Conservative Activism: Alliance of Rogues and Thieves

by Rawlein G. Soberano

Conservative politicians tend to serve business interests, which they have done all these years, and businesspeople tend to be conservative because conservatism itself became a business, a source of profit for these people. Jack Abramoff once referred to them as political entrepreneurs. In its current form, it consisted of peddling right-wing grievances to birds of the same feathers. There was so much money to be made by helping outfits raise money for beleaguered conservatives who were neither beleaguered nor asked for monetary help. Because of their hatred for labor shared by many businessmen, there were anti-union charities and fake anti-union that the problem was to find ways to spend the money. The New Right appeared on the scene in the 1970’s.  Most were former Young Americans for Freedom and now as adults they discovered that the YAF’s trademark of confrontation was not only politically attractive but also a profitable cash cow. Their story began at the retail level. The technique they used was direct mail. The guru in this field was Richard Viguerie who held the movement together with his mailing list and his gift for getting you to part with your money. He brought the vehicle of marketing to the conservative movement and methodically educated himself on the subject. He merged modern marketing with the enthusiasm of the Far Right.

Their fund-raising letters depicted a country gone berserk with liberal villains ready to destroy the American way of life. Like all propaganda, the direct mail was a loathsome despicable stuff. Some observers were awed by this medium to regard it as magic capable of persuading anybody of anything. It is interesting that the actual letters that were sent out by the millions in the 1970’s and 1980’s have largely disappeared today. In spite of all what those letters have done to change the face of the nation, no library made a comprehensive effort to keep track of them. Direct mail moved the country to the right and made direct-mailers rich. Countless conservative entrepreneurs entered the field looking for a piece of the action. Most of the money went to the professional fund-raisers. After deducting expenses, a tiny amount left went to the actual cause that donors thought they were supporting.

Direct mail is primarily a mode of advertising which is expensive. Direct mailers chide clients should be grateful that they were getting something from this form of advertising. It is so expensive that political groups often found themselves in debt to the direct mail fund-raisers. The process is a no-loss proposition to the direct-mail companies. They offered an advance on the proceeds of a direct-mail campaign. Since the former was cash-starved, they accepted the deal and the mail bearing their name would go out. Somehow they would never break even, and the organization found itself in debt to the fundraisers. The latter would offer another advance for another direct-mail effort, and the cycle would repeat itself.

Viguerie’s New Right colleague was Terry Dolan, director of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), who sold political results in the destruction of, in general, campaign finance rules that limited individual contributions to a specific campaign, and in particular, of liberal US senators. These two-pronged attacks made them laugh with glee on their way to the bank. Their standard trademark was to scare people in their solicitations to pay for TV commercials that were notorious for viciousness and outright lies. It was a great success when Dolan launched it in 1980. He had nothing but contempt for fair play and was cynical of the government and voters. He reveled openly in gaming the system, carefully obeying the letter of the law while trampling its spirit. Friends could count on him to push their personal profit-schemes with legislators.

The person who caused most harm was Howard Phillips who launched such organizations as Conservative Caucus (grassroots outfit), Moral Majority (religious right outfit) and Constitution Party (political outfit from which he ran for president 3x). He was the chief peddler of alienation and bitterness. The main focus of his activities was to deny funding to the Left, to systematically destroy or redirect the income of the other side. This was the seed from which sprang the whole vast enterprise of conservative governance. He used the passage of the Panama Canal Treaty by describing it as a surrender of the canal to arouse public anger: liberals are weak, traitors to national honor and collaborators on the actual dismantling of the country. He sent out over 3 million pieces of mail on the subject. It was one of the New Right’s greatest financial successes, taking Panama to the bank repeatedly over the years until contributors began to realize there was nothing the wingers could do, or were doing nothing.

Their only goal was to defund the Left., e.g., Legal Services Corp (a federal program that provides legal services to poor people), DOL (to starve labor unions of funds), EPA and USDA (to leave business alone, or encourage voluntary monitoring). GWB used this animosity to channel the money instead to faith-based organizations, private contractors with the right politics and to clients of favored lobbyists. For every federal dollar steered to some idealistic social outfit in the 1960’s, that was peanuts compared to what was funneled to Halliburton/KBR, Blackwater and DHS’ consultant-executives.

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