Wes Vernon
Approaching his deathbed: the scholarship (political and spiritual) of M. Stanton Evans
By Wes Vernon
March 20, 2015

A great (but humble) man left us last week. M. Stanton Evans: patriot, journalist, prolific author, philosopher, intellect, years-long professor, and clever, down-to-earth – funny, good friend.

Whatever there was to learn that was worth knowing, Stan Evans (1934-2015) would make it his business to know it. What is truly amazing is that, being of an "old school" frame of mind, as he would acknowledge, Stan's encyclopedic curiosity was satisfied without touching a computer, and with minimal reference to a cell-phone.

Evans' career path brought him in contact and/or collaboration with the greats and near greats in journalism, the political world, and the conservative movement (in which he made his own mark as an activist in working with the younger generations that spawned the candidacies of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1976), and finally in 1980 when "the Gipper" became, in the view of many supporters, the first certified conservative to reach the White House in nearly a half century.

Career path

At the age of 26, Stan Evans, a native of Texas, was editor of a major metropolitan daily, the Indianapolis News.

If there had been no Stan Evans in 1960-1964, there likely would have been no President Reagan as a result of the election of 1980.

The break in 1976

To boil down to the essence of the long story where political smarts of young upstarts can trump the political clout of establishment Republicans, Evans took a leading role in coordinating his own army of younger conservatives to form a coalition of like-minded young North Carolinians led by that state's conservative U.S. Senator Jesse Helms.

Together, they helped Reagan win the N.C. presidential primary and defeat incumbent president Gerald Ford in that state. Though this gave Reagan some badly-needed momentum (he went on to win other primaries in '76), Ford still won the '76 nomination. But by ending his earlier series of losses, Reagan's showing in North Carolina rescued him from political obscurity, and clearly bolstered M. Stanton Evans' already solid reputation (he was barely in his thirties) as a guru for what was then labeled the "new right." After which, historic victory in 1980.

The Evans White House influence

Ronald Reagan in 1980 was the first certified "real" conservative president in the lifetimes of millions of conservative voters who had cast their ballots for him that year. The new president's hopes and dreams matched theirs, and it was assumed that the table was set for a presidency that would not disappoint them – his party's "base," the younger generation schooled in the art of accomplishing conservative policies, thanks to the likes of William F. Buckley, Jr. and – of course – M. Stanton Evans.

New big thinkers in town; big ideas

Some old hands in the backrooms of the party establishment, of course, had other ideas. But President-elect Reagan, despite his affable personality, pushed back with an inner determination of iron and steel.

The public laughed at the Gipper's pronouncement, "Here's our foreign policy. We win; they lose." Little did they know that, although he was being facetious, at the same time he was formulating big ambitions, including little-known (at the time) the take-down of the Soviet Union.

A cornerstone of the "Reagan revolution" (backed by conservatives such as M. Stanton Evans) was a new program to cut taxes for the American people and in so doing create more jobs to put America's economy on a fast lane, anathema to a Washington establishment accustomed to the unspoken but ironclad rule that taxes were always a one-way street – upward toward the stratosphere. With relatively small compromises to Democrats, who still controlled the House, "Reaganomics" passed Congress and started the ball rolling for an almost unheard of recovery.

Ol' Potomac fever

M. Stanton Evans, however, was disappointed the administration failed to enact the other half of the "Reaganomics" agenda: spending cuts.

In "The Age of Reagan," Stephen Hayward quotes Stan (whom he describes as "the conservative sage"), who quipped that too many conservatives come to Washington intending to drain the swamp, only to find out Washington is less a swamp than a hot tub, and that they like Washington's hot tub.

Despite failure to cut the budget sufficiently to meet his goal, it was not due to any lack of trying on Mr. Reagan's part. His basic attitude toward the Washington establishment was – shall we say – rather cool.

For example, when told that a prospective Transportation Secretary, Drew Lewis, was a Harvard Business School graduate, Reagan quipped "So much for his liabilities."

Candid discussions

During the 40th president's White House tenure, he held a series of meetings with reliably supportive conservatives to keep in touch with his political core. Among these conservatives were Stan Evans and Allan Ryskind (whose expose on Hollywood Reds was recently reviewed in this space (See Hollywood Traitors, Jan 29). They were critical of the president's appointment of James Baker to his staff. Jim Baker, a Texan and protégé of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, was in the room at the time and of course, was uncomfortable even as his boss came to his defense. Insisting he was his "own man," the president saw to it that Baker kept his job. However, agree or disagree, the president wanted input from friends whose general worldview matched his own, even if he did not always like what they had to say. Mr. Reagan had a hang-up with "yes-men." But Evans did not trust Baker, suspecting (not without reason) that the Bush man had been leaking rumors that undermined the Gipper's presidency.

"The key to his [Reagan's] acceptance of the tax deal with congressional Democrats was what appeared to be a favorable compromise according to which $1 of increased taxes would be matched with $3 in spending cuts."

Alas, writes Hayward, "Congress never delivered on meaningful spending restraint." Surprise! I personally heard Democrat members of Congress laughing while bragging that they would effectively ignore the cost-cutting promises.

Why people "hate politics"?

But, although communism as a worldwide movement was not going away – hey, the economy was roaring, as the Soviet empire itself was crumbling – the president was calling out Gorby to "tear down this wall." So what's the big deal?

M. Stanton Evans remained convinced the promise-breaking was in fact a "big deal." While still fond of Reagan, and believing "on balance" that the Reagan era was a success, Evans remained disappointed that the spending issue was not addressed despite the president's honest efforts.

As Reagan's legacy is celebrated around the world, Stan Evans was certain that the spending issue would mushroom and the bill would be handed to us (or our kids) later. Today in 2015, we now have a president who ignores an $18 trillion debt, and in fact sees it as a green light to double or triple down on the spending. M. Stanton Evans derived no joy that his warnings were validated.

The JFK assassination

I first met M. Stanton Evans in mid-December of 1963, three weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was a broadcast reporter in Salt Lake City.

The widespread angst over the killing of the president was as evident in the Rocky Mountain states as everywhere else in the U.S. Much of the national outcry that "We all did it" – an understandable emotional silliness fanned by leftists who wished above all to deflect attention from Lee Harvey Oswald's pro-communist background – was a stretch too far for some. Apparently, even prior to the supreme act of violence against the "leader of the free world," arrangements had been made to have M. Stanton Evans to speak in Utah in December.

Here was this 29-year-old former newspaper editor visiting the state to speak at BYU. Reasoning he was obviously an accomplished adult just pushing 30 and already "a man of literary accomplishment" who had something to offer in the way of insight, my editors instructed me to tape an interview with him. I needed no persuasion. I was already aware of Evans.

The interview was a top story in our newscast that evening. He got straight to the point on some of the fallout from the Kennedy assassination. Said he:

"I am appalled at the spin that has followed the tragic murder of the president. It is outrageous that the shooting in Dallas is being used as an excuse for a steady stream of slander and character assassination almost unprecedented in public discourse. [The thrust of it is that] if you opposed him politically, you're responsible for his murder."

That comment and related ones that Evans referenced in that interview drew attention from a lot of people who apparently were unaware of or vaguely understood (maybe) one very salient, but largely ignored point:

Ideologically, Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist; an apologist for the Soviet Union. And this America-hating assassin had just killed the President of the United States. Holy cow!, and all we hear is the president met his fate through such catch-all phrases as "hate"; "Dallas"; the "right-wing"; "extremism." Not extremism of a left-wing movement hell-bent on ruling the world; oh, no. Just go back to sleep, you people. From our lofty perches and ivory towers, we will educate the masses on the "real" murderer. It is America itself, of course.

Even (or especially?) respected network commentators couldn't muster the simple understanding of facts that should have been natural for any honest journalist to comprehend.

On CBS, an L.A.-based commentator named Bill Stout – a living, breathing, "out-of-central casting" caricature of the manner in which many Americans view the "liberal media" – kept saying things such as "Some right winger is seeking refuge in that Dallas crowd," or "right-wing" this or "right-wing" that. It was finally left to Eric Sevareid to say to Stout, in a matter-of-fact tone, "Well, of course, you don't know."

And that was during the immediate aftermath when Walter Cronkite was weeping and before anyone knew or heard of Lee Harvey Oswald or his background. Two to three weeks later, M. Stanton Evans, in our interview, raised the legitimate question as to why media outlets were dancing around the truth. It was almost as if somewhere in a back room, someone was at work to replace tired epithets with new reality-avoidances for future decades...such as "workplace violence" and "man-made disasters."

In the end, what did it matter if Oswald "acted alone"? He was clearly influenced by a pro-Soviet attitude. He was crazy or evil or both. And the president was still dead because of him.

The McCarthy book

The indebtedness issue and the mysterious word games demonstrated, and not for the first time, that M. Stanton Evans, while well-supplied with an abundance of prescience and realism, took nothing for granted.

He was in his late teens/early adulthood (as was this writer) during the five years that Senator Joe McCarthy was turning Washington upside down. Several decades later, Stan Evans began writing the biography of the Wisconsin senator.

The result was and is "Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies."

Read it. You won't want to put it down (still available in paperback). It reads like a mystery novel, but it's a stunning, true, real-life story where (for just one example) thousands of documents related to Senator McCarthy's battles went missing; also information on communist infiltration of some of the most sensitive areas of our government, and indeed throughout much of the policy-making or information-gathering world. Gone.

That would even include clippings mysteriously gone – not just from the State Department and other government agencies, but even from the local newspaper archives in Wheeling, West Virginia, the town where Senator McCarthy delivered his first speech on enemy agents in some of the highest places – agents who knew how to "make things happen."

Speaking of which: Senator McCarthy reportedly once was told by James V. Forrestal, a defense secretary in the Truman administration, that if our officials in government only made mistakes, they would occasionally make one in our favor. BTW, Forrestal himself had been victimized by those who did not like his focused policies against this nation's foes. (Footnote...I once wrote in these pages a series of articles on Stan's book. Now that the author is gone, with memories of his investigations resurfacing, I'll go back to the book and read it again. The only other book I've read more than once was Whittaker Chambers' Witness, the story of Alger Hiss's chicanery against his country.)

From Hiss to Lattimore

Evans' book includes a chapter on Owen Lattimore, a pro-communist (at the very least a sympathizer of pro-red causes) and McCarthy's special case in 1951-52. The case took a partisan turn when the senator came under rhetorical fire from Democrats. That was prompted in part when McCarthy (a Republican) criticized Lattimore, who had friends in academia, in government, in foreign policy circles, for what McCarthy charged was playing a major role in the fall of China to the communists, where they remain in charge to this day.

But then came a bipartisan turn. A McCarthy colleague, Nevada Senator Pat McCarran (a Democrat), assigned his investigators to McCarthy's case to undo the anti-McCarthy pro-Lattimore whitewash "probe" engineered by Maryland Senator Millard Tydings.

After a year-long set of hearings (printed in about 20 volumes), the McCarran committee – of which Mc Carthy was not a member and a panel whose findings were unanimous and bipartisan – concluded that Lattimore from sometime in the thirties had been "a conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy."

Evans and Lattimore

M. Stanton Evans, then a young activist, would soon arrive and stay in Washington for much of the rest of his life, not counting his months each year as a professor, including at Troy University in Alabama, and of course, his speaking tours and travels in pursuit of research for the nine books he authored over the years.

Evans was also fascinated with the career and the fall of Senator McCarthy. It seemed to the former editorial writer from Texas and Indiana that McCarthy was constantly in line of political and rhetorical fire from many of the same people the young newspaperman had criticized from his own position as an editorialist.

So Evans got his hands on every relevant scrap of paper he could find, built up his own private personal archive on everything that had generated the uproar dubbed (first by communists and fellow travelers) "McCarthyism." The end result, five decades after McCarthy's death in 1957, was Blacklisted by History.

Lattimore: The odd mixture

M. Stanton Evans was a man with a sense of humor. His chapter on Owen Lattimore, though filled with citations of outrageous and treasonous episodes, was also is in some ways a howler. Not because the author made light of such shameful goings-on as betrayals and downright lying under oath. Rather it's because Lattimore's alibis were so over the top as to fail the ultimate cynical giggle test.

Example: The pro-Red Chinese professor (Lattimore) tried mightily to justify the use of the word "democratic" in describing the activities of the Soviet-backed Chinese revolutionaries, as well as by the Soviet Union itself. One wonders, in retrospect, if he might someday (in a later era) have qualified as a comedy writer for "Saturday Night Live."

Evans quoted Lattimore's description of a death camp (Kolyma) as "a wonderful place to visit," with "a first-class orchestra and light opera company."

Add to that, as described by Evans:

"Finally, to top off the whole delightful outing, the Lattimore group found at the Kolyma mines that, 'Instead of the sin gin and the brawling of an extensive gold rush, [there were] extensive greenhouses growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons to make sure the hardy miners get enough vitamins.'"

As Evans commented, "His rendering of a Siberian slave camp as a sort of art colony cum spa run by cultured esthetes suggests Lattimore was no piker in these matters [and] ranked with the most abject of Soviet hacks as an apologist for Stalin." (Evans' research on this matter led him to the writings of Robert Conquest. The commentary is Evans' alone.

Last man standing

Not long after the release of Stan's book in 2007, we spent some time talking with James Juliana, the last known living person who had worked for Senator McCarthy and his Senate Sub-Committee on Investigations.

Juliana was a leading investigator for the FBI, apparently chasing some pro-Soviet spies and agents of influence as the infamous William Remington. He joined McCarthy's staff in 1953 on the recommendation of J. Edgar Hoover.

Jim Juliana for years had been seeking an avenue through which he could set the record straight, certainly with regard to his own role, where his main involvement was focused on the case of Irving Peress, an Army dentist who had taken the Fifth Amendment before the senator's committee.

McCarthy wanted Peress to be discharged from the Army since he did not believe the Armed Forces of the United States should be a place for someone who declined to say whether or not he was a member of subversive organization affiliated with a power hostile to the U.S.

The following year, after the Senate went from Republican to Democrat, Juliana again swore under oath that he had evidence that someone had intervened in the case in Peress's favor. Peress was actually promoted, and then discharged without a black mark on his official record.

The committee, under Democrat control, effectively backed McCarthy and Juliana. That vindication did not rescue McCarthy's reputation with the media...ever. Surprise! Jim Juliana was looking for Stan's help in putting together his memoirs on the issue.

Ultimately, 30 years after McCarthy's death, former Army Counsel John Adams confessed to having been responsible for promoting Peress.

Stan urged Juliana to proceed with his desire to get his story on the record. "Better hurry, Jim," Stan said, "After all, you're the last man standing."

Too late

Alas, it was much too late for Jim Juliana to go through with it. He was living an active life, and had other priorities in "moving on" after all these years. He died last year at age 91.

Stan Evans – humorist

M. Stanton Evans was a star when it came to warming up an audience for his talks.

To illustrate: He would often express some disappointment that many young people seem to be inadequately informed of history, especially with regard to America history. That in turn diminishes their appreciation of the deep significance in the nation's founding, he said.

Sometimes, it would bring out a failure to distinguish Roman numerals from the more common kind.

Evans would regale his audiences with such one-liners as the young twenty-something whose first day in broadcasting began by referring to "World War Eleven."

Then the raconteur more recently spoke of a request from a sick friend who asked Stan to take his disabled dog for a walk because the friend's condition left him unable to do it.

So, as Stan explained it, he took the dog outside, and along the way – on a side street- they were accosted by a group of young thugs who demanded money:

"What? You want money from me?" he demanded. "Can't you see I'm too poor to buy a four-legged dog?"

A life of positive influence

Stan was baptized by a Catholic priest on the Saturday prior to the Tuesday morning when he died. While it was his intention to be baptized by the priest, two canon lawyers affirmed that the process of baptism by a Catholic priest is an initiation that is necessary for eternal life.

It was a beautiful funeral ceremony. Stan Evans' mindset was such, he has always been so sincere and so given to deep thought in formulating his judgments on anything that one can only surmise he spent a lot of time turning over in his mind some extremely relevant issues covering much of life itself.

The theme is freedom

One of his books, The Theme is Freedom, offers much to contemplate – religiously/spiritually with regard to the political.

The author here is at his challenging best, this time in refuting concepts taught in today's classes from elementary school to college:

...that our liberties stem from secular doctrines.

...that religious absolutes endanger freedom.

...that the Bill of Rights created a Wall of Separation between religion and our public institutions.

Well said, by a first-rate scholar and historian.

To the end of his life

Stan had so many friends, it's impossible to name all (or even many) of them. Our own focus here will be on those whom we knew and those who were closest to him, and worked for him or with him in professional/everyday pursuits.

These would include Mary Jo Buckland; Bill Buckland; Malcolm Kline, President of Accuracy in Academia; Mark Larochelle, intrepid researcher; author/Human Events editor Allan Ryskind; and Fran Griffin, who played a major role in arranging Stan's very moving funeral service.

There are no doubt many others, to whom I apologize.

As for us, farewell, good friend, don't give up on us. We will try – though it will be a tall order – to carry on your good work.

© Wes Vernon


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)


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