Representatives of the so-called "New Right" turned the tables on their liberal critics in the National Education Association yesterday, charging the NEA with "McCarthyism" and "reactionary" tactics.
The charge came in response to a three-day NEA conference that opened yesterday on the "Rise of the New Right: Human and Civil Rights in Jeopardy." It features speakers and seminars on conservative influence in labor relations, women's and minority rights and other topics.
"The New Right is trying to reverse many of the gains that have been made in social programming to meet the needs of the poor and minorities," John Ryor, NEA president, said in an interview.
The conference, he said, would identify major conservative drives such as tax limitation initiatives, opposition to affirmative action programs and to the Equal Right Amendment, paying special attention to the right-to-work movement.
The gathering also aims at "identifying the groups and some of the tactics and methods they use, and at helping our (NEA) leaders become aware of those groups and tactics."
This, said New Right figure Paul Weyrich, "reminds me of McCarthyism with its listings, charts and graphs. It's not a healthy atmosphere." The NEW press kit contained at least one chart showing interconnections among the leadership of various conservative groups.
Weyrich, a co-founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank and director of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, said at a news conference that the NEA was "trying to conjure up some kind of a bogeyman to arouse its membership."
The New Right, he said, consists of "those people dedicated to free enterprise, traditional family values and a strong national defense," but does not include some conservative groups such as the John Birch Society. It has organized, he said, as "a carbon copy of what the left has already done," patterning its various groupings on successful liberal outfits.
To suggest otherwise, Weyrich added, was "reactionary" on the part of the NEA. "The liberal leadership has decided that since there are now comparable (conservative) institutions to theirs, it's time to change the rules."
His Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, for example, he said, is patterned after the liberal Committee for an Effective Congress. The Republican Study Committee is a counterpart of the Democratic Study Group, he said, and the Heritage Foundation mirrors several liberal research organizations.
"We are people committed to the democratic process who are simply trying to compete," he said. "The NEA is worried about the decline of its own influence and needs a monster to shoot at."
Connaught Marshner, author of the book "Blackboard Tyranny," which criticizes the NEA, said parental resistance is growing to NEA-backed teaching and curriculum changes. "The NEA claims the New Right is orchestrating this resistance but it is in reality locally based," she said.
NEA officials responded that their organization has never been stronger, with 1.8 million members in 8,500 affiliates nationwide.
"If being reactionary in a democratic society is defined as identifying your adversaries and dealing with them as forthrightly as you can, then I guess that's who we are," Ryor said.
The NEA conference continues through Sunday at the Mayflower Hotel. CAPTION: Picture, SOLAR POWER -- President Carter, addressing a group of solar energy advocates, says he has recommended a federal outlay of $845 million in the next fiscal year in promoting the use of energy from the sun. By Frank Johnston -- The Washington Post