Politics & Policy

Honoring the Origins of the Modern American Conservative Movement

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)
The 41st annual meeting of the Pumpkin Papers Irregulars ‘honors’ Dianne Feinstein as this years ‘most disloyal’ American.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) did more than just embarrass herself when she waited until the last hour to try to derail the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

Feinstein’s frantic late efforts to tar Kavanaugh and keep him from the highest court did not pay off, but her clumsy smear job earned her distinction at the 41st annual meeting of the Pumpkin Papers Irregulars, a Thursday-night dinner and roast put on this year by the Fund for American Studies.

The D.C. “secret society” of Irregulars has met for 41 years to honor, or dishonor, “the most disloyal Americans,” and to truly honor one of the first modern American conservatives, Whittaker Chambers, who denounced his former Communist beliefs and accused Alger Hiss of spying for the Soviets. Chambers hid some of the evidence on Hiss in a pumpkin on his Maryland farm.

Hiss, a former State Department official, was not convicted of espionage because of the statute of limitations, but Chambers’s testimony got Hiss a five-year sentence for perjury in 1950. The whole affair helped launch Richard Nixon’s national career, and it also bonded Chambers, a journalist, to William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review.

In the past, the Pumpkin Papers Irregulars have given the award to such people as actress Jane Fonda, the late left-wing activist Saul Alinsky, and former CIA employee Edward Snowden, a young leaker who now lives in Moscow.

Feinstein beat out other nominees such as Google (cited for attacks on conservatives); Rod Rosenstein, the Republican deputy attorney general who was criticized at the meeting for alleged schemes to entrap President Donald Trump; and Trump chaser Representative Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking minority member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

In earning the award, Feinstein was accused of using the Kavanaugh hearings to prop up her Senate reelection campaign this year. “For ignoring our most sacred constitutional rights and protections, for placing naked political posturing as the highest value, and for creating a hideous televised grotesquerie designed by her and her Democrat colleagues to destroy an honorable man’s reputation and thereby derail a presidential nomination, Senator Feinstein has for all time earned our disgust,” said Randy Fort, the award presenter.

As keynote speaker, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, the Wall Street Journal’s Americas columnist, noted how effective the Soviets were in finding useful satellites in Cuba and Nicaragua. That synergy is still being exploited by Russia even in its post-Communist phase.

“Russia’s president is trying to rebuild the Soviet empire,” said O’Grady, speaking at the University Club a few blocks from the White House. Russian president Vladimir Putin “officially wrote off, in 2014, $32 billion of bad Cuban debt, on his visit to Havana. Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba are all close to Russia now.”

The dinner event is normally off the record, but not this year. It is perhaps a sign that the organization wishes to teach younger Americans about the past, a time of struggles — with Communists and other totalitarians — that many Americans never lived through.

Carter LeCraw traveled all the way from Gray, Tenn., to attend the dinner. LeCraw, who runs an investment company, has been trying for years to get a major movie made about Chambers. LeCraw said Chambers through his book Witness helped create the modern U.S. conservative movement. The book also turned Ronald Reagan from a Democrat to a Republican, LeCraw said.

It all happened because Chambers, contemplating suicide, heard a divine message (the twelve words, as LeCraw calls them): “If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.”

“All of a sudden, conservatives had a reason to exist,” LeCraw said. “Conservatives didn’t have a strong argument up until that point.”

Chambers and his book also helped inspire a young Grover Norquist, now the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist, attending the dinner after missing the last few, bought Witness for a few cents when his Massachusetts library decided to get rid of it.

“He was one of the first conservatives I read as a kid,” said Norquist.

This was the first year the event was put on by the Fund for American Studies, which plans to keep the annual dinner going. According to its mission statement, the fund, headed by Roger Ream, aims to teach “limited government, free-market economics and honorable leadership to students and young professionals in America and around the world.”

Jim Stinson is a former White House reporter for LifeZette and a former statehouse reporter in Indiana and Alabama.

Jim Stinson — Jim Stinson is a former White House reporter for LifeZette and a former statehouse reporter in Indiana and Alabama.

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