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Conservative Icon Phyllis Schlafly: "The Republican Party is in the Hands Of the Wrong People"

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Hailed as the 'founding mother' of the conservative movement, Phyllis Schlafly has been a major force in national politics for over 50 years. Her first book, A Choice Not An Echo, led directly to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential bid, making Schlafly a leading figure of the New Right. She later played a pivotal role in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980s. Her latest book is No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom. PolicyMic's Sagar Jethani spoke with Phyllis Schlafly about the civil war being waged within the Republican Party today, and the role that social issues continue to play in the conservative movement.

Sagar Jethani: Reflecting on Mitt Romney's defeat in November, Senator Lindsey Graham said "If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn't conservative enough I'm going to go nuts. We're not losing 95% of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we're not being hard-ass enough." You disagree.

Phyllis Schlafly: Lindsey Graham is one of the establishment Republicans. They picked Romney, and they have to defend him. There were many, many things wrong with the election and the campaign in 2012. One of them was that establishment Republicans really don't have a ground game. They really don't know how to relate to grassroots Americans. Romney appealed to the people who are well-to-do and traditionally Republican, but there wasn't any outreach from that. And the real block that he failed to get was the white voters —  his drop-off from white voters was tremendous.

Was Romney a poor choice?

I think he's a very fine man and all that, but he just did not relate to the man on the street. I favor more grassroots input to select our nominees. Establishment Republicans like candidates they can control and tell how to vote, and a lot of real conservatives don't like to be told. They want to represent the people who elected them. We need to restore things so that the grassroots control the party.

Shortly after Senator Graham's comments, the Republican National Committee released a report called the Growth and Opportunity Project. It argues that the GOP needs to reconsider its stance on a wide range of issues like immigration, minorities, and women.

It was absolutely unbelievable, the way they called it an autopsy. An autopsy is something you apply to dismembering a body after it's dead. The Republican Party is not dead. We have a two-party system, and the Republican Party is alive — it's just been in the hands of the wrong people.

What kind of candidates should the GOP be supporting?

The grassroots wants real Republicans who believe in the social and moral issues, who believe in the national security issues as well as the fiscal issues. We should remember Ronald Reagan's recipe for winning, and winning big. It's been referred to as the three-legged stool: fiscal issues, moral/social issues, and national security issues. We need them all.

Who represents the future of the GOP?

People like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee who are not establishment candidates.

What about Marco Rubio? Wasn't he a grassroots candidate?

Originally, Marco Rubio was until he went over and joined the establishment and became their salesman for unlimited amnesty. 

14 years ago, Paul Weyrich, another leading figure of the modern conservative movement, declared that conservatives had lost the culture war. The head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary echoed Weyrich last November when he said that the reason conservatives lost was not because their message didn't get heard, but because it was heard and rejected by America. Do you agree with them? Has the country simply rejected conservative views on issues like abortion and gay marriage?

I do agree that the culture has dramatically changed, but I don't blame that on conservatives. They mostly have stood by moral values. When you look at the fact that we had 41% illegitimacy last year, you can see there is an attack on the institution of marriage from many special interest groups. It is a very difficult situation. 

Why do you feel so strongly about moral issues like traditional families, gay marriage, and the role of women?

Our national success, including our fiscal success, our national security success, and our limited government success is all based on the institution of the nuclear family. My next book is called Who Killed the American Family?

How does promoting the nuclear family support the idea of limited government?

For those who believe in limited government, or who are libertarians, there's no way to get the government out of our lives unless you uphold the traditional nuclear family, because then it can support itself. When you have an intact nuclear family structure, you don't need much government. It's the people who have abandoned the family who look to government to help them with all their expenses in life. Now we have about 48% of the American people who get all or part of their living expenses from handouts from the government — from people who do have jobs and intact families.

Republicans are often criticized for wanting to dismantle the safety nets people depend on. Do you think the government has a role to play in helping those who struggle to get by?

I grew up during the Great Depression, and didn't have any of these government handouts, and we grew up to be what was called the Greatest Generation. The idea of an enormous number of people getting food stamps? Nobody's hungry in the United States. I think we need to build more self-reliance. We need to build the nuclear family, in which the father is the provider and the mother is a mother. 

Earlier this month, researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University released poll results which showed that nearly half of all Republicans believe that an armed uprising will soon be necessary to protect their liberties. What do you make of this?

That worries me. I'm not in favor of any kind of armed uprising. I think we already have all the mechanisms for change in our Constitution. That's why I've spent my life urging people to be active in politics. Recognize the fact that we have a two-party system, and pick one of them. I think the Republican Party has some hope for us.

But not Democrats?

The Democratic Party is totally controlled by the feminists. They are a very effective and destructive pressure group working against the family, against marriage, and against independents and people making their own way.

I'd like to turn to some of your recent writings. After the identities of the Boston terrorists became known last month, you wrote that we should reinstate the House Un-American Activities Committee.

(Laughs) Oh, the liberals got very ticked-off with that!

You wrote that the government should question Muslim immigrants and find out if they are a Muslim first or an American first.

Until recently, immigrants were people who wanted to be American. I've talked to so many older immigrants who said that as children they got on the boat and went to Ellis Island, and their parents would say: "We're going to be Americans now. We're going to speak English. This is our country." That was their feeling. We have so many people now who maintain ties to the country they came from.

Is it wrong to maintain ties to your country of origin?

I don't think you ought to immigrate to American unless you want to be an American and become an American citizen. And while I don't have the oath that you have to swear in front of me, it certainly demands that you swear that you are renouncing all allegiance and fidelity to any country, king. or sovereign that you came from. If you're not willing to do that, frankly, we don't want you. You can only be a visitor, you can't be an American. I just believe there are so many people coming into our country who don't want to be an American. In particular, we are letting so many people in who come from countries where they have absolutely no tradition of limited government or balanced budgets. They don't know what Republicans are talking about. They don't fit in with what we hope for in building a fiscally-sound and morally-straight party and country.

What about Americans who say they are Christians first? Should they be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as Muslims?

Our First Amendment talks about the free exercise of religion, so I don't think we should be investigating into their religion.

Do you think the government should officially back Christian activities and events?

The founding fathers all talked about their faith in public. We believe you can say prayers in public, have invocations in public meetings, have events, thank God for his special blessings on America, and have monuments like those about the Ten Commandments. Atheists are determined to get rid of them, often by lawsuits filed by the ACLU or some of these atheist organizations, and Obama seems to fit right in with that pattern.  It's really disturbing, because it does appear that he is trying to make this a secular country. It isn't a secular country, if you read history.

People are entitled to exercise and announce their faith in Christianity in public places. That's what free exercise of religion means, or should mean. Christians need to wake up and protect themselves.

Let's say a group of American Muslims wanted to do a public event to mark Ramadan. Would that also be OK?

Well, there's no offense in their doing their thing. But if they're going to make us do their thing, that won't do at all.

We have accepted so many Muslims as legal immigrants in the last few years. I would like to know: are they required to renounce their beliefs and practices that violate our laws— specifically, polygamy? I do not think they should be let in this country unless they renounce polygamy. They have other practices that are offensive to women, practices that are illegal in this country. I don't think they ought to be let in unless they renounce their illegal practices which they may claim are part of their religion, but which we do not recognize and do not permit.

You write that Obama has led the greatest government-directed assault on religious freedom in American history. Yet over 6 million Christians voted for Obama last November. How do you square that?

I guess Rush Limbaugh explained it when he said they're the low-info people. They're just not interested in, or knowledgeable about the facts. They're just caught up by the glamour and charm of Obama.

You recently argued against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, saying it would be suicide for the Republican Party because they would all vote Democratic. You don't think that Hispanics resonate with Republican values?

I don't see any evidence that Hispanics resonate with Republican values. They have no experience or knowledge of the whole idea of limited government and keeping government out of our private lives. They come from a country where the government has to decide everything. I don't know where you get the idea that the Mexicans coming in resonate with Republican values. They're running an illegitimacy rate that is extremely high. I think it's the highest of any ethnic group. We welcome people who want to be Americans. And then you hear many of them talk about wanting Mexico to reclaim several of our Southwestern states, because they think Mexico should really own some of those states. Well, that's unacceptable. We don't want people like that.

What do you make of the Gang of Eight's bill on comprehensive immigration reform now making its way through Congress?

It is suicide for our country, and not just for the Republican Party. 

I'd like to turn to the subject of gay rights. In the last two weeks, there have been a series of hate crimes in New York City directed against gays, culminating in the death of a 32-year old man named Marc Carson. Do you think the government has a role to play in protecting gays and lesbians?

I think the appropriate authorities need to protect us against crime and need to punish crime when it happens. I don't see how that crime is any different from assault and battery or killing of other people.

You don't think it should be treated differently because it is directed against members of one specific group?

No, and I don't think it should be made into a federal crime. The system of our government is that crime is a local and state matter for arrest and punishment.

According to Gallup, the number of Americans who consider gay or lesbian relationships morally acceptable has shot up from 38% in 2002 to 54% today. Is it time for conservatives to get with the program and start supporting gay rights?

No, it certainly isn't. The polls are very defective. If you look at the polls, most of them ask the question: Are you in favor of banning same-sex marriage? Now, we have no law that bans same-sex marriage. Any gay couple can get married— all they have to do is find a preacher or justice of the peace who will perform the ceremony. There's no law against that. What they are demanding is that we respect them as being OK, and that's an interference with our free speech rights. There's no obligation that we have to respect something we think is morally wrong.

Republicans oppose gay marriage by a large margin, with only about 25% supporting it. But if you break down the results by age, you find that young Republicans are much more accepting of gay marriage, with about 40% supporting it.

What you say is certainly substantially true, but I think it's a result of what they're taught in the schools. They've been teaching in the schools that homosexuality is OK for years. So the kids who have been taught that have grown up, and they've been made to believe it. The homosexuals are teaching their ideology in the schools, and kids are learning it.

Your own son, John, is gay. What do you say to those who argue that your view on gay rights prevents people like him from enjoying the same rights that heterosexual Americans possess?

In the first place, I'd say it's really none of their business. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. My son is very supportive of my work. In fact, he works for me in the Eagle Forum. He's a fine, honorable man. It does not cause any problems in our family.

You are best known for your work defeating the Equal Rights Amendment and your opposition to feminism. You recently wrote that "We must stop talking about women's rights, women's needs, women's problems, and progress for women." Why? Hasn't feminism resulted in better, more fulfilled lives for women?

What you just said is untrue. The polls show, and surveys by responsible organizations say that women are not as happy as they were 25 years ago. I think when feminism has broken up their marriages, naturally they're not happy. Women who are having babies without any man to help raise them and support them are almost guaranteed to be unhappy.

You don't think feminism has done some good in raising the status of women?

The feminist movement is the most destructive element in our society. It has done nothing but damage. It has not done anything good for women, whatsoever. The worst part of it is the attitude that breeds in young women in making them think that they are the victims of the oppressive patriarchy. That is so false. If you wake up in the morning thinking you're a victim, you're probably not going to be happy or accomplish anything.

Don't women in this country still have a long way to go in terms of enjoying the same rights that men have held from the beginning?

American women are the most fortunate class of people who ever lived on the face of the earth. We should rejoice in the great, wonderful country we have. Women have always been in the Constitution. There is no sexist word in the Constitution. It is written for We, the people and every word in it is sex-neutral, like person, citizen, elector, and Senator. I don't know what they're complaining about. You can do whatever you want.

Yesterday, Chris Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said that it's hard to recruit women to run for office because Republicans don't value women as much as men.

What you said is ridiculous, and the guy who said it has been influenced by feminist propaganda. I can tell you why it's hard to recruit women. I have run for office. I ran twice for Congress. Women don't like to do what you have to do to get elected in the same proportion that men do. It's just plain tough: eat all those bad chicken dinners, travel all the time, expose yourself to attack by the other side all the time. And if you get elected to Congress, you may live a couple of thousand miles away from home. There will never be a large proportion of women who choose that lifestyle as compared to men. So stop complaining.

You argue that radical feminists have pushed for easier divorce laws to destroy the traditional family unit.

Of course, radical feminists push for divorce. They think men are not necessary, and they'd really like to get rid of them. The easy divorce law should be called unilateral divorce: it means one spouse can break a contract, and get out of solemn promises made in public before witnesses without the consent of the other party — without any fault on the side of the other party. That is so contrary to American constitutional law. Our Constitution is supposed to uphold the sanctity of contracts, but it doesn't. 

But wasn't it Ronald Reagan who unleashed the tide of no-fault divorce by being the first governor in the nation to sign it into law in 1970?

Yes, but according to his son, Michael, he thought that was the worst mistake he ever made. Because once California did it, the tide just rolled across the country, and all the states quickly adopted unilateral divorce.

Last November, Obama beat Romney when it came to single women by a whopping 36%. You have argued that Democrats try to increase the number of single mothers in America by "boosting the flow of taxpayer-paid incentives to subsidize a non-marriage lifestyle." But what about the damaging statements made by prominent Republicans like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock about rape? Or Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut for wanting greater access to birth control? Doesn't that explain why single women voted overwhelmingly for Democrats?

Financial incentives are far more powerful than what anybody said, and the financial incentives are in favor of non-marriage. The great volume of taxpayers' money is doled out to women who don't have husbands, who are not married, and who have babies without marriage. 

Another issue you've written extensively about is abortion. According to the Pew Research Center, 25% of Americans think abortion is morally wrong and that Roe v Wade should be overturned. But a whopping 60% of Americans disagree. They believe abortion should continue to be available to women. Has the ship sailed on this issue? 

I don't know what polls you're quoting, but I think the polls are showing that there is an increasing number of people who are against abortion every year. I attribute that largely to the pictures. So many people can't read today, but everyone can see pictures of an unborn baby on an ultrasound. Any second-grader can say that's a baby. I think that has been maybe the biggest factor in changing public opinion. The liberals are recognizing this. Was it TIME magazine that ran a big cover story on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade saying it was a great victory for abortion, but its supporters have been losing the battle ever since? Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been quite critical of Roe v. Wade recently, saying it went too far, too fast. Abortionists have been losing the battle ever since Roe v. Wade.

Abortion isn't just about the women's alleged constitutional right to kill her own baby. It's also a very anti-male part of the feminist movement. Because the feminists have gotten the courts to agree that not only does the woman have the right to kill her baby, she doesn't even need her husband's consent. She doesn't even have to tell him that she's going to kill their baby. Contrast that with what happened a few weeks ago in Tampa. A husband tricked his wife into taking a pill to induce an abortion she didn't want. He has now been indicted for first-degree murder. You contrast that with the right women have to abortion and it really shows you how anti-male the feminist movement is.

Abortion rates have hit a new low for the past 10 years. Researchers see a marked correlation between low abortion rates and increased use of contraceptives like IUDs. Shouldn't those who oppose abortion be in favor of a greater use of contraception?

I don't know how you can promote greater use than what we already have. It's easily available. It's not expensive. What's the problem?

What about using sex education to teach about contraception, for instance?

No, no. It's like Sandra Fluke, who wanted taxpayers to provide her with her free contraceptive sex life. Contraception is easily available, and it's not expensive, but they still want somebody else to pay for it. That was the whole issue in her case.

You write that "Liberal judges have no shame in proclaiming their belief that our written Constitution is 'evolving,'" echoing Justice Scalia's recent comments that "the Constitution is dead, dead, dead." But didn't founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson acknowledge that laws should change to keep pace with new truths and changing opinions?

They put in a system for amendment. However, the Constitution is written almost in a very generic way. There is hardly any need to change some of those lasting principles that we understood, until some people came along and wanted to deny them. The Constitution is not a living document: it's a piece of paper that has words written on it. Nobody has the right to change it without going through the proper procedure.

You're known for not pulling any punches when it comes to criticizing the other side. Do you feel that liberals or Democrats have contributed anything positive to our country? Or has their involvement been wholly destructive?

(Pause) Well, Democrats occasionally do good things, like when Kennedy cut taxes to prove that government gets more revenue than when you raise them.

We've seen a few scandals unfold in the past couple of weeks — the IRS targeting conservative groups, and the Justice Department secretly monitoring private communications at the Associated Press, Fox, and other news organizations. Do you agree with Steve King and Michele Bachmann that these scandals are worse than Watergate?

Well, of course the IRS scandal is much worse than Watergate. Watergate was just an ordinary little break in to an office. The harassment by the IRS, particularly of those who use Tea Party or Patriot in their titles, is just a total outrage. These groups  had every right to get their status approved in a couple of weeks. Instead, they were harassed for years.

Do you think the IRS was acting under orders from the White House?

The IRS may not have thought their orders came directly from Obama, but they were certainly doing what was in harmony with what Obama would have liked. Obama took the low-level bureaucrat who did most of it and instead of firing her, he promoted her to run Obamacare. That's one of the worst parts of the whole thing.

Do you agree with those on the right who say the recent scandals merit impeachment proceedings?

I think there are many reasons why Obama could be impeached, but I'm not leading that battle. I think the best way is for Congress to stand up and stop a lot of the mischief that he's doing which may be illegal. The Constitution makes it the duty of the president to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. He's got Eric Holder trying to overturn a law that was duly passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses and signed by Bill Clinton — namely, the Defense of Marriage Act. He's not taking care to see that the laws are faithfully executed. That's just one of his offenses.

Looking back at the presidents you've observed, who made the greatest difference?

In recent years, it certainly was Ronald Reagan. He had a tremendous influence. Unfortunately, a lot of Republicans are hoping for a new resurrection, and I don't think it's going to happen. So we're going to have train somebody else to follow the successful game plan that he had in winning and running the country.

The RNC report recommends that Republicans stop talking about Reagan so much.

That recommendation, in what was called an autopsy, was widely condemned. Honestly, I don't know anybody who liked it. I don't think we accepted it. It was just a statement pulled together by the establishment Republicans. They want to tell their people: don't talk about the social or moral issues, talk exclusively about the fiscal issues. That's ridiculous. We don't want them running things. I tell people we've got another "Choice, not an Echo"-type battle going on in the Republican Party today. We want somebody who follows the successful game plan of Ronald Reagan to run and win in the future.

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