Paul’s Godfather

I just realized, via Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatches, that Howard Phillips, one of the true founders of the Christian Right and one of that movement’s most aggressive theocrats, died over the weekend at 72 after suffering from a debilitating illness for the last couple of years.

Aside from his important role in working with Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell in building the Moral Majority and serving as an unofficial ideological commissar during the Reagan years, Phillips was better known in the 1990s for bailing out of the Republican Party and founding the U.S. Constitution Party (originally the U.S. Taxpayers Party). Phillips’ party was a vehicle for far-right activists and especially Christian Reconstructionists determined to build a society where rigid biblical norms governed culture but private activity ruled the economy. While the Constitution Party has never had any electoral clout, it has had some well-known supporters whose influence continues to rise, notes Ingersoll:

The Constitution Party’s goal is to “reestablish” Biblical Law as the foundation for American society. Part of the ability of the Constitution Party to endure, despite structural impediments to third parties in the American political system, is no doubt due to longstanding support from Ron Paul, Rand Paul and a dedicated core of their supporters.

Rand Paul spoke at a Constitution Party event as recently as 2009. His father actually endorsed the Constitution presidential ticket in 2008, and after his retirement from Congress, has devoted much of his time (as Sarah Posner has reported) to the promotion of a home-school curriculum whose development was supervised by Gary North, a major Christian Reconstructionist theorist with links to the Constitution Party, who has also been cited as an influence by Rand Paul.

I wonder how aware some of the young hip libertarians attracted to the Family Paul–or for that matter, the MSM journalists who occasionally interpret the Paulite message in the image of their own economic conservative/cultural liberal views–about the Christian Reconstructionist associations of Ron and Rand. Sure, it’s possible to systematically dislike government on purely libertarian or even anarchist grounds, but it’s also possible to hate “government schools” because they compete with strict conservative evangelical madrassa training and wish to undermine government generally for interfering with the imposition of biblical law. If Rand Paul does emerge as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 or later, I do hope he’s asked early and often about Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party, and exactly how much freedom he actually wants us to have from the Revealed Truth as he understands it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.