Following National Review’s effort to take down GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, 91-year-old conservative legend Phyllis Schlafly fired back at the publication and explained that the magazine has never been “the authority on conservatism.” As an example, Schlafly cited William F. Buckley, Jr.’s support for “giving away the Panama Canal, which was an enormous issue with conservatives.”
Indeed, following Schlafly’s declaration, Eagle Forum provided Breitbart News with video footage that confirms Schlafly’s account. In a 1977 episode of Firing Line, Schlafly went toe-to-toe with National Review’s William F. Buckley, Jr. in a debate over the Panama Canal.
At the outset of the exchange, Buckley seems to admit that his support for giving away the Panama Canal is at odds with Ronald Reagan’s position on the issue, as well as the majority of Americans at the time and, in particular, most conservatives:
Governor Reagan elected to make it one of the pivotal points in his primary campaign against Gerald Ford,” Buckley explained. “It is roughly correct to say that the majority of the American people at this point oppose the new treaty, (b) that most conservatives tend to oppose it, and (c) that most, though not all, American liberals tend to favor it.
Schlafly agreed that “The overwhelming majority of the American people do not want the treaty,” she told Buckley, explaining that she opposed the treaty because the “terms are so humiliating to the United States and so adverse to our interests.”
“I want continued U.S. control and ownership of our canal so that it can be operated as an international waterway on the terms of which we have proven over the last 75 years is fair to all and a very wonderful asset and available to us in times of military need,” Schalfly said.
In the exchange, Schlafly outlined her argument that big bankers and corporatist special interests were pushing this treaty that was “adverse” to America’s national interest.
“I think you have to ask the question ‘cui bono?'” Schlafly said. “‘Who is going to profit?’ And I think the people who are going to profit are the American banks who have loaned money to Panama. The latest Federal Reserve figures on American outstanding bank loans to Panama come to $2.9 billion… American banks have loaned $2.9 billion to Panama. That is an uncollectable figure… What is Panama’s credit today? It’s zilch, unless they get control of our canal.”
“This whole matter of the loans contaminates the treaty with, what I would call, infectious invalidity,” Schalfly explained. “It’s such a basic, fundamental infection that it contaminates the whole treaty and makes it all suspect.”
Buckley rejected Schlafly’s argument about the influence exerted by special interests and dismissed what he described as Schlafly’s “crazy motivation” that “our foreign policy towards Panama has been dictated by these bankers”.
Those bankers have “very little leverage, that I know of, on my views on foreign policy,” Buckley said in his attempt to discredit Schlafly’s argument.
“Yes, but the have a lot of leverage over President Carter’s views, and over Bert Lance’s views, and over Linowitz’s views, and over Henry Kissinger’s views– and all of those people– they have extraordinary leverage over them,” Schlafly replied.
“Would you explain to me the means by which these banks exert leverage on Mr. Carter?” Buckley pressed.
“Sure,” Schlafly said. “David Rockefeller is the head of the trilateral commission that Carter is a member of, and presumably that is the banking community that is deeply involved in the loans to Panama. There are seven members of the commission in the Carter administration at the cabinet level.”
“I should think that any trilateral commission that had as its members David Rockefeller and Carter, the guy who would be influenced would be Rockefeller, not Carter.”
“Oh?” Schlafly pressed incredulously.
“I would assume that the President of the United States is more powerful than the President of the Chase National Bank,” Buckley said.
“Well, most people don’t assume that,” Schlafly quipped. “Most people think the Presidency would be a step down for David Rockefeller.”
As Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told Breitbart News, “The fight over the Panama Canal Treaties was a galvanizing moment for Ronald Reagan and almost all of the conservative movement.”
Shirley, who is author of the new book Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan, explained that the fight over the Panama Canal “giveaway” had clearly demarcated battle lines with grassroots conservatives and Reagan on one side versus Jimmy Carter and National Review on the other:
The fight over the Panama Canal Treaties was a galvanizing moment for Ronald Reagan and almost all of the conservative movement. Beginning in 1976 and continuing through 1978, the fight invigorated conservatism in America and helped propelled Reagan to nearly winning the 1976 GOP nomination and then winning it outright in 1980. Not all conservatives supported Reagan, notably, National Review and Bill Buckley chose to support President Carter, as did some others. Still, most on the right opposed the “giveaway” of the Canal.
There was a famous debate between Reagan and Bill Buckley over the Treaties held in South Carolina and broadcast on PBS. Millions watched. Reagan crystallized the debate when he’d storm to large audiences, “We built it! We paid for it! It’s ours! And we’re going to keep it!”
He also testified before Congress against the treaties, recorded radio commentaries and led a national “Panama Canal Truth Squad” to muster national opposition. The fight came at a particularly low moment in American spirits and in some ways, it could have been the Erie Canal or the Love Canal. It did not matter. We’d lost two presidents, a third due to his failures in Vietnam. Plus gas lines, high inflation, the loss of our national prestige combined with many other things and the fight took on a huge importance. It was seen as simply a referendum on American Exceptionalism.
The Treaties barely passed the Senate in 1978, but nearly every Senator who voted for them lost in 1978 and 1980 as well as Carter himself in 1980.
Ed Martin, the president of Schlafly’s grassroots organization Eagle Forum, told Breitbart News:
Since 1967, Phyllis Schlafly has published The Phyllis Schlafly Report every month. The first issue front page column was about the Panama Canal and how America should not give it up—for security reasons and for national interest. Conservatives fought to stop the giveaway, but Carter finally gave it away aided by Republicans like Bill Buckley. Reagan and Schlafly said, ‘No,’ while Carter and Buckley said: ‘Give it away’.
“The Panama Canal giveaway was pushed by Internationalists and corporatists who sought their advantage not American national interest,” Martin explained. “On immigration, trade, and other issues, National Review and their folks are pursuing Internationalist and corporatist interests over Americans… Reagan would have lost if he had followed the Internationalists on Panama Canal and America might have lost the Cold War if he had followed the same Internationalists at Reykjavik. Reagan refused to take the Soviet’s ‘deal’ and we won.”