Thursday, December 18

Paul Weyrich

Paul Weyrich, one of the key figures in modern Conservatism, passed away earlier today. He's known for such things as co-founding the Heritage Foundation, coining the term "moral majority," and helping Reagan into office. But what some people may not know is that he was a tireless advocate for mass transit throughout his entire life.

A year-end reflection he wrote, published today actually, contains this line,

"It is the worst of times because the Bush Administration has turned down 70 some cities which want light rail or streetcars. It is the best of times because Amtrak has set records in number of passengers carried. It is the worst of times because the airlines carry more people on one day than Amtrak does in a year."
Last month, he appeared on the Conservative Townhall site to tout election day transit victories. The 15 comments are nearly unanimously against him, which only underscores how much of a voice in the wilderness he has been in his own movement on this subject. He has made no pretense in hiding his opposition to the Bush administration, and he even abstained from supporting John McCain in the past election on account of his views on rail. From time to time, he has sharply criticised certain strains of Conservatism,
"Grassroots conservatives have told us that they, too, are disgusted by a conservatism that is defined as nothing more than "I've got mine."
Transit for Weyrich was not some idiosyncrasy, prehaps retained from a boyhood fondness for locomotives. It has always been integral to his worldview. He speaks with a reverance for traditional practices of all kinds, including streetcars, thriving cities, and productive farmland. Like Russell Kirk before him, Weyrich worried about a dispersed human habitat dominated by automobile travel. From a 2001 paper,
"In fact, we got to where we are through social engineering, massive amounts of it. In no other society in history have places to live, places to work and places to shop been separated from one another, separated so widely that you need a car to get from one to another. Why did it happen here? Because after World War II, social engineers rewrote the building codes to mandate it. In most places, if a developer now wants to build a traditional town, a place where you can walk from home to work or shopping, he can't. The codes won't let him."
Those who knew him attest to his unwaivering consistency of belief through many years.


Dave said...

Amazing how the conservative movement has essentially ignored Weyrich's beliefs on transit.

Zed said...

Really interesting post, Daniel.

I'm intrigued by how conservativism has drifted. It could use a little more love of "traditional practices of all kinds, including streetcars, thriving cities, and productive farmland".