The Persian Gulf crisis has reshuffled the right-wing deck in America, and conservatives can't present a unified front to their conservative president on the deployment. Worse, their conservative president isn't as conservative as they want him to be, and Ronald Reagan shows no signs of coming out of retirement. Dan Quayle is the right-wing standard bearer in the administration, and that's not enough.
Those who support President Bush's heavy-handed approach to the Persian Gulf crisis are not taking any chances that he may shrink from his resolve. One group of bedfellows has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign of privately funded propaganda.
The Coalition for America at Risk has some old familiar names dressed up for a new cause. They want Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. They think George Bush is the man to do it. And they don't want any leftover liberal guilt from the Vietnam War to stand in the way.
The coalition's tools are expensive TV spots and full-page ads in America's premier newspapers. Their message is that Americans should line up behind their president, and if John or Jane Q. Public doesn't know how to do that, they can call an 800 number for a free coalition "emergency action kit."
Predictably, the coalition makes a pitch for money in that kit. But this is not a group that waits for the nickels and dimes of ordinary Americans to trickle in. The coalition is paying for those pricey ads with money raised by a handful of men who have proved that they can come up with cash when the cause is right -- far right.
The coalition includes:
Conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie, who doesn't think Bush tilts far enough to the right.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs, who testified in the Senate Iran-contra hearings that his primary assignment from the White House while he was in Costa Rica was to build up the contra army there.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, an unreconstructed anti-communist last heard from when he was raising private money to fund the contra war.
William R. Kennedy, who as publisher of the Conservative Digest, built the circulation from less than 7,000 to 280,000 readers. He was the golden boy of American conservatives a few years ago, and he had a Midas touch in the precious-metals business. Of late his shine has been tarnished by allegations that he defrauded conservative investors in his company, Western Monetary Consultants. He has been sued in a California court by 11 of those investors who claim he bilked them out of more than $1 million in the 1980s, according to court papers made available to us.
Lesser lights include former U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, Sam Zakhem, and retired Gen. George Patton III.
The coalition's co-chairman, Scott Stanley Jr., told our reporter Paul Parkinson that the group is targeting "antiwar liberals." And the coalition doesn't want Congress to stand in the way of the president either. The coalition's job, said Stanley, is to "defeat the liberal Democrats who think the president is stepping on congressional prerogatives."
If there is to be a war, Stanley said, "we don't want one long replay of the Vietnam War. President Bush should have the support of the American public."
Since the American public is used to being wooed by Madison Avenue, the coalition's approach is smart, even if it is unsettling to see TV ads promoting a point of view on a political issue in the absence of an election campaign. There is no ballot issue and no candidate on the line in this campaign.
And so far, there is no opposition with the kind of money the coalition has been able to command -- as much as $11,000 for every 30 seconds of air time and $46,000 per newspaper ad page. Antiwar protesters rally in little clumps, but they are no match for 700 carefully placed TV spots or the newspaper ads that describe murdered Kuwaitis lying in heaps. "Help stop the HOLOCAUST," the newspaper text says. "Help President Bush Stop Saddam Hussein."
The 800 number is a nice touch for the 1990s. No ad campaign is complete without one. The coalition gets about 1,000 calls a day on its number, according to Stanley. The caller receives a kit with sample letters to the president and Congress and instructions on how to speak intelligently on call-in radio talk shows. The kit hustles a donation starting at $25, but Stanley told us the coalition does not count on that money to pay its bills.
It needs the support of Americans in the polls, but it doesn't need money from the rank and file as long as some conservative pockets are deep enough to fund their own propaganda.
1990, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.