out a monthly newsletter called The Phyllis Schlafly Report which is now in its 38th year. Her syndicated column appears in 100 newspapers, her radio commentaries are heard daily on 460 stations, and her radio talk show on education called "Phyllis Schlafly Live" is heard weekly on 45 stations. Mrs. Schlafly is the author or editor of twenty books on the subjects most dear to her namely, family and feminism. She continues to debate students on campuses across the nation. It is no wonder that she is sometimes referred to, although not affectionately, as Mrs. Conservative. Phyllis practiced what she believed. She believed in the value of education and worked her way thorough WashingtonUniversity where she received her J.D. from WashingtonUniversityLawSchool, and received her Master's in Political Science from HarvardUniversity. Phyllis rose to face challenges and disappointments and eventually to overcome them. Born in St. Louis, she was schooled in typical conservative thinking. She had a strong mother who stressed the value of education and the need to be involved in social issues. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Phyllis became part of the “grassroots” conservative movement and actively worked against communism and liberalism which were seen as evil. Her ideas however were not necessarily embraced by other conservatives, some of whom were concerned about other issues such as the size of government and wealth creation. To get her ideas out to a wider audience, Phyllis Schlafly put her ideas on conservative philosophy into the book “A choice not an echo” in 1964 and worked to support the campaign of Barry Goldwater for President. The “eastern elite” of the conservative party worked against her and Barry Goldwater lost. Defeat did not stop her but emboldened her. When she did not get support from the eastern elite she Defeat did not stop her but emboldened her. When she did not get support from eastern elite conservatives, she was not deterred. She formed the Eagle Forum network to provide alternative ideas to conservatives and to work for what she saw as traditional conservative values. Phyllis became a harbinger of what is today called the conservative Christian Right.
Phyllis not only faced opposition within the conservative party but outside as well. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw the birth of the modern feminist movement and the coming onto the political scene of Betty Friedman. Feminists espoused a philosophy that was diametrically opposed to the beliefs of Schlafly. Feminists were encouraged to get out of the kitchen and to pursue careers in all areas including those that were traditional male jobs. Choice became a hot political topic as it became acceptable for women to have abortions if they did not wish to have unwanted children and to enter into relationships outside marriage. Phyllis marshaled her followers and rallied against feminism. In 1972 she worked to rally support against the Equal Right Amendment (ERA) after 32 states supported it. She opposed ERA agenda with its support for gay rights and abortion. She rallied the nation to fight the ERA with her STOP-ERA campaign. This was a time of tumultuous change in America. Young Americans had seen the damage caused by the war in Vietnam and were ready to challenge the values of conservative American society. At the same time, the feminist movement was also maturing. The stage was set for a show down. The STOP-ERA movement rallied religious women and men against feminism and caused legislators to rethink their positions. The STOP-ERA crusade crushed the feminists and successfully stopped the passage of the ERA and was a major victory for Phyllis Schlafly.
In 1980 and 1990’s the STOP-ERA crusade fizzled but Phyllis continued her tireless campaign for traditional conservative values. She saw success for her beliefs with the elections of social conservative President Regan and the election of President George W. Bush. Today the Conservative Christian Right dominates politics in America and divides the country in a way not seen before.
Although she worked hard for the conservative party she has in some ways been marginalized by the party. Phyllis’s issues still consume America today. Issues such as abortion, gay-marriage, and separation of church and state are at the forefront of American debate. All leaders have weaknesses. I believe her main weaknesses, as a Midwestern conservative, has been her inability to reach out to African-Americans, to immigrants and to Hispanics. Phyllis showed no interest in the civil rights movement. I believe this hurt her enormously and diminished her contribution in the eyes of many. Her narrowed view of what a great America could be disappointed the majority of Americans, both white and black. While a champion of America’s heartland, she seems to not be capable of seeing beyond her color and religion and has failed to ignite the passions of an America competing in a global marketplace. Today, that she is not a popular icon in the conservative movement. Her energy, drive and accomplishments are many. Mrs. Schlafly became a lawyer and served as a member of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, 1985-1991, appointed by President Reagan. She has testified before more than 50 Congressional and State Legislative committees on constitutional, national defense, and family issues. The mother of six children, she was the 1992 Illinois Mother of the Year.
1. Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A
Woman's Crusade. Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America
Series by Donald T. Critchlow, Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 2005.