Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and numerous other conservative organizations, has passed away. His talent was organization: perceiving that ideas alone would not carry the conservative movement and then going out to create the organizations that would spread conservative ideas, develop future leaders, and energize the grassroots.Clearly, the answer for conservatives is not to try to build everything from scratch. Conservative thing tanks like the Hoover Institute, Heritage Foundation, and others must continue to be the incubators of ideas and suggestions for conservatively based policies.
His passing comes at a particularly critical time for conservatives and emphasizes the enormous challenges on the Right. The leaders of Weyrich's generation are passing from the scene, the institutions which they founded have matured. But the question remains: what next?
There is not just an intellectual dilemma for conservatives -- which keeps pundits bickering about the meaning and direction of "conservatism" -- but a realization that the organizational and technological advantage which conservatives enjoyed for nearly a generation has been matched or exceeded by the other side. One can quibble that the liberal opposition is not an intellectually robust or coherent one, but it is a darn successful political force which has swept to coast-to-coast wins in two successive election cycles.
As for conservatives, the existing institutions don't quite seem sufficient to the task of growing the party, developing new talent, and incubating new ideas. Perhaps what is already there can be enhanced, but it may be that entirely new groups must be created to rebuild and revitalize a movement that is not just intellectually depressed but organizationally weak. So, while pundits already obsess over the next presidential nominee, a better question is: who will be the next Paul Weyrich?
The Democrats have done several things well of late and ideas are not one of them. Obama's basic premise is a 21st Century version of the New Deal (at least in terms of PR if not in terms of actual policy). What Democrats have excelled at is packaging, PR and candidate recruitment. If conservatives are to be successful, they will need to do better than Democrats in those areas. Candidates are not born, they are nutured, developed and bred in the crucibles of down ticket races, in campaigns for county council, state house and state senate races, mayoralties and governorships. Looking for candidates is like looking for the next Brett Farve, you have to spend a lot of time and a lot of energy (and yes, lose a few races) to find a truly great winner.
Conservatives (and not just republicans) have to do a better job of finding leaders, people with the emotional intelligence to connect with people, and the intellectual intelligence to explain ideas to people and the political intelligence to fight both in debate and on the hustings, with liberals over the future of the country.
Weyrich knew that ideas were important and he could spot a good conservative idea within seconds. What conservatives needs is a Paul Weyrich who can do the same with people.