Monday, January 9, 2012

The Amazing "National Congressional Club"

There had been no organization like it before. Founded and controlled by Jesse Helms and Tom Ellis (they had worked together on the racist Senate campaign of Willis Smith in 1950), it was not a traditional courthouse political machine. It was described as a "state of the art, vast and sophisticated enterprise." One of it's creator's would later boast, "it was the most powerful political machine the South had seen since Louisiana Governor Huey Long's - maybe even greater than the Kingfish's empire."

The National Congressional Club was a high-tech machine, bankrolled by tens of millions of dollars from around the country. Like much of the conservative Republican movement begun in the South in the last quarter of the 20th century, it's ideological basis and foundation was built around a fear of socialism, a fear communism, and a fear of the advancement people of color. In addition, at the heart of the mission and the foundation of the club was the Republican Party "Southern Strategy", which sought to capture the old conservative, George Wallace, Dixiecrat voting block which had traditionally been Democratic in the South dating back to Reconstruction.

Whatever one's view is of the club, it's work, it's objectives, it's basis for existence (I happen to oppose everything it stood for), one must be intrigued and amazed at the imprint it left on North Carolina politics and on America's political landscape during the last quarter of the 20th century.

Here is what the great political reporter, Rob Christensen, said about The National Congressional Club. "The Club not only engineered Helms' reelection in 1978, 1984, and 1990, but it elected John East to the Senate in 1980 and Lauch Faircloth to the Senate in 1992. In the process, it defeated Democrat after Democrat. The Congressional Club handed four-term governor Jim Hunt his only defeat in 1984. It unseated Senator Robert Morgan, a moderate Democrat, and Senator Terry Sanford, a liberal. It scorched the hopes of a white populist, John Ingram, and Harvey Gant, a black candidate.

Christensen continued, "The club became a training ground for a generation of young conservatives - people such as Charles Black, Alex Castallanos, Carter Wrenn, Arthur Finklestein, Richard Viguerie and Ralph Reed - who later ran the campaigns of U. S. presidents as well as those of prime ministers of other countries.

Alex Castallanos said, "Raleigh was the center of 'The Cause.' At the end of the day 'The Cause' helped balance the budget, knock down the Berlin Wall, elect Ronald Reagan President, and make conservatism mainstream. That is where the movement started in America - in Raleigh with Jesse Helms." There is, of course, opposing thought to Castallanos' claims, but he certainly has basis for the claims. To say the The Club was powerful is quite an understatement.

The era of the political machine, the traditional courthouse machine, and the powerful PAC, are waning. That is a good thing. The age of technology, in my view, has better informed and empowered a new generation. May we use this empowerment and knowledge to better ends than alot of our predecessors.

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