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Book Review: Just Right by Lee Edwards, Ph.D.

It is always a pleasure to review a book written by a friend, especially one that gives me a favorable mention or two, but that is not why I highly recommend Just Right by my dear friend Dr. Lee Edwards.

Lee Edwards was there at the founding of the modern conservative movement and Just Right chronicles his Lee Edwardsjourney through conservative politics and his lifelong commitment to fighting for liberty under God’s laws.

As were many, if not most, young conservatives who joined the movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lee was an anti-communist and his horror at the evils of communism drove him to embrace conservativism early on as the one political movement that was prepared to fight communism and all its works.

And it was in those heady early days of the conservative movement that I met Lee Edwards, he a board member of Young Americans for Freedom and the editor of its magazine The New Guard and I the executive secretary of the new and growing organization.

Now, it often seems lost to history, but the young men and women who signed the Sharon Statement to found Young Americans for Freedom and formed the backbone of the Barry Goldwater for President campaign in 1964 recognized better than most politicians of the day that the communist threat to constitutional liberty was real and growing, and communism had to be confronted and defeated if the United States was to survive – Just Right does a remarkable job of bringing those early days of the conservative movement to life.

And who better to tell that story than Lee Edwards, who was there and intimately involved in much of it.

Lee was a signer of the Sharon Statement and the first editor of Young Americans for Freedom’s monthly magazine the New Guard. Indeed, without Lee’s advocacy the New Guard might never have gone to print, but his point that a revolutionary movement needed a revolutionary publication – and his willingness to serve without compensation as editor – carried the day.

Lee’s first editorial captures much of the radical spirit of the conservative movement in its infancy:

Ten years ago, this magazine would not have been possible. Twenty years ago, it would not have been dreamed of. Thirty-five years ago, it would not have been necessary. Today, The New Guard is possible, it is a reality, and it is needed by the youth of America to proclaim loudly and clearly: We are sick unto death of collectivism, socialism, statism, and the other utopiansms which have poisoned the minds, weakened the wills and smothered the spirit of Americans for three decades and more.

Lee went on to serve as director of information for Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, where his campaign diary is an unending source of insider details of the highs and lows of the first modern conservative presidential campaign.

One of the vignettes of a dinner with journalist Theodore White captured in Lee Edwards’ campaign diary sums-up Goldwater’s appeal better than anything else I’ve seen written:

Teddy said he wanted to know what it was like to work for a candidate who was so blunt, so honest, seemingly indifferent to public opinion. I explained how the Senator had captured the hearts of young conservatives like me, that it was like a first love, pure and passionate, sweeping away all questions, doubts and uncertainties, filling us with the conviction that with him we could change history. We knew the Senator was far from perfect, but who looked better in a pair of jeans or on a horse? Who made more sense talking about rolling back Big Government and defeating Communism? He inspired us, he challenged us, he made us feel we could do anything, including defeating the Liberal Establishment with all its money and power.

Fortunately, Lee Edwards’ service to the conservative movement and America didn’t end with Goldwater’s epic defeat. Lee went on to accomplish many great things for the conservative movement – including collaborating with me as editor of Conservative Digest and on my first book, The New Right: We’re Ready To Lead and to serve as an influential leader of the New Right movement that helped elect Ronald Reagan.

I am tempted to say Lee’s chapter on the rise of the New Right – in which I get a few mentions – is one of the best in the book, and if not the best, it was certainly the most enjoyable for me as he recounts the details of our many campaigns won and lost together during those years and how the New Right became the force that helped elect our first modern conservative president – Ronald Reagan.

Just Right doesn’t end with the election of Ronald Reagan – Dr. Edwards chronicles many of our wins and losses throughout the thirty-years since Reagan left the White House. And the section on how he inspired the concept and persevered to see final construction of the Victims of Communism Memorial is a fitting bookend to Lee’s opening chapters about the importance of anti-communism to the founding of the modern conservative movement and his decision to devote his life to fighting for liberty.

For many years Lee, the late Phyllis Schlafly and I had a running joke that Phyllis was 001, Lee is 002 and I am 003, meaning the three of us had been active in the conservative movement at the national level longer than any other individuals still living.

With Phyllis’ passing Lee modestly refused the honor of being promoted to 001 saying no one could replace the great Phyllis Schlafly, and he was of course right. However, if there is a new book that should be placed in the pantheon of conservative “must read” books along with Phyllis Schlafly’s A Choice Not An Echo, Lee Edwards’ Just Right is surely that book.

I urge all of my friends and CHQ readers to add Just Right by Lee Edwards to their Christmas list, not only is it a joy to read, but it is an essential chronicle of the rise of the modern conservative movement through the eyes of one of the few men who have been at the center of it all from 1958 to the present.

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