Picking up Phyllis
By Mike Masterson
Watching her stroll from the concourse at Northwest Arkansas' XNA airport, the impeccably-groomed lady reminded me more of my sweet grandmother than the nation's most enduring and influential female conservative.
Phyllis Schlafly from St. Louis was in and out of Rogers last week to address a regional gathering of the Eagle Forum, the conservative political organization of some 80,000 volunteers nationwide that Schlafly, herself, founded in 1972. I agreed to pick her up at the airport so we might have quiet time to talk.
The lawyer and mother of six, all now long grown, has the appearance, the wit and the energy that defy her years. In fact, as we spoke enroute to a luncheon, it became evident that this woman could talk and debate tight circles around bright people half her age, especially when the topic is ant-feminism.
Nationally, she's been described by leaders and presidents over the years with such words as "indefatigable, relentless and decisive." To that I'd now add cordial and incisive. She easily rattled off several titles from her 20 books, mixing those thoughts with recollections of a life and career that has seen her cited in several different polls through the decades as one of the most admired women in the nation and across the world.
I asked if she was a born activist? She smiled and said "Oh no, I was always very a shy person growing up." Well, she's certainly no longer shy at 81. It wasn't until as a young woman in 1946 when managing the campaign of a Missouri Republican congressional candidate that the flickerings of her wider social and political concerns ignited into a white hot blaze. And she truly came of political age in 1964 as a supporter of GOP Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. That same year, she self-published a book about Republican National Conventions entitled, "Choice Not an Echo" that sold 20,000 copies and propelled her into national visibility as a leading conservative.
She went on to become (and remains) the country's leading critic of the feminist Equal Rights Amendment and after a decade-long battle, is widely credited with being the primary force that helped defeat that attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution.
While maintaining a most civil demeanor, she could give a hoot whether you or I dislike her message, or her politics. She's dead bang convinced that the nation is in trouble from a dearth of leadership and the legacy of federal judicial decisions that continue to have dire social consequences. She's also troubled by the lack of vision and planning within the Republican Party today, especially in the coming aftermath of the Bush administration.
It's obvious to me that she is less than impressed with directions within the current White House. To her, the two terms of George W. Bush have helped sustain and enhance a "big government Republic."
Of the existing Congress, she said she knows of between only 30 and 50 Representatives with voting records that she feels make them worthy of re-election.
Clad in a fashionable rose-colored suit with flower-petal gold earrings and a cross necklace, the smallish lady never hesitated as she recited one issue after another that she believes are steadily eroding individual and parental rights.
Her three most significant concerns are the damage done to society by the rulings of "supremacist" federal judges, the high costs to society of the invasion of illegal aliens and the divisiveness and impact of the feminist movement. Schlafly has consistently faulted that movement and its aftereffects as being responsible for many of today's societal woes.
It's apparent to her that the influence of feminists dominates most colleges whose campuses are the "centerpieces of political correctness." She contends feminists have succeeded in feminizing the military with no beneficial results, damaging athletics at the college level with the removal of scores of men's wrestling programs and fueled the country's billion-dollar-a-year divorce industry.
This blue-eyed former Mother of the Year in Illinois who still writes a syndicated column for 100 daily papers and offers radio commentary on 460 stations, also considers public schools to be the most influential force on children today, even more powerful than television. Yet, she views it as a system fraught with problems. For instance, she believes children are not being taught to read effectively before the fourth grade which is having a seriously negative impact on their overall education.
And she sees an effort underway within the education system today to remove all parental influence once a child enters the domain of the public classroom.
Schlafly believes revisionist history is being taught in the classrooms and standards are being lowered on many fronts to accommodate what amounts to the basic level of expectation and performance that supposedly cater to a child's elevated self esteem.
In the end, she told me nothing will change in the nation's current direction away from parental and individual rights until those who comprise the mainstream of American society decide they will stand up and insist on meaningful reforms from Congress. In the end we shook hands and she smiled broadly.
Agree with her politics and beliefs or not, it's difficult even for anyone who cherishes values and boundaries, including her critics and detractors, not to admire and respect this woman who is proof that one person, even in an unelected position, truly can make a difference.
(Staff columnist Mike Masterson has been the editor of three Arkansas daily newspapers).