Hayward, Steven F. 2022. M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom. Encounter Books. 400 pgs.
Since coming to England, I’ve often been asked what I as an American conservative have to conserve. And each time I’ve laughed, just as you’d laugh if someone asked why you want to live. There didn’t seem to be any other answer. The reasons for conserving American culture run too deep for words.
But laughter is a silly response, even to a silly question. So, here, I’ll try to articulate what American conservatives love about America—the nation that scandalises Europe with our broad vowels, our rampant obesity, our tendency to shout in public places, smile at strangers, and bumble through European cathedrals as though we’re in the Coca Cola museum.
Because, despite our flaws, there’s a great deal to love about America—and a great deal to conserve.
I rediscovered this truth recently while devouring Steve Hayward’s biography of M. Stanton Evans, the great American journalist who wrote his way from Kennedy to Obama, a man endowed with the sort of warmth, wit, and vibrancy only possible under the Star-Spangled Banner.
A Yale grad and contemporary of William F. Buckley, Jr., Stan Evans helped sting the American conservative movement into existence. At age 26, he spent an Eastern Airlines flight writing the Sharon Statement, which knit libertarian instincts and Burkean principles into one document and formed the basis for Young Americans for Freedom. He sat on the board of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, he chaired the American Conservative Union from 1971-1977, and he campaigned hard for Ronald Reagan during the 1976 race. In 1977, he founded the National Journalism Center in a sleazy suite over a liquor store—an organisation which has since churned out 1,500 journalists. Today’s conservative Washington world wouldn’t exist without Stan Evans.
But Evans was primarily a journalist. He knew economics like the back of his hand, and his articles emphasised facts first, opinions later. He spent his life glued to a chair, typing up thousands of pieces for the Indianapolis News, National Review, Human Events, and Consumers’ Research Magazine (the first edition of which contained a lengthy Evans piece on automobile airbags). Human Events was Ronald Reagan’s favourite journal; while in office, the president had two copies sent to his residence to avoid the predations of irritated staff. And Reagan cared what Human Events thought of his administration. He even invited its major contributors to the White House, where he informed them, ‘I’m reading you more, but enjoying it less.’
And yet none of these episodes reveals the peculiarly American character of Stan Evans—what Hayward calls his ‘personal exuberance.’ The man lived with ‘anti-elitist’ flair. He owned a three-legged dog named Zip; he smoked; he knew rock-and-roll as well as he knew economics; he ate chili dogs and red Jell-O, and once sent back a burger with the complaint, ‘it wasn’t greasy enough.’ His office boasted a THANK YOU FOR SMOKING sign, and he described tobacco as ‘just the sort of green leafy vegetable the USDA suggests I have at least five servings a day.’ (Ketchup was also a vegetable.) Meanwhile, he spent his DC years collecting parking tickets and lecturing young journalists in the mice-ridden quarters of the NJC. His primary advice: get the facts. ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’
Steve Hayward does his job well: M. Stanton Evans pops from the text, kind, funny, relaxed, American from the heart outwards.
The ‘M’ stands for Medford, by the way.
And now, just to complete the character portrait, I’ll finish with some of Evans’s funniest one-liners. They’re good—great, really—written with the joyous recklessness of an American conservative.
Liberals don’t care what you do so long as it’s mandatory.
There is no absurdity that you can invent that a liberal will not state seriously.
Any country that can land a man on the moon can abolish the income tax.
There are only two things I don’t like about the Nixon administration: Its domestic policy, and its foreign policy.
I didn’t like Nixon until after Watergate. After wage and price controls, Watergate was a breath of fresh air.
I didn’t always care for Joseph McCarthy’s ends, but I always admired his methods.
Why is it that when one of us gets into a position of power in Washington, he’s no longer one of us?
Whenever there is a pressing public policy issue, I went to know what celebrities think. It is important for our lawmakers to hear from Bono.
The Falklands War is a tough call. On the one hand, we like imperialism. On the other hand, we like military dictatorships.
Conservatives stand for family values, law and order, low taxes, a balanced budget, a free market economy, and a strong national defense. In other words—hate!
I’m tired of hearing what Republicans will do for the working man. What have they done for the country clubs lately?
Happiness is finding a declassified list of Communists.
The difficulty with appeasing Communist China is that a couple hours later you want to do it again.
You gotta love Stan Evans, and you gotta love America, too.
At least, that’s how I feel.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Makaristos