Who's Selling Out?


ONE LONELY day more than a century from now, some poor historian bemoaning his poor luck in a dusty library will come across the December 11, 1987 issue of New York Times and strike gold. He'll open the paper to the op-ed page and simply stare at what he sees. Although the Times didn't go pornographic on that Friday, in running Conservative Caucus chairman Howard Phillip's piece called "The Treaty: Another Sellout," it presented the hard right without any of its clothing.

Phillips' piece is guaranteed to throw our historian into a state of astonishment, if not amusement as well. For in less than two feet of print, Phillips presents to his readers all the elements that together comprise the hard right ideology in its most unadorned form. Phillips takes the conservative line to such extremes that no satirist, no matter how talented, could have produced a better parody of the cause. And no other tract comes to mind which more ruthlessly reveals the far right's Manichaean mindset as this one.

What, then, will our now-lucky historian find? He'll first learn a lesson about distances and will see just how far the far right is from the mainstream. Phillips calls his movement conservative, but he is, his piece tells us quite clearly, a radical who finds the status-quo not only unacceptable but also evil and dangerous.

To Phillips and presumably the people he represents, the summit "and the so-called arms control treaties are a cover for the treasonous greed of those who manipulate the Administration." The representatives of interested elites, he believes, have taken over the Administration at the expense of the average person. People such as Howard Baker and Frank Carlucci, for example, have "advance policies that benefit Armand Hammer and David Rockefeller but hurt America." Egged on by Nancy, the President now "pays court to the Washington establishment." Representing those on the political fringes of society, Phillips finds any politician who fails to divide the world into starkly contrasting good and evil camps treasonously willing to sacrifice the country's best interest in order to maintain the immoral status-quo.

OUR HISTORIAN will duly catalogue all this, of course. And inevitably he will contrast it with the far right's view of the Irancontra investigation. For the very group which argues that Congress has a duty to defeat the "Reagachev Doctrine" also vigorously denounces Congressional intervention in foreign affairs, particular in regard to the Irancontra affair committee's proceedings and majority report. Congress on the one hand is an essential part of the foreign policy process and, on the other, is a mortal threat to it.


When Congress can be instrumental in promoting right-wing policies, its has every right to do its will. When it serves as a check on such policies, however, it becomes the great usurper. Supposedly, Americans are committed to the primacy of the political process. Policies obtain legitimacy, any school boy could tell us, not because they are intrinsically right, but because they were approved through the proper constitutional process. The far right, then, for all its pretenses to patriotism, represents nothing less than a basic rejection of American constitutionalism.

The ironies abound. As the Phillips crowd separates itself from the mainstream conservatives who had been their allies for the past seven years, the Republican presidential candidates pander to the radical Phillipsian fringe of their party. Aside from Bush, none have been willing to give their explicit support for the INF treaty. Instead, they insist in courting Phillips and his followers, despite their lack of concern for--indeed, understanding of--constitutional principles.

It seems doubtful that the Republican lot, Robertson aside, cares about the hard right's principles as much as it does about its potential votes. In examining the right's views and the Republicans' refusal to disavow them, our historian might just be able to figure out why it is that the current structure of the political parties and primaries encourages the mainstream politicians to embrace those dangerously outside the constitutional fold.

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