A Tribute to America’s Iron Lady: Thoughts From Missouri Eagle Forum’s Sweetheart Luncheon for Phyllis Schlafly - February 15, 2013
Joan Langenburg’s brilliant introduction of Phyllis Schlafly demonstrated that real leadership can come from the grass roots. Joan Langenburg, then President of Missouri Eagle Forum, exemplified the bond that resonated with Phyllis’ admirers which had been forged by over 40 years of her principled, legendary leadership. True leaders are servants first. Mrs. Schlafly’s humility and genuine appreciation for her admirers exemplified that essential quality.
Her articulate speech focused on Obama’s blatant disregard for our Constitution. While he created dependency on government, he sought to destroy the basic fabric of our heritage, as he “fundamentally transformed” our society. Phyllis Schlafly championed the institutions that we hold most dear. It was apparent that the Eagle Forum team in that room was the culmination of her years of principled leadership. Many were probably there 41 years ago when Mrs. Schlafly engineered one of the most amazing uphill political victories of my lifetime.
Against All Odds – Stop ERA
When ERA was passed in 1972, it was as if the Kentucky Derby favorite broke first from the gate and had an 8 length lead by the first quarter mile. It passed the House 435-35 and the Senate 84-8. By March 27, 1972, 30 states had ratified it, with only 8 more states needed for this amendment to become law. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter gave their unbridled support as well as First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, and Rosalyn Carter. Only three Congressmen, Henry Hyde, Bob Dornan, and George Hanson, along with Sam Irvin the lone Senator, supported Mrs. Schlafly. The constant drumbeat for ratification reverberated from thirty-three women’s magazines and 99% of the media. There was no alternative media, no internet, and not even fax machines.
The Essence of Leadership
Mrs. Schlafly’s resources were sparse. Her arsenal was the telephone, the Phyllis Schlafly Report, and the truth. Leading from the front, she spoke at 41 state Legislative Sessions from 1972 – 1975. Her debates with feminist loyalists such as Eleanor Schmiel and Pat Schroeder portrayed an inspiring Christian attitude in direct contrast to the acid dump of hostility that boiled and festered in the caldron of the feminist movement.
The truth has a style of its own. Phyllis Schlafly’s credibility stood on its own merit, unvarnished, shining the light of truth on the deception of the left. The truth of her message that women would be subject to the military draft, would lose the legal support of their husbands, and would lose social security benefits as wives and widows was a powerful message.
Leadership and Teambuilding
True leaders inspire loyalties that build winning teams. Phyllis Schlafly’s team building started with 100 subscribers to her newsletter sent from Alton, Illinois. She told them that not only did she want them to become leaders in their fight to Stop ERA, but she encouraged them to become leaders in the conservative movement.
Dianne Edmondson answered her challenge. Dianne told her charges in the last 6 weeks of the campaign, “I am not asking for your life here, I am just asking for your total commitment for 6 more weeks.” Colleen Parro Baillargeon who would go on to become the first Executive Director of the Republican National Coalition for Life (a position which Dianne later filled upon Colleen’s retirement), stated,” I committed to 6 weeks and I am still here over 40 years later. “Their victory over the ERA would be just one of many in their commitment to conservative values inspired by Mrs. Schlafly.
God Is Omnipotent
Mrs. Schlafly’s focus and determination were instrumental in this arduous ten year battle as she led the fight to stop ERA. After the seven year statute of limitations had expired without the required ratification by the states, President Jimmy Carter and the Democrat Congress totally disregarded the rule of law by extending the ratification process another 3 years. The Illinois Legislature voted on the ERA in each of those 10 years. With Illinois a key state, Mrs. Schlafly’s rallying of 1000 supporters at the state capital in Aurora, IL on April 27, 1976 was a major breakthrough. Then on November 19, 1977, in a leap of faith she rented the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, hoping to attract 10,000 people to counter the feminists’ “Year of The Woman” rally. When that signature event attracted 20,000 supporters, she had built a coalition that changed the face of the political landscape forever. Religious groups that had no previous political involvement rallied behind her, as her core values resonated. They focused on a common goal that transcended any denominational differences. This group, known as the Christian Coalition, was the genesis of the over 50,000 strong army that stopped ERA and was the springboard for President Reagan’s landslide victories. When the final vote on the ERA was defeated in the Illinois Legislature, Eleanor Schmiel stated, “There is something very powerful against us and it is not people.“
After Prime Minister Margret Thatcher died, I saw an article that lamented the fact that the U.S. needed our own Iron Lady. When the Reagan Diaries were published in 2007 this entry was discovered, written on March 21, 1983: “Phyllis Schlafly came by. She’s darned effective. Her plan to counter the new ERA campaign is brilliant.” Her best–selling 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo, showed her to be not only a dynamic leader but a visionary as well. Mrs. Schlafly’s voice of reason on crucial subjects such as health care, immigration, the sanctity of life, and education reverberated through the psychobabble of the political elites with lucid common sense and the wisdom of her years.
As I walked from the luncheon into the brisk, winter afternoon, I could envision the eagle that symbolizes the strength of our liberty and freedom soaring majestically in the bright sunlit sky. And I realized: America had an Iron Lady and she was found at the Eagle Forum.