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The Lincoln Club of Colorado, one of the oldest Republican institutions in the state besides the party itself, turns 100 this year, a milestone recently marked by a gala dinner-and-dance event. The organization sports a remarkable history, beginning with its provenance as a political counterweight to the prevailing ascendancy of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado.

The conservative movement in America, embodied within organizations like the Lincoln Club, has historically risen in opposition to radical ideologues of all flavours. The very word “ideology” is, traditionally at least, antithetical to the idea of conservatism, which holds itself as the gatekeeper of the politics of reality, a restraint against the fierce tug of populist impulse rushing headlong into whatever abyss the winds of the day compel.

In 1918, one of the more compelling of those impulses was the Klan. Emboldened by the “Birth of a Nation,” a repugnant pro-Klan movie released that year, the Klukkers had made solid inroads throughout the state’s political establishment — Republican and Democrat alike. Senior officials in both parties were themselves Grand Kleagles (or whatever they called their top brass). The Lincoln Club’s founders, a noble group of Colorado Springs Republican business and community leaders, upon surveying the state’s political scene, despaired at seeing little of either the views of their party’s founding president or of the principles upon which the nation was built. So they did what responsible business and community leaders do, they created something. Their creation would swiftly become a powerhouse in Colorado politics, and it served its intended purpose – the cleansing of the Republican Party, and ultimately the state, of the stain of the Klan.

Fast forward about four decades, and on the national level conservatism was again in crisis. Consigned in the New Deal era to the status of “irritable mental gestures,” the American Right faced a number of challenges – not the least of which was concerted and industrious efforts to discredit it by magnifying infiltration by fringe extremists; not as the term is all-too-often used by folks today to describe opinions they find inaccessible or uncomfortable, but actually nutty and unsavory viewpoints – anti-Semites, for instance, or the John Birch Society.

Much has been recorded of the fusionist movement which united the various factions under one umbrella – tent, if you prefer – led by such luminaries as Frank Meyer and William F. Buckley. But a major part of that coalescing, which lined the movement up for decades of mainstream success both philosophically and politically, was a purge of the fringe elements – most written out of the movement, literally, by Buckley.

But no movement – even before the days of mass internet media when one man, like Buckley, could hold such a commanding influence – is dependent solely on any one particular individual, and around the country responsible conservative organizations took the lead and built a philosophical legacy sans the blemish of kooks. The Lincoln Club of Colorado, as they had a generation or two earlier, was this state’s shepherd of the movement throughout this time, and since.

There is, of course, a certain tension that exists between the concepts of sanitation and censorship. Where, one is entitled to ask, stands the line between responsible stewardship of the collected works of one’s philosophical and moral patrimony and narrow-minded intolerance of healthy dissent? When does pastoral excising of apostasy become rigid ideologization? The answer is not formulaic, relying instead on the application of collected, prescriptive wisdom, vouchsafed in such institutions as the pen of George Will or Peggy Noonan, and local organizations as the Lincoln Club.

And so it has been. Through the Reagan victories in the 80’s, and various successes, local and national, since its inception, the Club has been there, raising money, raising candidates, and raising consciences. As an organization its commitment to conservative principles has been unwavering, attracting a membership that embraces those principles not simply as tidbits flung out by talk show hosts as soundbites, but rooted in a deeper understanding of history, human nature and reality. It has served as a home and hearth for the reasoned conservative, a place for healthy and vigorous debate; never a regimented monopoly of ideas, nor willing to entertain fringe lunacies unworthy of its purpose or namesake.

Some suggest that the conservative movement is again, given the convulsions of the current White House, ripe for a new detoxification. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. But in any event, one can take great comfort knowing that our state has an organization like the Lincoln Club to ensure that whatever Republican Party emerges from the other side will be as good as the one it fostered into being a century ago.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

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