By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 4, 2009 ( – Well over 230 conservative leaders and guests gathered Thursday evening to celebrate the life and legacy of Paul Weyrich, a colossus in the conservative movement, who perhaps now in death even more than in life reminds conservatives that while they hold a diversity of views, a real bond exists uniting them into one conservative coalition.

Fiscal conservatives, pro-life and pro-family leaders, foreign policy and national security conservatives of many different groups found themselves together in the same room for dinner at Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel for the first-ever Paul Weyrich Awards Dinner. There they paid tribute the man they knew as “Paul” and recognized those contemporary leaders who share his broad vision of conservatism.

A leading conservative luminary, who founded the conservative think-tanks, the Heritage Foundation and Free Congress Foundation, as well as the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s with pastor Jerry Falwell, Weyrich passed away December 18, 2008 at the age of 66. The night’s speakers remembered how Weyrich successfully brought them together, despite differences in their respective agenda, into one “conservative movement.”

“Paul understood the importance of combining not just economic and social conservatives, but also national security or foreign policy conservatives,” said Colin Hanna of Coalitions for America, which organized the event. Hanna told (LSN) that, “Paul had a great global scope in that regard.”

“The various components of the conservative movement are beginning to rediscover what a coalition is all about,” continued Hanna. He said that conservatives “quickly splintered after they lost their majorities in 2006, because they forgot much of the value of working as a coalition during the Bush White House years.”

“A coalition does not mean agreeing on everything,” said Hanna. “If you agreed on everything you wouldn’t need a coalition.”

“The pro-life supporter on a pro-life issue, wants to know that he can look over to his side, and see an economic conservative who will be there when noses are counted,” continued Hanna. “That doesn’t mean that the economic conservative has to make the social conservative argument or vice versa. But the recognition that together we are stronger than we can be individually, and therefore we need each other, is a truism that had fallen into disuse.”

“We are now recognizing the need to come together. And that part of what not only Paul’s legacy was about – but part of what we are trying to do for the future with this event. That is why we are trying to recognize people from across the spectrum for this event.”

Weyrich’s Legacy: Conservatism’s Unity in Diversity

The evening’s speeches underscored the themes of “unity” and “diversity” as key components to understanding the vision of Paul Weyrich, and the intent of the Weyrich Awards Ceremony as well.

Morton Blackwell, founder of Leadership Institute, convened the dinner with an address reminding them that Paul Weyrich was the “Censor of the conservative movement,” in a style like the Censor of the Roman Republic, who established who could be admitted as a true conservative to “many important ad hoc meetings and more formal coalitions.”

“Nobody else had that status in our movement,” said Blackwell. The gathering applauded strongly when Blackwell reminded them that Weyrich’s intolerance for “bad conservatives” made their movement “much healthier and more powerful.”

But as a number of speakers emphasized, including no less than keynote speaker former senator Rick Santorum, Paul Weyrich firmly believed that social conservatives formed a necessary component of the conservative movement, and to the overall success of all conservative policies.

“Without those things,” such as strong families and the values that social conservatives stand for, reminded Santorum in his speech, “freedom in America simply cannot exist.”

Santorum later explained to LSN why he firmly believed that the interests of economic and social conservatives ultimately overlap, even though they pursue them from different points of view.

“If we don’t have strong families, if we have immorality and lawlessness, and the family structures break down,” Santorum stated, “the chance for freedom goes away, the chance for economic opportunity goes away, because government must get bigger and bigger to control an unruly populace.”

Coalitions for America awarded Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior Black pastor of Hope Christian Church and leader of the fight against same-sex “marriage” in Washington D.C., the “Faith Community Leader of the Year” award. The bishop later spoke to LSN and said that unity is “something we have struggled with these last few years.” However, he was encouraged by the strides being made, especially with the recent Manhattan Declaration.

Many who were present agreed that the battle over the fate of the nation’s health-care system, may be forging a renewed unity and rediscovery of common purpose among economic and social conservatives.

Rick Scott, chairman of Solantic, leader of Conservatives for Patients Rights, and co-recipient of that night’s “Business Person of the Year” told LSN that he believed social and economic conservatives do share a confluence of interests, and few things have drawn that out more than the health-care fight and its specter of rationing.

“I’m a conservative, and every conservative I know cares about people,” continued Scott. “So they know that doing the right thing on health-care is going to be better for you as an individual, your family, and your kids.”

Indeed, while conservatives have different points of view, the fundamental emphasis on the value and successful thriving of the individual, his family, and the community closest to him, seem to form the common principle shared by all conservatives, social, economic, or otherwise.

Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life, and the winner of the “Youth Leader of the Year” award, drew that point out with the examples of eliminating tax-penalties for marriage (“that’s economic and pro-family,” she said) as well as opposing the current health-care bill in Congress (“It’s not sound fiscal policy, and it is not sound pro-life policy.”).

Death Holds No Bonds on Paul Weyrich: Influence Seems Now Stronger than Ever on Conservatism

In many ways, the evening’s ceremonies and honors seemed to highlight an underlying consciousness shared in the room that Paul Weyrich’s influence on the conservative movement may now have become even stronger in death, binding all gathered into a renewed sense of their common legacy as conservatives, and need to make a common alliance.

“I come at these things as a person of faith,” Bishop Jackson told LSN. “None of the stuff that I do I consider political really at all,” emphasizing that he views his fight primarily as a “moral engagement based on faith.”

“But [Paul] was such a strategist in terms of saying, ‘take your principles, and then they have an impact,’ as opposed to just sitting on the outside saying ‘what to do, what to do.'”

The night honored many conservative finalists and all leaders outstanding in their fields and in their contributions to their movement:

The Paul Weyrich award winners were Media Person of the Year: Glenn Beck; New Media Person of the Year: Andrew Breitbart and Erick Erickson; Courageous Citizen of the Year: ACORN investigators Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe; National Legislator of the Year: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.); Local Elected Official of the Year: Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio; Business Person of the Year: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Solantic Chairman Rick Scott; Faith Community Leader of the Year: pro-family leader Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church; Conservative Hall of Fame – Lifetime Contribution: Phyllis Schlafly; Youth Leader of the Year: Students for Life executive director Kristan Hawkins; and Benefactor of the Year: mutual fund executive Foster Friess.