Dave Weigel points out the hypocrisy of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's professed admiration for W. Cleon Skousen, the Glenn Beck ideological godfather and anti-Communist oddball, at this weekend's Values Voters Summit. While many in the Christian right sidelined Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism, now Mormons like Skousen and Beck are all the rage.
But it's not that surprising -- because it's not that new. The conservative movement has long admired Skousen, and he has a long list of Republican and movement insider admirers. Mark Skousen, a frequent contributor to Human Events, is Skousen's nephew. When Beck started promoting his uncle's book, The 5,000 Year Leap, on his television program, Skousen wrote a paean to his uncle and Beck in Human Events, "Glenn Beck Re-Energizes the Conservative Movement."
Skousen did not overestimate his uncle's influence, even though Beck's discovery of him was recent. (Skousen called that "hope we can believe in.")
When the elder Skousen died in 2006, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), paid tribute to him on the Senate floor, and even included a poem he wrote about his friend. Hatch detailed how Skousen helped launch his political career, sending a letter to 8,000 "friends," urging them to support Hatch's 1976 Senate candidacy. According to a 1980 account in the New York Times by the inimitable Molly Ivins, Skousen's Freeman Institute was active in several other Republican campaigns as well, including one to unseat Sen. Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who chaired the Church Commission that investigated intelligence abuses in the wake of Watergate.
"From that first campaign," Hatch went on in his tribute on the Senate floor, "to every day I have served in the U.S. Senate--Cleon has been there for me, through highs and lows--buoying me up, giving suggestions, discussing principles and issues, and above all else being a true, supportive friend. I can never overstate what his support has meant to me throughout my years of service." Hatch added that Skousen's writings, including The 5,000 Year Leap, "have been used by foundations, and in forums across America for many years. His writings and words leave an indelible legacy of knowledge and beliefs that have touched many people and will continue to inspire and educate generations to come."
John Doolittle -- who at the time was a state senator but later went on to serve in Congress, rise to become Republican Deputy Whip, and then become embroiled in the Abramoff scandal -- was caught up in controversy in 1987, when he endorsed a history book Skousen wrote. According to coverage in the Sacramento Bee, the book, The Making of America, "reprints a 1930s essay on slavery that refers to black children as 'pickaninnies'' and suggests slave owners were the real victims of an economic system in which slaves were generally well treated." The book also suggested "that the Bill of Rights should be rewritten, the Constitution was inspired by the Bible and that there is biblical precedent for returning to the gold standard," according to the Bee coverage. (The article is available only through paid archives.)
Doolittle praised Skousen and said he preferred the book to "the perversions that have been taught for more than 50 years in our schools'' about the Constitution. The Bee coverage tied Skousen and his organizations to the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Moral Majority, and the John Birch Society. (For more on Skousen's conservative movement ties, read this.) Doolittle said at the time, according to the Bee, that "he had been aware of Moon's role in the seminars in which he participated, but he praised Moon's church and said those who brand its members 'Moonies' are guilty of a 'McCarthyistic tactic.'"
The following year, Skousen's bestowed an award on former Attorney General and conservative movement luminary Edwin Meese, who was honored for his "defense of the Constitution." In his acceptance speech, Meese asserted, according to contemporaneous press coverage, "the greatest constitutional crisis of this century is the Congress' usurpation of powers constitutionally designated for the executive branch." Which, of course, is the heart of Cheney-esque conservatism.
As more journalists and bloggers dig into Skousen's ties, the more we'll find that as much as he's seen as a "nutjob" and "crank" by conservatives like Mark Hemingway and David Frum, he has been more influential to the conservative movement than they would like to admit.