In the final installment of this four-part interview, Conservative Caucus founder Howard Phillips details school days amidst the Boston Brahmins, how the Massachusetts Democratic Party went off the deep end, wooing Pat Buchanan for a third-party run, and the past and future of the Constitution Party.
FLYNN: You’re from the Boston area.
PHILLIPS: I’m from ward 22, precinct 9—Brighton.
FLYNN: Okay. You are from Boston. You went to Boston Latin. You went to Harvard. And, you’re a conservative leader. Most people probably wonder, how did a conservative come from that environment? Why is it that Massachusetts has a well-earned reputation for liberalism? One would think with all the Catholics in that area, and so many blue-collar types, that you wouldn’t have that.
PHILLIPS: Let me talk about me, and then we’ll talk about Massachusetts. In my case, there were several factors. I believe God writes it on our heart. I had a passion for justice from the time I was politically cognizant. I hated evil. I loved justice. I started writing constitutions when I was in the seventh grade to try to reflect what I believed to be right and true. I had a grandfather who was an immigrant to this country.
FLYNN: From where?
PHILLIPS: From Eastern Europe. His name was Sam Goldberg. I’m of Jewish heritage. He instilled in me great love of country and a great appreciation. I always had a deep sense of patriotism from the time I was a kid. In grammar school, I had some terrific teachers. I remember Miss Sanderson, who would always be denouncing the Soviet Union and how they had kids turning in their parents—and what a great country America was. I remember her telling, we all stand atop a slippery slope and you must not compromise your principles because, once you do, you start sliding down and it’s very hard to climb back once you begin that slide.
I went to all the patriotic parades—Decoration Day, Memorial Day, all of those things. I just had a tremendous, deep love of country, a love of our history, an appreciation of America’s heroes. And I went to the greatest school in America, the Boston Latin School. Founded in 1635, you’d walk into the assembly hall and you’d see on the wall on the names of some of the great alumni—Benjamin Franklin, various governors, senators, signers of the Declaration of Independence, Cotton Mather, Increase Mather. We were given a sense of destiny at Latin School. Everyone who graduated had a sense of destiny and purpose. They got into pretty good schools. My class standing wasn’t great, but, despite that fact, I was admitted into Harvard.
My entering class had about 2,500 people. By the time we graduated, 252 of us were left. The others had either dropped out, flunked out, or gotten kicked out because of demerits. It was tough. We had five or six hours of homework every night. It was an all-male school. Teachers were called masters. Many of them had Ph.D.s from Ivy League schools. The standards were rigorous. It was a great school. We had a great sense of history. We were encouraged to participate in civic activities, which I did from a very early age. We would walk into class, my homeroom was 229 and my homeroom teacher was Charles K. Avery, and on the wall would be a famous saying of a famous Latin School alumnus, George Santayana: “He who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it.” And so all of this inoculated me with a keen sense of purpose.
I was always interested in foreign policy and international relations. When I was student council president, one of my best friends was McGeorge Bundy, who prevented my being kicked out. Dean Munro, the dean of the college, wanted to kick me out. He succeeded in putting me on probation. But he didn’t kick me out. My principal defender was McGeorge Bundy, with whom I met every week because I was student council president. We had great discussions about foreign policy, and he loved it because he had never met anyone who believed the things that I believed.
At Harvard, I was privileged to have a number of interesting professors. In addition to McGeorge Bundy I had Henry Kissinger as a professor, Zbignew Brzezinski, who was there on a visit from Columbia where he normally taught. I had John Kenneth Galbraith. I had Seymour Harris. And I studied everything—astronomy, game theory, history. I got a very good education in the Constitution at Harvard from liberals who taught it straight. I met a lot of interesting people. My seat mate in astronomy class was Charles Lindbergh’s daughter, Anne Lindbergh, and many, many, many other interesting people crossed my path.
FLYNN: The flipside of it—why are there so many people from Massachusetts who obviously don’t turn out the way that you did?
PHILLIPS: My freshman roommate was John I. Taylor, whose family owned the Boston Globe. He was sort of a liberal Republican. He and I shared an apartment off campus in our freshman year. There were several things that changed. The Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix, and the Boston Real Paper, and the anti-war movement. The Democratic Party in Massachusetts was conservative, Catholic Democrat until the mid-’60s. And the a variety of people, and I need not mention all of their names—Father Drinan was one of them—through an organization called PAX, took over the Democratic Party. The traditional Democrats were put in a secondary position. What really changed was the Boston Globe, which became much more radical, much more left-wing than it had been. The TV stations and the talk shows played off what was on the front page of the Globe. the Herald was a more conservative paper, but it was not in the thick of things to the degree that the Globe was.
I remember meeting with Rupert Murdoch after he purchased the Herald, and we had a long discussion about what had happened and what he might be able to do to try to turn things around. The Boston Phoenix was a very significant publication. It was a weekly tabloid, which would provide people with information about movies and music and whatever, but it would have a cover story which was almost always newsworthy—scandalizing some major public figure or making a hero of someone else. To a very great degree, the electronic media played off the Phoenix. So I would say, MassPAX, the Globe, the Real Paper, the Phoenix were principally responsible for changing the direction of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. Add to that, you’ve got so many colleges. I organized Young Republican Clubs on 39 of those college campuses. They became a place of ferment for the Left, to a large degree because of the Vietnam War. You know it’s interesting, the son of Charles Evans Hughes, a fellow named H. Stuart Hughes who was very left-wing, ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent, as did Thomas Boylston Adams, an heir to the Adams family name. Both of them were hard-left. When they first started running, which I think was in the early ’60s, they didn’t get much traction. But their views became the norm among liberals and Democrats as time went on.
FLYNN: You ran for president three times. The criticism by many folks, even many conservatives, is that when you run for president you’re taking votes away from the Republican candidate. You have no chance of winning, so why even do it? Why did you run for president and what is the future of the Constitution Party?
PHILLIPS: I certainly had no problem taking votes away from Republicans. As a matter of fact, I hope I did. It had not been my hope that I would be the nominee. I tried to get Pat Buchanan to run in ’92, ’96, and again in 2000. I think if Pat had run on our ticket in ’96, and I had long discussions with him about it, that he would have gotten more votes than Bob Dole. I don’t think he would have won, but he would have set himself up for a possible victory four years later. In ’92 when I first ran, I literally spoke to about 36 other people urging them to run. I finally reached the conclusion that if this was worth doing, and if no one else would do it, then I had a moral obligation to do it. Before I started the party, I had decided I could no longer in good conscience morally ask people to support what I was doing if I had no strategy better than losing as slowly as possible. I had to have a vision of victory. We tried to have a party that was dedicated to restoring the kind of polity that the Framers had in mind. The most important thing I can say is that ideas that are no longer advocated in the public arena, are ideas that are lost to history. What we have tried to do, is first of all train cadres of people who are Constitutionally knowledgeable and principled and of high integrity, and we’ve done this in all fifty states.
FLYNN: You’re saying The Conservative Caucus or the Constitution Party?
PHILLIPS: The Constitution Party. The Conservative Caucus has done many important things, but it has a different function. The goal of the Constitution Party is to put into the public discourse ideas which would otherwise be lost to history. What I always tell folks who ask me about it, I say, look: the difference between a political party and a discussion club is that a political party runs candidates. It’s very important to run candidates to stand for that which is right and that which is being ignored by the others.
FLYNN: Why did the name change from U.S. Taxpayers Party to the Constitution Party?
PHILLIPS: The Constitution Party is a better name. It more accurately describes who we are and what we stand for.
FLYNN: What is the future of the Constitution Party?
PHILLIPS: We’ve always understood that, without money and without media, we’re not going to win any elections. That’s one of the reasons we tried to get someone like Pat Buchanan, who had a degree of visibility, that would enable us to get on the radar screen of enough voters to become a factor. I am now urging my colleagues in the party to seek the Constitution Party presidential nomination, but to also run in the Republican primaries in states where there are no “sore loser” laws, such as New Hampshire and Iowa, where there are caucuses, because there are millions of dollars worth of free publicity which you can only get by running in those primaries—all the while making clear that the intention is to be on the ballot in November on the Constitution Party ticket.
FLYNN: Do you think the Constitution Party will have greater success in 2008 if, say, the Republican Party were to put up a candidate who is not even nominally pro-life, someone who is actively pro-choice, say, someone like Rudy Giuliani?
PHILLIPS: If we had a “name” candidate in ’96, we would have done real well. We didn’t do as well in 2000 as we had hoped because Buchanan took a lot of the votes that would have come to us when he ran on the Reform Party ticket. You’re going to have a big field, probably, for the Republican nomination in 2008. You could wind up with any one of a number of people, who ought not be attractive to conservatives, whether it’s McCain, or Gingrich, or Giuliani, or a half-dozen others I could mention. In a divided field, anything can happen. You win a nomination with pluralities, at least in the early stages.
FLYNN: Do you think the Constitution Party will garner more votes the more liberal the Republican nominee is?
PHILLIPS: If we have a credible nominee, and the Republicans have a liberal ticket, I think our nominee could achieve a major breakthrough.
FLYNN: Thank you very much, Howard.