WASHINGTON, D.C., September 18, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Saturday night, the conservative movement paused to celebrate the life of a man who has helped train nearly 110,000 activists to turn their passion into policy.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins bestowed the Vision and Leadership Award on conservative leader Morton Blackwell at a black tie gala Saturday evening at the Values Voters Summit, held in the Omni Shoreham hotel in the nation’s capital.

Blackwell, who became active as a supporter of Barry Goldwater in the late 1950s, founded the Leadership Institute in 1979. Its 40 classes and seminars have equipped nearly 110,000 conservatives in everything from campaign management, to public relations, to broadcast journalism.

One of his former students, Lila Rose of Live Action, spoke of Blackwell’s influence on her own life during the dinner.

Rose said shortly after arriving as a UCLA freshman, she attended the Leadership Institute and received a grant to expand her pro-life campus publication.

“With that first $1,500 grant from the Leadership Institute, we were able to print almost 5,000 [copies] and distribute them around campus,” Rose said. “Now, six years later, The Advocate is on over 100 high schools and colleges with a circulation of over 200,000.”

As significantly, that’s where she met undercover journalist James O’Keefe, who joined Lila in exposing Planned Parenthood’s willingness to accept money to “abort a black baby” during a series of undercover videos.

In a ceremony hemmed by patriotic performances from the Indiana Wesleyan University chorale, Blackwell, accompanied on stage by his wife, humbly accepted what he called “a great and undeserved reward.”

Blackwell said abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and other moral issues reshaped the political landscape he first encountered in the not-too-distant past.

“What we now call social issues were not political issues,” he said. “In his entire national campaign I believe Senator Goldwater was never asked if he favored making abortion legal. Neither was he asked if he favored making bank robbery legal.” 

“Abortion and monogamous marriage between one man and one woman were among the many settled legal and moral issues of American culture,” he said. “But then the political Left began to bring into politics its hostility to traditional moral principles.”

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Phyllis Schlafly’s role in organizing the coalition to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the late Jerry Falwell’s forays into politics changed the makeup of the nation’s two major parties and forged the modern conservative movement, a marriage of moral, economic, and military conservatives, Blackwell said.

“The leftist politicians, content-free Republicans, and the so-called mainstream news media” derided Christian conservatives as “a danger to the Republic – dimwitted, uncouth, and savage people who would destroy the Republican Party.” Yet this force proved a vital part of the coalition that propelled Ronald Reagan to two landslide victories.

Blackwell, who served as a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan from 1981-1984, said, “The greatest lesson that conservatives learned in that period is that personnel is policy. Where the right people are given responsibility, good things can happen.” He credited the administration’s conservative advisers, as well as the president’s wisdom, for making the Reagan administration a success.

He was less sanguine about the current occupant of the White House. “President Obama is the personification of leftist ideology,” said Blackwell, adding that his policies had been “fundamentally ruinous for our country. He must be replaced.”

“Everything is on the line this year,” he said.

While he – and thousands of the activists he has trained – are backing Mitt Romney for president, he felt Romney had to enact a full-spectrum conservative agenda to succeed.

“If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, there will be no shortage of unattached sycophants seeking jobs and ready to do whatever they are told to do,” Blackwell warned. “I pray that he will see to it that his new administration, if it comes to pass, will hire many, many people who have distinguished themselves by long and passionate endeavors for the conservative principles he now espouses.”

This author is a graduate of the Leadership Institute’s Broadcast Journalism School.