This article originally appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, April 9, 2018.
The Heritage Foundation’s Lee Edwards is one of the nation’s foremost historians of conservatism. Edwards’s books include histories of the Heritage Foundation, Grove City College, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, as well as biographies of Barry Goldwater, Edwin Meese, and pioneering anticommunist Dr. Walter Judd. His books usually include original interviews and archival research. Edwards, now 85, has spent the last 60 years as a conservative activist. Those interested in the history of the conservative movement will find his autobiography Just Right fun and interesting, but this book is a primary source for scholars interested in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.
Edwards grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, the son of a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. After he was graduated from Duke University and served two years of military service in the Signal Corps, he ended up in Paris in 1956, studying French at the Sorbonne and daydreaming about being a great novelist. While there, he had a one-line appearance in Bob Hope’s Paris Holiday. As a student, Edwards became familiar with the October, 1956 Hungarian uprising, that saw the native Hungarians trying to free themselves from communism only to have their revolt crushed by a Soviet invasion. Edwards’s father had covered congressional hearings about communism since the 1930s and Edwards was well aware of communist duplicity. But when Hungary’s bid for freedom was suppressed, Edwards writes that “I took an oath. I vowed that for the rest of my life, wherever I was, whatever I was, I would help those who resisted communism however I could.”
Returning to Washington from Paris, Edwards worked as press secretary for Maryland Republican Senator John Marshall Butler and was active in the Young Republicans. In 1960, along with other prominent young conservatives such as M. Stanton Evans, Howard Phillips, and future congressman Jim Kolbe, Edwards was one of the founders of Young Americans for Freedom, where he signed the Sharon Statement expressing YAF’s founding principles. Edwards subsequently edited YAF’s magazine, New Guard.
In 1963, Edwards was hired by the National Draft Goldwater Committee, which eventually became the Goldwater for President campaign. Joining the committee, Edwards writes, “was like being called up from Class AA Harrisburg to play for the Washington Nationals.” Edwards stayed with the Goldwater campaign as deputy press secretary until Goldwater’s loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
He kept a diary while working for Goldwater, and quotes from it extensively, vividly portraying what it was like working for the campaign, seeing Goldwater’s nomination, and reacting to the Democrats’ dirty tricks. As Edwards notes, many of the Watergate conspirators were also involved in subverting the campaign—E. Howard Hunt, for example, provided the Democrats with copies of Goldwater’s travel schedule and drafts of his speeches. When questioned by Congress, Hunt said that the CIA had told him to infiltrate the Goldwater campaign, and when he was pressed, he claimed the order came directly from President Johnson. CIA director William Colby seemingly confirmed Hunt’s tale, when he testified that the agency had placed a mole in the Goldwater campaign.
Not to be overshadowed, the FBI also monitored the Goldwater campaign through wiretapping. Robert Mardian, an assistant attorney general in the Nixon Administration, told Edwards about an interview he had with J. Edgar Hoover in 1971, wherein Hoover admitted to authorizing the surveillance because “you do what the president tells you to do.” Hoover’s deputy, William C. Sullivan, also confirmed the wiretaps.
After Goldwater’s defeat, Edwards started Lee Edwards and Associates, and handled publicity for many conservative organizations. His “most unforgettable client” was Edward Scannell Butler, Lee Harvey Oswald’s infamous interlocutor in New Orleans three months before the JFK assassination, and subsequent author of Revolution is My Profession, a handbook of practical tips for fighting the counterculture. Butler founded the Square Power movement and organized many conservative conferences in the 1960s. Butler’s primary backer, Schick CEO Patrick J. Frawley, was “impressed with Ed’s high energy and fertile imagination, but more impressed with his argument that if the heavily bearded antiwar hippies prevailed among America’s youth, Schick would be out of business.”
During his years as a publicist, Edwards was writing bylined stories; among his first books was a political biography of Ronald Reagan and You Can Make The Difference, a guidebook for conservatives interested in political careers. In the late 1970s, Edwards began a mid-career change, earning a doctorate in political science at Catholic University. He began scaling back his public relations efforts, eventually closing Lee Edwards and Associates in 1985 after a crooked bookkeeper embezzled tens of thousands of the company’s monies. He increasingly worked for the Heritage Foundation, writing the foundation’s authorized history and being a full-time fellow at Heritage from 2002 onwards. Edwards continues his anti-communist activities. In 1990, he and Lev Dobriansky founded the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The foundation helped set up a statue in Washington. D.C., dedicated in 2007, and has online exhibits and teachers’ guides.
As a professional writer for over 50 years, Lee Edwards can tell you what it was like being in the Cow Palace when Barry Goldwater was nominated and what Ronald Reagan was like when he was interviewed. He has known and worked alongside nearly everyone in the conservative movement since 1960, and his anecdotes about William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, and L. Brent Bozell are fresh and interesting. Lee Edwards’s life has been interesting and productive and his writing is compelling. Just Right is well worth reading.