Charley doesn't look like the sort of fellow the kids would normally bring home from college during spring break. Maybe it's the bullet belt over his sleeveless T-shirt that sets him apart. Maybe it's the M16 in his hands that seems just a bit menacing, even for the punk crowd.
But let us keep an open mind here. Charley is, after all, the campus poster boy of the College Republican National Fund. He is the new star of a fund-raising campaign to encourage college students to adopt their very own Nicaraguan rebel.
In a macabre twist on the theme of the Save the Children Foundation, the fund is telling students that for a mere $16 a month, only 53 cents a day, they can buy one contra meals and medicine; maybe they'll even get a letter back describing how much better the murder and mayhem are going.
The poster pitch goes like this: "My name is Charley and I am a Nicaraguan Counter-Communist. A Contra. A Freedom Fighter.
"I have taken up arms against the Soviet Empire and its satellite government in Nicaraguan and I need your help.
"Last year your Congress cut off our funding . . . Please help me and my fellow patriots. We haven't got long." It closes witht the sort of ecological plea that always attracts the young: "Save the Contras."
Frankly, I find this tale of Charley and the contras a perfect story for the 1980s, and I don't say this merely to keep Charley from getting angry at me (although I would feel better if he took his finger off the trigger). This Republican fund-raiser is a logical extension of policy-making in the age of Reaganomics.
After all, this is an era when domestic policy is rapidly becoming a private affair. Why not foreign policy? The days of privatization began back when Reagan first started cutting social programs. He maintained that donations and charity would take up the slack. Individuals would do what the government wouldn't do. It didn't happen that way, but everybody got the hint. The public sector was going to do less, the private sector was supposed to do more.
So we have gone private, at least in the sense of service. We now have a growth industry in private security systems, a new supply of private jails and a bumper crop of private hospitals.
In New York, where the public transportation system is creaky and sometimes spooky, there is now a private bus company. In cities where the public school systems are impoverished, many head for private schools. Social policy has been reduced to one basic principle: You can get anything you are willing to pay for.
Sooner or later this was bound to spill over onto foreign affairs. If Congress refused to fund the contras, then it was natural to turn to the private sector, at least to those private citizens who regarded Charley as a home-team player. Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Mel Levine (D-Calif.) introduced a bill last week to stop this sort of private military funding, but theyre just trying to keep an old-fashioned government monopoly going.
The rest of us can now enter the era of Free Enterprise War. Each American citizen can have the wonderful opportunity of choosing sides and sending its non-tax dollars to whatever armed forces it finds cute enough to adopt. Like the looks of an Afghan guerrilla? Give him a couple of bucks a week. Sick of Marcos? Have an auction for the opposition. If you prefer Iran and your neighbor likes Iraq, why fight about it when each can adopt his or her own soldier for a mere 53 cents a week?
The beauty of this free choice-ism is that we don't have to hold foreign policy debates, we don't have to arrive at any sort of consensus, we don't even have to agree. In fact we don't have to fund any government at all.
Why, for that matter, stop with building private armies? While we are in the business, let us encourage the Reagan administration to return the tax dollars slated for new weapons systems and let private citizens, in all their disparate wisdom, take over. We could begin by holding a bake sale for the MX. I have a swell recipe for chocolate-chip cookies.