It was eight minutes after the hour.
The State Room in the Mayflower Hotel was jammed, every seat taken. People stood along the walls. There were five television cameras on a raised platform on one side. On the dais, on one side of the rostrum, was the panel. On the other side of the rostrum was the moderator. Beside him, an empty chair.
It was 10 minutes after the hour.
outside, Robert Heckman paced. Heckman is the executive director of the Young Americans for Freedom. He's in his 20's, with a mustache which appears to have been nibbled on. He was one of the dozen men in Washington called to the White House and briefed by the president before the State of the Union address. He's one of the ones the White House calls back. He also was the one whose job it was to make sure this annual convening of every major conservative group in the country, the Conservative Political Action Conference, ran smoothly and on time. His organization, the YAF, and the American Conservative Union were the sponsors. So this was his responsibility this year, the first year when there was national attention focused on them, when there were more than a handful of congressional conservatives to please, but also the president and the vice president and half the Cabinet. This was the first year it made much difference.
And it was 12 minutes after.
heckman looked up. Coming down the steps of the lobby was the man of the hour. The face is so familiar now, the sharp, chiseled features, the prematurely graying hair, the crips appearance. He met Heckman and they came to the side door of the State Room. They stood in the doorway, Heckman behind him speaking into his left ear, filling him in. His eyes were taking in the scene -- the crowd, the lights, cameras -- the buzz -- which can become so addictive to those who live in it awhile.
"I have to be out by 11," he said.
Heckman said he would tell the moderator.
It was 15 after.
David Stockman then straightened himself, took a breath and strode up the side aisle, emerging into view suddenly from behind the bank of cameras and light and technicians. Heckman was right behind him. Before Stockman even made the dais, Heckman began applauding. Hard, rapid, almost frantic, applause. He looked out at the crowd, hoping it would catch.
He needn't have worried.
The room erupted in applause.
Then, like a rolling swell in the sea, hundreds of them -- row after row -- began to rise to their feet, the swell rolling through to the back of the room. Other than the president himself, right now probably no spotlight in Washington seems as bright, as hot, as the one in which David A. Stockman performs these days. In the eyes of conservatives, he has become a symbol of the times. And these are the best of times.
The first seminar of the four-day conference was The Social Agenda for the '80s. Already, an undercurrent of unrest was evident. The discussion had been thrown open to questions and many of the questions were demanding, nearly accusatory. They dealt with social issues, abortion, prayers in public schools, sex education, racial and sexual quotas, and disappointments about appointments.
A question came from a tall man in the back.
"I'd like to address this to Mr. Viguerie. I worked for Mr. Reagan in South Texas and I've kept pretty good track, and so far seven people from South Texas have been appointed by the administration and one of 'em worked for Reagan."
"Like I said," said Richard Viguerie, a balding man who is the direct-mail wizard of conservative causes and publishes the Conservative Digest, "I'd give President Reagan an A on everything except personnel and a C-minus there. Where are you from in Texas?"
"San Antonio.I was the head of the Reagan campaign in South Texas. One of the men who got appointed worked for Ted Kennedy."
There were gasps.
Viguerie shook his head. "I almost cried last night talking to a longtime conservative, who's traveled the length and breadth of this country for conservative candidates, and has given the last six years of his life to Ronald Regan, and he says he can't even get his phone calls to the White House returned . I almost cried."
The first night of the convention, the conservatives held a reception for the new members of Congress. The new conservative members, of course. And, even among some of these conservative members, there was some uneasiness. It was difficult to find, one only had to keep talking issues and watch for the flinch, rather like a dentist with a pick.
And in particular, the issue of abortion.
"We don't like to talk about it," said Chip Dutcher. "It's too hot," Dutcher is an aide to Sen. Steven Symms (R-Idaho). Symms is in the Senate these days, rather than Frank Church. Church was one of the handpicked targets of the Moral Majority. Symms barely won. So the New Right, which encompasses the Moral Majority, takes credit for Symms' election. "They think theirs are the only issues," Dutcher said. On abortion, at least, Symms stands with them.
"Sen. Symms has always been on that side of the issue. And the office speaks publicly with the one voice. But in the office, we debate it all the time. Some pro-abortion, some against it. The women, I think, are especially pro-abortion."
For years, the conservatives of the House and Senate have fought their battles, taken their beatings and stepped up to the bar afterwards and drunk with the liberals. They were friends, in many cases. That's how Barry Goldwater could make television commercials endorsing Jacob Javits in New York. Reasonable men can reasonably disagree.
The old conservtives are not sure the New Right is as reasonable
"Are we scared of them? Are you going to use my name?" asked one congressional aide. "Yes, we are scared of them. They're new, unpredictable."
The gun that pointed at Church and McGovern and Bayh and Culver in '80 could point at them in '86.
The convention's favorite joke: George McGovern is organizing the Coalition for Common sense.
Paul and Laura Dietrich, a young couple from Missouri, are buying a place on Capitol Hill. They consider renting, because they are keeping their home in St. Louis, but, then, they expect to be here awhile. He ran for Congress in November, and lost. So he took the job as executive director of the Fund for a Conservative Majority. "One way or another," he said, "we were coming to Washington."
Paul looks like a football player. Laura is slender, blond, dressed tonight in an old-fashioned lacy white evening gown. Paul is black tie. They are at a private reception, waiting for the president and Mrs. Reagan, while the rest of the guests are watching a film next door. The Dietrichs' faces are bright, their eyes sparkle. They are having the time of their lives.
"Before the elections," Paul said, "there weren't many conservatives who believed we could get control of the Senate. Now, everyone believes we'll have control of the House, too, after '82."
Dan Coats, the freshman congressman from Indiana, was saying the night before that he didn't think '82 was the watershed year, because two years won't be enough time for Reagan's proposals to show. He thinks '84 is. He said if Reagan's proposals work and the country is on the upswing, he thinks it could be like what happened with the election of FDR. Could go 50 years. But if they haven't worked, he thinks the Republicans, the conservatives, would be thrown back out of office so far that they may disappear from sight.
"A lot of conservatives say that," Paul said, "but we're all looking at 16 years. Some of us won't admit it publicly, but I think we've got a 16-year run. Minimum."
The Young Americans for Freedom is a student organization spread across the country's college campuses. It is a traditional conservative group, which supports the conservative views up and down on defense. Except one. The Young Americans for Freedom don't believe in drafting young Americans.
The National Christian Action Coalition is another New Right organization that grades and watches Congress. Its categories:
Moderate Conservatives, i.e., Arlen Specter (R.Pa.)
Conservatives, i.e., Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.)
Staunch Conservatives, i.e., Steven Symms (R-Idaho)
Moderate Liberals, None
Very Liberals, i.e., Alan Dixon (D-Ill.)
Radicals, i.e., Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)
Sharyn Trotta and her husband were going through a divorce. This was four years ago.Their daughter, Alicia, was in the sixth grade then in the public schools in Madision, Conn.
"One day she came home from school," Sharyn said, "and said her teacher had asked her whom she loved more, her mother or her father." Sharyn Trotta was furious. The subject came up during a sex education class, Alicia told her, but the teacher said they weren't supposed to talk about that class at home. Why, Sharyn asked. Alicia didn't know why. Sharyn said she asked other girls in Alicia's class and they, too, said they thought they weren't to discuss anything of the class with their parents.Sharyn said she discovered the teacher was using a picture of American Gothic to illustrate all parents. She said she investigated a little more and found that the teacher was using a section of a college text on premarital sex in the class. They were discussing homosexuality and abortion.
"I asked some of my friends who were in the anti-ERA movement," Sharyn said, "and they said it sounded like part of the humanist movement to them."
Sharyn sent off for the Humanist Manifesto 1 and 2, and began asking about the humanist movement. She said she was told humanist believed in no deity, only in man and his accomplishments, and that a deity impedes human progress; believed in one world government; believed there was no right or wrong, only "situational" ethics; believed in free sexuality, abortion on demand and the right to commit suicide.
"Doesn't that sound like socialism to you? And they want it to become our way of thinking," she said. "They intend to convert our children."
Then she said she found out a college professor was instructing some of the teachers in the school in humanism.
She said she went to see Alicia's teacher, then the counselor, the principal and the superintendent. "They said I was right, those things shouldn't be taught in the sixth grade." She said she demanded to sit in on the class. "They said yes, but I never could." She asked about the professor and was told they hadn't intended to use him this long anyway and that he would be released.
"Then I heard that the state of Connecticut accepted federal funds to teach humanism in the schools. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what I heard."
Converting our children through the public schools.
Federal government involvement.
She paused over the word itself. Plot.
"I don't know that that word is the best one . . ." She paused again. "Well, yes, that is what I think."
This was Sharyn Trotta's introduction to conservative politics.
(Note: Uri Brier lives in Westport, Conn. He is a humanist, and one of two representatives of the National Humanist Movement in the state. He said he has two daughters in public schools, and has never heard of humanism being taught anywhere in the Connecticut public schools. It's correct, humanists do not believe in a deity.One world government? "It's news to me," he said. No right or wrong? "That's utter baloney." Situational ehtics. "It's written nowhere in the Humanist Manifesto 1 or 2 and I have them right here." Free sexuality? "Some humanists do, some do not, just as some people who go to church have affairs outside their marriage." Right to commit suicide? "Yes." Abortion? "Some do, some don't. Our groug here believes in the case of rapes or incest or danger to the mother, yes we have that right.")
David Jones is balding, trim, tanned and starched. He is dressed in black tie and looks at-home.He has a look of professionalism, of competence, and is the executive director of the endowments at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He was once a schoolteacher there. But there is little trace of a Tennessee accent. David Jones has been around.
In 1970, he directed James Buckley's bid for the U.S. Senate in New York. Buckley won. Jones stayes on as aide for a few years. His roots in conservative politics go back to the early '60s when he first read "The Conscience of a Conservative," met M. Stanton Evans of The National Review, and became national director of the new Young Americans for Freedom.
M. Stanton Evans, standing by the table of hor d'oeuvres, motioned to Jones, who went over and greeted him and made the introductions.
"I knew him," Jones said, "when he drank beer from cans." He pointed to the drink in Evans' hand.
"Part of the new elegance," Evans said and smiled. "Chivas and Mr. Pibb."
They were at the private reception for the president and the first lady. The rest of those at the convention were in the ballroom, watching a film.
"Did you come up for the convention or just the dinner?" Jones was asked.
He frowned. Stupid question. David Jones was one of the three or four conservatives in the country who could pick up the phone and get someone a job. He did not go to conventions like these anymore. He was bigger than that.
"Just the dinner," he said.
"All the way from Nashville, for dinner."
He nodded. "Bob Jeckman called me and said this is the night we've dreamed of . . . There's the conservative movement in the ballroom, the president in on the dais, members of the Cabinet . . ."
Just then, President and Mrs. Reagan entered on the far side of the room. Everyone broke into applause. David Jones, a drink in one hand, a cigarette dangling at his side in the other, stood and watched from across the room.
"This is the night we've waited for."