"I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," Paul Weyrich wrote in a letter to several hundred fellow conservative leaders. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually share our values."
Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, says President Clinton's acquittal in the impeachment trial has brought him to the point of wondering whether conservatives should continue trying to influence politics.
"We need some sort of quarantine," he wrote in the letter.
Though no other leading conservatives are calling for such drastic action, Weyrich's letter underscores the level of resentment over Clinton's acquittal.
"If there really were a moral majority out there, Bill Clinton would have been driven out of office months ago," Weyrich said.
"A lot of people are angry that he got off," said Phyllis Schlafly, head of the Eagle Forum. "They just don't understand it. They're shaking their heads: What is the problem?"
Christian Coalition director Randy Tate said there is "considerable frustration" over the Clinton case because "it makes it tough to teach kids right from wrong, in the sense that the president doesn't know right from wrong."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, who led the prosecution team against Mr. Clinton, told senators toward the end of the trial, "I wonder if, after this culture war is over that we are engaged in, an America will survive that will be worth fighting to defend."
However, Weyrich goes further than most other conservative leaders.
Tate, for example, said conservatives "are increasingly part of mainstream," even on issues such as abortion.
Schlafly, also departing from Weyrich's view, said a majority of Americans still embrace conservative values. And she believes Clinton's victory had more to do with politics than morality.
"It's only partially a moral problem. I think there is so much the Republican Congress can do in so many ways to grab the leadership and yet they continue to play a defensive game," she said. "Republicans have had Congress since January 1995 and what do we have to show for it?"
Weyrich, while a leading conservative intellectual, does not command a large grassroots organization or necessarily speak for large numbers. He led a campaign to rally social conservatives behind a Republican presidential candidate in 2000, but the effort failed after the prospect he favored, Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, decided not to run for president.
He's is plowing relatively new ground by suggesting that the conservative movement cannot succeed in today's culture.
"The culture we are living in becomes an ever-wider sewer. In truth, I think we are caughup in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics," he said.
Arguing that it may be time for "separation" from society, Weyrich points to conservatives who teach their children at home, form private courts or get rid of their televisions. "I think that we have to look at a whole series of possibilities for bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy," he wrote.
He suggested a conservative roundtable to discuss the movement's next step. "I don't have all the answers or even all the questions. But I know that what we have been doing for 30 years hasn't worked, that while we have been fighting and winning in politics, our culture has decayed into something approaching barbarism."
In an interview, Weyrich said he was not suggesting that conservatives stop fighting. "I'm just suggesting that the chance of victory that we thought was excellent is now not in the cards. We have to take the appropriate action," he said.
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