VIENNA, VA, April 24, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Howard Phillips, whose pro-life activism in the 1970s led to the formation of the modern Christian conservative movement, passed away at his home Saturday at the age of 72. He died of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) and Alzheimers Disease, according to family.
In addition to running for president three times, Phillips founded a new brand of conservatism that motivated values voters to put social issues – especially abortion – first in their voting patterns.
He helped create numerous pro-life and pro-family organizations, headed a major federal agency during the Nixon administration, and testified against two Republican Supreme Court nominees that he accurately predicted would favor abortion-on-demand.
“The overarching moral issue in the political life of the United States in the last third of the 20th Century is, in my opinion, the question of abortion,” he told then-Senator Joe Biden during the confirmation hearings of David Souter.
“Howard Phillips, a friend of half a century, was a conviction politician,” Pat Buchanan told LifeSiteNews.com. “He stood up for his beliefs, he stood by those beliefs, and he did not hesitate to go down to defeat if necessary for those beliefs. High among them was his unshakable belief in the inviolate right to life of the unborn.”
“Howard was a good man who devoted his life to fighting the good fight,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Phillips campaigned for Ronald Reagan but testified before the U.S. Senate against his first Supreme Court nominee, Sandra Day O'Connor. Her record in the Arizona state senate and as a judge proved she would favor abortion, he said.
A few years later, Phillips showed remarkable prescience as the only witness to testify against David Souter from a pro-life perspective. He was troubled by Souter's law school thesis, and by the fact that two New Hampshire hospitals opted to perform abortion-on-demand while Souter was a trustee. Phillips said, “One must conclude that either Mr. Souter accepts the view that the life of the unborn child is of less value than the convenience and profit of those who collaborate in the killing of that child, or that...he lacked the moral courage or discernment to help prevent the destruction of so many innocent human lives.” (You can watch the video here.)
Both Souter and O'Connor would affirm Roe in the 1992 Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision.
In a 2005 interview with LifeSiteNews, Howard Phillips analyzed that Chief Justice John Roberts “knows what the Constitution stipulates, but I think that for the sake of his career he will often set it aside in favor of what he believes is a more pragmatic course of action.” Conservatives accused Roberts of seeking mainstream approval in switching his decision on ObamaCare.
Phillips participated in the founding of Young Americans for Freedom, Concerned Women for America (CWA), the American Life League (ALL), and the influential Council for National Policy (CNP). In 1979, he and a group of conservative activists met with a dynamic preacher in Lynchburg, Virginia, and encourged him to bring evangelicals into the political arena. The United States, he told Jerry Falwell, still had a “moral majority.” With his impetus, the face of the Republican Party changed.
Phillips' insight came from years of study.
“Howie,” as friends called him, was born on February 3, 1941, in Boston. The grandson of Jewish immigrants attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College. He became a top youth volunteer for Richard Nixon in 1960 and then the leader of Boston's Republican Party as he devoted his life to doggedly climbing the political ladder.
In 1968, he was campaign manager of the successful U.S. Senate race of Richard Schweicker, a liberal Republican with whom he differed profoundly. GOP aides asked him to run a hopeless race for Congress in Massachusetts against Democrat Michael Harrington as a political favor. (He lost 59 percent to 37 percent.) That put him on the radar of the Nixon administration.
The president named him director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) in January 1973 with a promise to close the agency. Phillips called his time at OEO “the most important experience of my life...I really surrendered conventional ambition.”
He discovered the agency gave taxpayer dollars to anti-American radical organizations. Attending one such demonstration, he watched in shock as a black militant grant recipient led a crowd in chanting “F--- America!”
The administration, Phillips said, hoped the funding would convince left-wing groups to vote Republican.
“What I saw seemed to me to be so evil that it didn't matter what happened to me personally,” he said. “I was so outraged at what I saw that I just had to fight it, and basically give up any hope of conventional political success.”
He had heavyweight opposition and received insufficient help from his sometime-patrons, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
“He had a real kind of intellectual conversion of sorts during his service in the Nixon administration,” his youngest son, Sam Phillips, told LifeSiteNews.com. “He saw that Republicans were really just interested in maintaining power and not really advancing and sticking to principles. He left that.”
He went through another conversion, as well. He converted to Christianity.
Tied down by the exploding Watergate scandal, President Nixon reneged on his promise to close the agency. Phillips resigned.
In 1974, he founded The Conservative Caucus (TCC). Within six years, he had more than 300,000 members and had held rallies in all 435 Congressional districts.
Phillips became a founding father of The New Right along with such likeminded activists as Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, Ed Feulner, and Morton Blackwell. Unwilling to back pro-choice Republican Gerald Ford, he briefly helped Viguerie seek the presidential nomination of the American Independent Party (AIP), the vehicle created by George Wallace. (They deserted the party when its nomination instead went to Lester Maddox.)
In 1978, Howard sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in his native Massachusetts, aiming to topple two-term liberal Republican Edward Brooke. He crossed party lines, because he believed only a Democrat stood a chance at winning statewide election. He came in fourth behind eventual winner Paul Tsongas. Both would seek the presidency in 1992.
One of TCC's organizers proved to have better luck the same year. Gordon Humphrey won his U.S. Senate race in neighboring New Hampshire, holding the seat until 1990.
It was in promoting moral values and founding pro-family groups that Howard would find his greatest success. With Phyllis Schlafly, he created the grassroots movement that stopped the surging Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He drove U.S. opposition to the Panama Canal treaty, a position held by future president Ronald Reagan.
Phillips was one of a select group of leaders present when Reagan announced he had chosen George H. W. Bush as his vice presidential running mate in 1980. Phillips had lobbied for the more conservative Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada. It would not be the first battle he lost against his friend.
TCC had blocked the adoption of the SALT II Treaty signed by Jimmy Carter. Reagan campaigned against it – but abided by its terms as president. Phillips sued to force Reagan to stop observing the treaty, losing in court. Another treaty would prove his undoing with many of his colleagues.
His moment of combustion came during 1987's signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) arms reduction treaty. During a press conference, he called President Reagan “a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” The term, coined by Lenin, was perceived as a personal insult. Howard dug in his heels and was largely left in the cold by the Republican Party.
“He certainly had great respect for Reagan, but there's a problem when we begin to treat our poltiical associations as if they are our religious affiliation,” Sam Phillips said. “He would side with whomever he believed was right on an issue.”
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The abandonment seemed to hurt Sam more than his father. “Dad wouldn't be frustrated, but he would just kind of shrug it off,” he said. “He always had a spirit of gratitude, and he was very thankful. That was from his Christian faith.”
In time, the Soviet Union he so long opposed would collapse. “Two decades ago, in the final hours of the USSR, a small group of us under Howard's leadership traveled through Poland and the Baltic republics in one of the unforgettable trips of my life,” Buchanan told LifeSiteNews.
As Eastern Europe moved to the Right, Phillips saw the GOP under Bush-41 moving to the Left. He founded the U.S. Taxpayers Party in 1992; in 1999 it was renamed the Constitution Party. He offered its nomination three times to Buchanan, who declined. Ron Paul, then between Congressional stints, addressed its founding convention.
Over the years former Arizona Governor Evan Mecham, Senator Bob Smith, and Ambassador Alan Keyes would express interest in the nomination. But Howard served as the party's standard bearer in 1992, 1996, and 2000.
He believed the GOP would fall apart over its refusal to oppose abortion and homosexuality, and he wanted his party to be positioned to take its place. In 2010, it did precisely that on a state level, as former Congressman Tom Tancredo became its candidate for governor of Colorado, earning three-times as many votes as the Republican nominee.
He also maintained a close affiliation with Christian Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdoony, a firm believer in a theocratic government, calling him “my wise counselor.”
When asked by one of Rushdoony's disciples to name the best decision he ever made, Phillips replied, “That's easy – choosing my wife and the mother of my children.”
Phillips retired from TCC in late 2011 when his affliction became apparent. Family members say his sharp wit allowed the symptoms to go unnoticed for a long period of time.
Howard Phillips died at his home in Vienna, Virginia, on Saturday. Family members call his repose “peaceful.”
The New York Times' obituary called him a “stalwart conservative.” Texas Congressman Steve Stockman remembered fondly, “Over the years, Howard stood firm to conservative principles when it was often easier to compromise with establishment RINOs.” Feulner, who founded the Heritage Foundation, said some of Howard's principles “were a bit quirky, but Howie always believed and always led.”
“All who love freedom under God’s laws are deeply in your debt,” Richard Viguerie wrote in a touching tribute. “Rest in Peace, my friend.” Media Research Center founder L. Brent Bozell III wrote, “Most conservatives wouldn't be here but for men like Howard Phillips. They are his legacy.”
But his son Sam respectfully disagrees. “His children were his legacy,” he said.
Howard is survived by his wife Margaret (“Peggy” née Blanchard), six children, 18 grandchildren, and his sister, Susan Phillips Bari.
His children include Brad Phillips of the Persecution Project Foundation; Doug Phillips of Vision Forum; Elizabeth Lants (who goes by Amanda); Jennifer; soprano opera singer Alessandra Rossi-Filippi; and Samuel Joshua Phillips.
Visitation is scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday at Money and King Funeral Home in Vienna. His funeral service will be held next Monday at The Smith Center of McLean Bible Church. Pastor Chuck Baldwin, the 2008 Constitution Party presidential candidate, will deliver the eulogy.