Howard Phillips, RIP

April 23, 2013

by Christopher Manion

FRONT ROYAL, VA — With the passing of Howard Phillips on Saturday, April 20, America has lost a tireless champion of liberty. Since his youth, Howard blazed a trail that was a model for later generations of conservatives. His noble example of lifelong devotion to principle was a beacon to countless legions of patriots fighting in the trenches. Born and raised a Jew, he converted to Christianity and was a stalwart defender of life at every stage. In many ways he was more Catholic than many Catholics: his faith motivated his every act and thought, in a manner so energetic and disciplined that the news that he was ill – that Howard could be anything else than a permanent powerhouse of principle – came as a real shock.

Howard was a natural leader. He was forceful, articulate, and boasted a stellar classical education (Boston Latin School and Harvard). He was gifted with the rare combination of a photographic memory and a brilliant mind. I once laughed when he told me that he had been elected president of the student council at Harvard. Well, Howie explained how he had prepared the ground: his junior year, he volunteered to direct a campus-wide charity campaign that received tremendous support from the entire student body. When the campaign for student council president came along, Howie already had his grass-roots team firmly in place.

He won twice. Yes, winning was unusual for Howie. But he never quit.

Howard was thorough and demanding – of himself and of others. He stayed on top of every issue. Most pols quiver at the tough questions and quickly resort to the “gift of the glib” – their robotic talking points. Not Howard. He never flinched. He’d go straight to the heart of the issue and expertly pose the principle, address the facts, and then render the verdict – all in thirty seconds of masterful prose.

Howard wasn’t a party animal. He witnessed time and again the GOP’s betrayal of conservative leaders and conservative principles. That sad legacy was reflected in his tenure as director of Richard Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Howard had accepted the post with the intention – which Nixon firmly supported  – of closing down OEO. He almost made it, but, as John Carbaugh used to say, “the doormat rolled over,” Nixon flip-flopped, and Howard left the Republican Party for good – and for good reason: Nixon’s perfidy left America with the monstrosity that became today’s HHS.

In the 1990s, Howard founded the U.S. Taxpayers Party, which later became the Constitution Party. I was able to vote for Howie a lot, but it wasn’t enough. He never won an election again. Nonetheless, he was undaunted. When Howie formed the Conservative Caucus some 40 years ago, he visited every one of America’s 435 congressional districts to build a team from the ground up. He was an original member of the small cadre that built the New Right – along with Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Weyrich, Jim Lucier, Ed Feulner, Richard Viguerie, and a quickly-growing army of conservatives.

On my shelf there’s a book entitled “East Minus West = Zero.” Its thesis is simple: Everything of value that the Soviets had, they stole from us. Howard’s slogan was the domestic version. His principal slogan over the years was “Defund The Left.” His target was the coven of leftist groups – Howard’s favorite was the Legal Services Corporation – that use government funding to lobby for more government funding. Howard’s thesis was that everything the enemy of the taxpayer has, the enemy first stole from the taxpayer. The scene of the crime was concentrated in LBJ’s Great Society programs. Nixon’s betrayal – he had promised Howard that he would veto Great Society funding – bequeathed to our own time a behemoth that is larger by several orders of magnitude than the “Big Government” that Ronald Reagan ran against in 1980.

 The Taxpayer Party Versus the Tax-Paid Party

 In the forty years since Howard started his campaign to “Defund The Left,” the Left has come into its own, complete with its own campaign: “Defund The Taxpayer!”  It’s working. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, “49% Say Wealthy Americans Pay Less Than Fair Share in Taxes.” This finding is curiously coupled with another one: “49% Think They Personally Pay More Than Their Fair Share in Taxes.”

Now this does raise the eyebrows. Basically, half of our countrymen believe the “wealthy” should pay more, while half believe that their own taxes are too high. Clearly these two communities do not overlap, unless they are victims of cognitive dissonance.  The nation is divided.

How to explain it? Well, according to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), the top 50% of taxpayers pay 97.75% of all federal income taxes. That was in 2009: in Tax Year 2013, Obamacare will probably raise that figure above 99%. When we contemplate Rasmussen’s findings, keeping in mind the NTU’s figures, it’s pretty clear that those who don’t pay taxes at all want those who do pay taxes to pay more of them. In like fashion, those who do pay taxes have apparently caught on to the charade, and they don’t like it.

Gone are the days of social mobility. The Left has written the battle lines in stone, and it’s “us against them” – a sad specter of division that is fomented, community by community, by the same parasites whom Howard opposed forty years ago. These folks, intent on creating a permanent underclass that will support their political agenda, have done all they can to slam every door on upward mobility – every door save one: the door to the ever-expanding ranks of unproductive government workers, tamed by the tiresome prospect of a gloomy but secure future working for the Capital while they enforce the bipartisan Hot Tub Elite’s program to impose their version of the Hunger Games on the rest of us.

 In Praise of the Constitution

 In 1999, the U.S Taxpayers Party became the Constitution Party. Howard’s judgment in 1974 was vindicated: the Republican Establishment had always bristled at the mention of the Constitution, and it worked to distance itself from limits on federal power, even during the Reagan years. By the time the Bush dynasty came into its own, the repudiation was complete. A friend of Howard’s recounts how a Bush White House staffer (it doesn’t matter which Bush) convened a meeting of conservative leaders in the Roosevelt Room. The goal was to reduce their criticism of the administration by having the president sit down with them personally for a frank heart-to-heart talk among friends.

The president came in the door. Before the group could even rise to its feet, the president glanced around and caught Howard’s eye. With a look of shock mingled with dismay, he quickly turned around and left the room. They never saw him again.

That image represents the history of the Republican Party Establishment. Confronted with the Constitution, it turns around and leaves – and slams the door on the way out.

Howard Phillips was a great man, a true and generous friend. May he rest in peace.


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