It might be useful, just before speeding ahead into the busy traffic of a presidential election, to cast one wistful glance into the rearview mirror of what might have been.
The main choice now, of course, appears to be between pragmatists Al Gore for the Democrats and George W. Bush for the Republicans. But people of principle should not forget two other men who, while never realistically in the race for actual office, deserve more than the mere footnote in history they may get.
Indeed, with four months left before the big conventions, both are still active candidates. Democrat Bill Bradley has thrown in the towel, as have Republicans John McCain, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, Elizabeth Dole, Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander, Bob Smith, and John Kasich. But not Alan Keyes and Howard Phillips.
Because Mr. Keyes, the only Republican left to oppose Mr. Bush for that party's nomination, may well have some role-however minimal and symbolic-at the Philadelphia convention, we'll wait to see what ultimately happens to his unusual campaign.
About Howard Phillips, however, we need to say something before other events crowd his ample presence totally off the screen. Mr. Phillips used to be a Republican activist, an assistant to Richard Nixon, and experienced enough in the actualities of both party and government operations so that he ought to be a realist. He is a realist-on many matters-but definitely not when he says his current run for the presidency is no mere game, but a serious effort.
What may interest WORLD readers in Mr. Phillips is not his realism, or lack of it, but his clear determination to put principle ahead of party. More than a decade ago, he started edging not just to the right end of the Republican spectrum-but finally to new party ties altogether. In 1992, and then again in 1996, he ran for president under the banner of the new party he created, the U.S. Taxpayers' Party. This year, for a third time, he's running on behalf of the same party-but under a new name: The Constitution Party, with very modest headquarters in Vienna, Va.
Many WORLD readers would very much enjoy living in a society run by the principles Mr. Phillips espouses. Many other people, whether they think they'd enjoy such a society or not, would be far better off in such a context than they are right now. For in many respects, the principles Mr. Phillips holds to tend to be rooted in biblical truth. His references to God are never nominal or euphemistic; he talks instead, and very explicitly, about God's sovereignty over the affairs of people. "We understand," he says repeatedly, "that the question of sovereignty is the basic issue to be resolved in our nation. Law is always the will of the sovereign. In our platform, we recognize that God almighty is not only our Creator, our Lord, and our Savior-He is also our sovereign."
Because Mr. Phillips believes so vigorously that the state in general, and the federal government in particular, have during the last century competed with God for the role of sovereign, much of his platform consists of dismantling those huge structures. "We will achieve reform," he told me last week, "not by funding the Christians, but by defunding the anti-Christians."
A Howard Phillips administration would begin, he says, in antithetical fashion to the first days of the Bill Clinton administration. "I will officially acknowledge the personhood of the unborn child and will appoint-by recess appointment, if necessary-new U.S. attorneys who will make it their top priority to work with state and local officials in prosecuting and closing down every abortuary within their jurisdictions."
But the Phillips wrecking ball would also be applied in short order, he says, to a host of other entities. The goal would be to "cut the federal government down to constitutional size, and to restore the separation of powers, the checks and balances, and the system of accountability postulated by the framers." Gone would be the Federal Reserve system, the Department of Education, membership in the United Nations, the Internal Revenue Service, the World Bank, the Federal Election Commission, as well as many lesser but offensive agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts.
Huge as that Herculean assignment might be, though, it's not Howard Phillips's biggest challenge. Even bigger is the task of getting his own friends and allies to agree that all or even any of those things could actually happen. The very certainty with which Howard Phillips forecasts so drastic (if desirable) an agenda prompts many to doubt his sense of practical reality.
Were Mr. Phillips to suggest a 10- or 20-year strategy for achieving his goals, this fellow who once headed the student government at Harvard might begin to develop some sort of thoughtful and meaningful following. Until then, however, his very good intentions will have the same effect third-party candidates have always had. He'll drain off a few thousand idealistic votes from candidates with admittedly imperfect agendas. And only that sovereign God Howard Phillips so often refers to knows whether that's ultimately a good or a bad thing for American society.