The Right's Secret Plans For Dole -- and America
Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, preached to the choir in Orlando in early March. "I don't believe the 1996 elections are going to be about the economy," he told a packed room on Disneyland at the Buena Vista Palace. No, Reed said, the election will be about "morals," about the "family breakup" and "the destruction of our children." And he was warmly received, just as always by members of the Coalition. But he was not speaking to the Coalition. This group was smaller -- and more powerful. Moreover, the room where Reed spoke was closed to the press, seats inside available by invitation only to a select group of right-wing political leaders. And his subject was how to handle the problem of Bob Dole. Reed was speaking to the Council for National Policy, a highly-secretive, 500-member group that observers of the organized right say sets the agenda for the reactionary-conservative movement in the United States. The group comprises America's right-wing elite and acts as an umbrella beneath which they network. Among its members are Reed and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson; the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association; Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America; and Phyllis Schlafly, director of the Eagle Forum. Larry Pratt, the discredited co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign, director of Gun Owners of America and a compatriot of militia leaders and racist Identity Christians, is a CNP member. So, too, is Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; Howard Phillips, of the Conservative Caucus and the U.S. Taxpayer's Party; Paul Pressler, the Texas judge who masterminded the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention several years ago; both Oliver North and Gen. John K. Singlaub, of Iran-Contra infamy; and former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, who is the group's current president. A reporter who called the CNP's Arlington, Va., headquarters and asked for someone to explain the group's purpose and give the location of the Orlando meeting was told only, "That's a private meeting." So this reporter, along with investigators from the Institute for First Amendment Studies, a Massachusetts-based research organization, spent last weekend in the halls outside the meeting, listening in on speeches and conversations. What emerged is a picture of an organization that, while split on the efficacy of Buchanan's economic populism, is united in its mission to force Dole, the GOP's certain presidential nominee, to choose a "pro-life" running mate. While inside-the-Beltway pundits try to advance the case for New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Gen. Colin Powell, both pro-choice, the consensus of the far right is for Buchanan or, more likely, Michigan Gov. John Engler. And Dole is starting to reflect the far right's push. "It's time for English to become the official language of the United States," Dole bellowed at a recent campaign stop in Jacksonville, adding stronger than usual pronouncements in favor of school prayer, abolishing the Department of Education, and appointing only "conservative" judges. Dole even adopted Buchanan's sneering attitude toward the United Nations, known to conspiracy theorists everywhere as a key front of the dreaded One World Government. "When it's time to decide whether we send our sons and daughters off to some foreign conflict, Bob Dole will make that decision, not Boutros Boutros-Ghali," he said, spitting out the UN leader's name in the classic Buchanan manner - as if tasting a turd in each syllable. Outside the hotel's Empire Room, two Disney security men checked name tags. Nowhere in the hotel was there any mention of the Council for National Policy; a gift shop clerk thought he was dealing with a General Electric convention. Inside, Reed's argument to his fellow right wing revolutionaries was well-reasoned and conventional, by the standards of the right. Key to this year's battle, Reed says, are Buchanan's delegates. The right must pack the Republican convention in San Diego with pro-life, pro-family activists, as was done in 1992. Although conventional wisdom holds that Buchanan's "culture war" speech was a catalyst for George Bush's defeat that year, Reed insists otherwise. With a Dole-Powell ticket, "Republicans will lose the White House," Reed said, "for having turned their back on the pro-life movement." Reed's analysis, based on surveys and network exit polls, claims 70 percent of evangelicals voted Republican in the 1994 congressional elections, swelling GOP voting ranks by 9 million voters. He suggests that to win the Republicans must poll at least 75 percent of that evangelical vote in a two-man presidential race; at least 60 percent in a three-way race. The Catholic vote will go to the Republicans if President Clinton vetoes the "partial birth abortion" bill, as he has threatened. Meanwhile, Perot voters make up 15-20 percent of the electorate, mostly Reaganites until Bush lost them, he said. And Reed claimed inside information that Perot will run; if so, it will be "very, very hard" for Dole to beat Clinton. Perot or no, the possibility of a third party looms large in this election, and its catalyst comes from within the CNP itself. Howard Phillips, founder of the Heritage Foundation and the Conservative Caucus and, more recently, the driving force behind the U.S. Taxpayer's Party, in September told The Washington Times (whose senior vice president, Ron Godwin, is a fellow CNP member) about his dream scenario: Buchanan running under the USTP banner against Dole and Clinton. "Our hope is that, whatever he is saying now, as it becomes clear the Republican Party has no agenda for action in eliminating abortion or even federal funding for Planned Parenthood, as it becomes clear the Republican Party is not going to make the kind of decisive spending cuts that are needed, and as it becomes clear the Republican Party is going to move us ever more into New World Order institutions such as NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, U.N., etc., that Pat Buchanan will be faithful to his message and be willing to leave the Republican Party," Phillips said. Phillips himself broke away in the mid 1980s over what he perceived as Ronald Reagan's appeasement(!) of communism. Phillips sometimes calls himself a conservative, but he places on the political continuum somewhere to the right of South Africa's pro-apartheid Nationalist Party, which, when it controlled that nation's government in 1987, denied him a visa because of remarks he made about assassinating Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Phillips said he was joking. The USTP has attracted the country's most virulent anti-abortionists. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, has spoken of running for office in New York on the party's banner. Matthew Trewella, head of Missionaries to the Preborn and a leader of Defenders of the Defenders, a group that provides aid to people who murder abortion providers, has been a Wisconsin representative to the USTP's national board. In 1994 he urged USTP members to join the Unorgan- ized Militia of the USA, whose leader, Linda Thompson, was calling for militia members to lynch liberal congressmen. The USTP has also been linked to the violent and virulently racist Posse Comitatus. Phillips spent $375,000 in 1992 gaining ballot access in 21 states. He aimed for all 50 this year, but fell short despite considerably greater financial resources owing to its having been granted "National Party" status by the FEC. The USTP's convention this year is scheduled for San Diego, right after the GOP's. On a recent Face The Nation, Buchanan warned that he would not necessarily remain in the Republican fold if his demands are not met, and mentioned the Taxpayer's Party as a possible alternative. Such a campaign would cripple Dole, so Dole's people will need to get Buchanan and Phillips to back off. He will do so by accommodating them on abortion and probably a number of other issues, up to but not including their economic nationalism. "Dole might use these people to put pressure on Buchanan, to keep him from breaking down the door," says Skip Porteous, director of the Center for First Amendment Studies and a CNP watcher since 1986. "I talked to Howard Phillips this week. He said that Dole has to choose Engler to keep Buchanan in the party."Key to the CNP's influence is the growing power of its members and affiliates, and its highly-organized networking ability. Founded in May 1981 under a tent in the back yard of direct-mail expert Richard Viguerie's Virginia home, the CNP's inaugural membership included Interior Secretary James Watt, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Paul Weyrich, the founding president of the Heritage Foundation who coined the term "Moral Majority" for Jerry Falwell. The 160 members at that inaugural meeting toasted the election of Ronald Reagan, then quickly set about dividing among themselves the work of overthrowing the U.S. government's democratic principles. "It brings a certain efficiency by avoiding duplication of effort," researcher Fred Clarkson told the progressive bi-weekly In These Times last year. "For example, if Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is the CNP point man for anti-gay and lesbian activity, funders know to give him the money and connect with him on that issue." CNP's first president was the Rev. Tim LaHaye, then head of the California Moral Majority. At the founding meeting, the only one to which reporters were ever invited, LaHaye delivered a screed about the "situational ethics" of liberals and "humanists." Humanism, LaHaye has argued, is the central mistake of the Renaissance. He cites Michelangelo's depiction of naked flesh as "the forerunner of the modern humanist's demand for pornography." LaHaye was succeeded by Tom Ellis, a key gear in North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms' political machine. Ellis once directed the Pioneer Fund, which promotes the view that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. He warned that the goal of integrationists was "racial intermarriage and the disappearance of the Negro race by fusing into the white." Ellis now disavows his racist past. To become a CNP member, one must be sponsored by two current members and gain the unanimous consent of the CNP board. Annual dues are $1,500, but an extra $300 nets a subscription to a newsletter, Capitol Hill Report. Like the Christian Coalition, CNP is a non-profit organization prohibited by law from lobbying or endorsing candidates. To do these necessary tasks, CNP has spawned a sister organization, CNP Action, Inc., which publishes the newsletter. CNP members usually lobby under their own name, or the name of their organization, which serves to keep CNP's name out of the papers. CNP Action conducts workshops and follows through with reports on the sessions, including advice on what CNP members should do. For example, last fall CNP Action issued a confidential memo urging CNP members to push for a government shutdown in order to force President Clinton to cave into their agenda on the federal budget. In the January-February issue of Freedom Writer, the Center for First Amendment Studies' own newsletter, Porteous details the CNP's role in forcing the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. "This is our maximum point of leverage to insist that parts of the revolution are executed," the CNP newsletter quoted Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), a conservative Christian who interprets the Bible literally and uses that interpretation to shape public policy. "The House Republican leadership has said that the minimum goals are to balance the budget in seven years, welfare reform, save Medicare and have tax cuts. The freshmen have communicated to the leadership that that is not enough." In that same "eyes only" memo dated dated Sept. 19, 1995, Souder further advised CNP members to tell congressmen with whom they have influence to "Hold firm. This is our big chance." On Jan. 4, three weeks into the federal shutdown, the Christian Coalition faxed an "Action Alert" urging its members to pressure Clinton into giving in on the Republican's proposed budget, and to keep the pressure on the House and Senate Republican leadership and on conservative Democrats. Among the budget goals: abstinence education funding, a prohibition on unmarried couples adopting children, no funding for abortion, public funding of religious education, a 40 percent cut in the National Endowment for the Arts, and elimination of the Office of Surgeon General. The action was classic CNP strategy, Porteous says: an identifiable short-term goal linked to the longer term goal of total domination of U.S. politics. Its methods are simple and effective: * Every six months, CNP members receive an "Update on Producers of TV and Radio News and Public Affairs Programs." It's a long list of names, titles, addresses, telephone and fax numbers; CNP members are to write to them informing them of their areas of expertise in the hopes that when issues arise they will be called for comment. * Once each year members are provided an analysis of members of Congress "who are most open to persuasion" on key CNP issues. "Please get to know these key legislators now," the report says. "Maintain regular communication with them ....By establishing good personal and political relationships with them, you will make a real difference in the outcome of many votes in committees and on the floor of the House and Senate." * CNP Action also sponsors standing committee workshops at CNP conferences in which attendees create strategies for action. In the past, the group has led actions against the United Nations Women's Forum, and urged rejection of "of any funding for Clinton's White House Council on Women." "Superb organizing and advanced communication skills help explain the many successes of the hard right," Porteous says. "The Council for National Policy is the group leading the way." And its strength has grown substantially. While Helms is a stalwart member from the earliest days, he has only recently risen to the pinnacle of Senate power, now heading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From this perch he temporarily disabled the entire American foreign policy apparatus last year, and cut hundreds of millions from hated "foreign aid" programs. His fellow North Carolina senator, Lauch Faircloth, is also a CNP member, as are senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Trent Lott of Mississippi, and Don Nickles of Oklahoma. House members include Bob Dornan, of California (studiously begging for the vice presidency since last fall), David McIntosh of Indiana (who once ran Dan Quayle's anti-environmental Council on Competitive-ness), Barbara Vucanovich of Nevada, Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, Steve Stockman of Texas, plus fellow Texan and Majority Whip Tom DeLay and, also from Texas, Majority Leader Dick Armey. After Newt Gingrich, Armey is the most powerful member of the House. And as Gingrich has lately receded into book tours and celebrity, Armey has been doing the Speaker's job. Armey was an engineer of the Republican Contract With America, and like Gingrich, sees his role in historic terms. "The contract will be seen as the first national realization of the counterrevolution," he told The Washington Times last year. "It is frankly very nominal in the larger scheme of how far we should go back toward liberty and responsibility, but it is a pretty darn bold first step by Washington standards." Last year Armey published The Freedom Revolution, a blueprint for what he regards as the "revolution" in right-wing, "common sense" thought. In it he paints liberals as "reactionaries" and hails the return to colonial principles of "thrift," "hard work" and Christianity. The book's marriage of Chicago school uber-capitalism and neo-Christian social Darwinism is masterful, and perhaps best represents the central tenets of the CNP. The philosophy can be summed up this way: Government's duty is to rig matters so the richest guy always wins, and any unpleasant consequences of this policy are "God's will." Notwithstanding the CNP's extremist views, it bears noting that, with time, these views have moved closer to the perceived "mainstream." Two weeks ago, for example, a USA Today story on Buchanan's white supremacist backers contained this sentence: "Most of his big donors, by far, are patrons of nothing more radical than the Christian Coalition, a mainstream component of the Republican Party." While the Coalition now arguably forms the party's backbone, it is worth remembering that just two years ago the Christian Coalition's political machinations were the subject of hot debate in Republican circles. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter accused his party of "intolerance" for allowing the Coalition to gain power. Bob Dole, finger to the wind, denounced Democrats as "appealing to religious bigotry" for opposing Ralph Reed's troops. History has since consigned Specter to the Republican's dust bin, but Dole's finger is still in the wind. And lately Buchanan has introduced crowds to a red-and-yellow mechanical parrot he calls "Bob." At a speech Saturday night he leaned toward it and barked, "There's a culture war going on!" Bob the parrot said the same. The crowd roared.