What's Still Great

In Praise of M. Stanton Evans

Great men stand out in a crowd without even trying.

By 7.15.11

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The following remarks were delivered at a celebration of Mr. Evans' distinguished career held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on July 12:

I have known Stan Evans for a long time, approximately ten years longer than he has known me.

When I arrived on campus as a college freshman, Stan's aura was very much present, even though he had graduated some years earlier. Just as it was assumed by us impressionable youth that a lanky prepster named George H.W. Bush might one day play a prominent role in public life, it was assumed, as well, that M. Stanton Evans would leave his mark on American journalism. And so it came to pass.

Stan will have forgotten this historic occasion, but I met him at an all-day meeting convened in Newark, New Jersey to contemplate the future of the Girl Scouts of America. In those hand-to-mouth days for us token conservatives, we would go almost anywhere for two hundred bucks. I was late in arriving and took my seat at the long table of conferees, with the audience rising around us in serried ranks to the top of a modernistic amphitheatre. The ritual introductions were already in progress. They went something like this:

"Hello, I’m William Bigelow from the Committee for Racial Equality. If we do nothing else today, we must confront the racial oppression under which millions of Girl Scouts of color are suffering each and every day."

Murmurs of warm approval rippled through the audience.

Then: "Hello, I’m J. Somersworth Farnsby, co-founder of the Coalition for a Nuke-free America. I hope that we can all agree that the failure of the Girl Scouts to confront the overriding moral issue of our time -- our government’s stockpiling of nuclear weapons -- is a national disgrace. That disgrace should end right here, right now."

There followed a sitting ovation for J. Somersworth.

And then: "Aloha. I’m Rev. Cindy Cistern from the Church for a Better Tomorrow! I’d certainly agree with Somersworth that we ought to rid the Girl Scouts of the badges, the uniforms and all the terrifying emblems of US militarism. And, as William says, racial injustice is clearly omnipresent in contemporary America. But the larger challenge for us is to throw open the doors for all young women to the full range of sexual possibility."

Thunderous applause for Sister Cistern.

Along about this point in the program, the calculation was hardening that I should have held out for three hundred bucks.

And then . . . rolling out of the American heartland, came a rich, reassuring baritone voice saying, "Good morning. I’m M. Stanton Evans, a nonpartisan observer of the public policy process."

Tentative applause, much confusion, as a couple of hundred nervous Girl Scout officials strained to get a glimpse of the nonpartisan observer in their midst.

You will remember those Gahan Wilson cartoons in The New Yorker. Scenes of a movie audience watching a horror flick. People writhing in their seats, screaming, covering their eyes with their fingers. In the middle of the audience sits one weird, pudgy little kid, grinning wildly from ear to ear. That was me. With M. Stanton Evans in the house, I knew that we had them outnumbered. And so it came to pass. That conference proved to be a long day for the forces of peace and sexual possibility.

I learned that day about one of Stan's signal contributions to the public conversation: by the rigor of his thought, the clarity of his expression and the sheer weight of his argument, he has leveled every playing field on which he has chosen to compete.

Another contribution -- familiar to most of you here tonight -- has been his rare gifts as a teacher. The first book I ever edited was a book written by Stan. In the front matter to that volume, Stan did the necessary, thanking his professional associates before making the conventional stipulation that any shortcomings were solely the responsibility of the author. That was a rare journalistic lapse on Stan's part and it should be corrected. For the next edition of his book, I have suggested the following language for the acknowledgment page: "I am grateful for any trace of wit, insight or erudition that managed to survive the clumsy interventions of my so-called editor, who if justice had prevailed would have been honing his dull editorial blade on some far distant whetstone."

It will come as no surprise to those of you who have benefited from his tutelage that Stan has been a pivotal professional influence for an entire generation of conservative writers and editors. He has been patient and nurturing in the early going, and then proud and puffing as we achieved some minor success.

In recent years, Stan has taken on yet another role. In his magisterial book, Blacklisted by History, and in books still to come, he has kept the files, sorted the data and inscribed the lists of those who betrayed the United States during the Cold War. It is lonely, widely unappreciated work and in doing it Stan has become the Simon Wiesenthal of the anti-Communist cause, the man who remembers everything.

Stan's influence now reaches deeply into the generations behind him. My own grandson Harry, aged five, found his admission to pre-school slowed a bit when he was asked to identify his most enjoyable activity. The approved answer at this progressive institution is some form of "helping the disadvantaged." Instead, Harry announced his enthusiasm for "hunting rats." After an unnerving delay, Harry was finally accepted and began in his diligent way to prepare for his kindergarten interview a few months hence. I have suggested that -- in tribute to his Uncle Stan -- Harry should particularize his answer by announcing that he now enjoys "hunting Commie rats."

One of the most telling things ever said about Stan Evans was said by our dear friend Bill Rusher, who died this spring after serving for a half-century as the central gyroscope of the conservative movement. Bill said to me and, I'm sure, to others: "If anybody ever wants to know what ol' Rusher would have thought about something, and Rusher's not around, ask Evans." Well, some of us do want to know and we ask and we are never disappointed. Stan has become the indispensable man of our common enterprise, the wisest among us.

Let me give you just one example of that wisdom. Stan and I recently collaborated in an effort to reinvigorate a nonprofit institution. During the course of those deliberations, Stan gave me some advice that will henceforward guide all of my bureaucratic activity. Said Stan: "It's amazing how much credit you can take, if you don’t care about accomplishing anything."

My remarks tonight have most assuredly not been a testimonial to Stan Evans. Such raw sentimentality would have no place in an occasion of this kind. It's merely an acknowledgement of my gratitude to Stan for being my mentor, my friend and our central gyroscope.

 

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About the Author
Neal B. Freeman is chairman of the Blackwell Corporation.