At the same time, some of the titans of the religious right came to Falwell with similar concerns and a message: we need to mobilize like we haven't since the heyday of the Moral Majority. Falwell would not name names, but one well-placed source says advocates of a new mobilization included Richard Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail expert, and Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation (who recently had been urging Christians to withdraw from politics).
Falwell himself didn't take much convincing. "We've got to do it now, quickly," he says. "Another four years of Clinton-Gore would devastate this country."
While the details are still taking shape, it is looking as if Falwell's effort will dwarf anything he's done since the apex of his influence in the 1980s.
"He was called back to duty," says Armstrong Williams, a political commentator, Beliefnet columnist, and Falwell friend.
In an interview Friday, Falwell told Beliefnet he will raise between $10 million and $15 million to send direct mail to "several million" homes between now and Election Day, hoping to persuade conservatives to register and vote. The effort, called People of Faith 2000, will include using his network of 200,000 ministers and Christian leaders and a direct-mail campaign to sign up new voters.
He's shooting for 10 million registered voters--and, he hopes, a victory for Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
"It's Moral Majority Two," said John Green, a scholar of the religious right. "A lot of these original players of the religious right want to get back in the game."
By last year at this time, Falwell was smarting from weeks of teasing for his "outing" of Tinky Winky the Teletubby as a homosexual icon. That followed an earlier dispute in which he said to a group of pastors that the antichrist is alive and is most likely a Jewish male.
In both cases, the statements seemed to prove that while Falwell was still a cultural lightning rod, he was a political has-been. The biggest blow came last April, when former associates Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson published a book criticizing Falwell, and Christians activists like him, for succumbing to the temptation of power politics.
In an interview at the time, Falwell talked about his legacy, about building an endowment for Liberty University, and about turning over his empire to his sons. He didn't talk much about politics--except to say he was still glad he had hawked "The Clinton Chronicles," a widely criticized video (even by other conservatives), accusing the President of murder.
One person who has known Falwell a long time suggested the new campaign is simply a marketing ploy to get him more attention, money and power--a way of re-establishing him as the leader of Christian conservatives.
But Armstrong Williams said Falwell is the only person who can rally the troops.
"He's the dean; he has the experience and the savvy," Williams said. "You can trust him not to embarrass the movement."
Of course Democrats may not agree. The prospect of Falwell taking a public role working for Bush will make it easier for Al Gore to say the Republican is too allied with the religious right.The effort--he says it will not be a formal, permanent organization--will begin with sending information packets to Christian leaders who subscribe to Falwell publications or otherwise support the ministry. The packets include voter registration applications to be handed out during worship services, then collected by ushers. Church leaders will ferry the filled-out applications to their local registrar's office.
The direct mail campaign will include much of the same information--except that it will include an envelope for the recipient to mail the registration application back to Falwell headquarters. They will then ship the information to local registrars.
"A farm lady in Iowa doesn't have to look for her registrar. All she's got to do is fill in the form. We do the rest," he said.
Falwell's people also plan to send out pledge cards for newly registered voters to sign, promising they'll vote in the Presidential election. About three weeks before the election, People of Faith 2000 will mount a massive phone-calling campaign to remind the new troops to vote.
"I just decided about a month ago that we are going to have a tight race, and that I had to be willing to invest seven months of my life to take a stand for the issues," said Falwell, a George Bush, Sr., supporter who visited the younger Bush in Austin as early as last year.