As we begin to experience the ascendancy of true conservatism in America, it is becoming more and more readily apparent that we must make real efforts to be able to identify solid candidates, people whose values–political, cultural, and otherwise–are based in a true understanding of our founding documents and in what it means to be an American in every sense of the word. To that end, I’d like to introduce the America’s Right readership to Mr. Les Phillip, currently campaigning for Congress in Alabama’s 5th district.
Before Mr. Phillip’s story is presented in and outside of his own words, however, a bit of the intrigue surrounding Alabama-5 is in order.
Alabama-5 is a district which has not elected a conservative to Congress since Reconstruction, immediately following the Civil War. Much of this has been the result of what has been termed the “good ol’ boy” network that apparently runs rampant in the area and one that would seem to be–at least to some extent–a reflection of what is currently taking place in the Democratic Party in Washington. This also happens to be the district in which Parker Griffith is running for re-election.
While Griffith is now a Republican, he is in no sense a conservative. In fact, Griffith only found the GOP on December 22, 2009, three days before Christmas. Like Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter but in reverse, Griffith likely only made the switch from Democratic Party to Republican Party when polls began to tell him that having a “D” attached to his name in the current political climate wasn’t going to be very politically expedient. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow even chimed in on the events in Alabama-5, albeit indirectly, when she had some harsh things to say about Mr. Phillip when he responded to a particular comment from Meghan McCain. Mr. Phillip discusses both situations in the forthcoming interview.
As to Mr. Phillip’s personal story, it is one that speaks to the heart of what it means to be an American. He immigrated to the United States when he was about six years old, and during the flight over from Trinidad became infatuated with the concept of flying, telling his mother during their time in the air that he loved it. Once on the ground, his mother inquired as to whether her son could see the cockpit, and young Les had many questions for the pilot, including what it took to become one. He was told that he had to go to school, do well in science and math, and that it wouldn’t hurt to go to one of the military schools some day. So, Les earned A’s and B’s throughout his days in school, and through a number of twists and turns his path led him to Annapolis. He eventually served in the military during the Gulf War, during which time his job entailed flying helicopters and landing them on aircraft carriers. No easy task, I imagine. In any event, the young boy from Trinidad, brought to America in hopes of a better life, became a naturalized citizen and fulfilled his dream – he became a pilot.
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America’s Right: Mr. Phillip, let me begin our time by thanking you for taking time out of your campaign schedule to sit down with America’s Right. We hope that as the campaign season progresses, you’ll feel free to use our political blog as a resource, either for an additional interview or as a guest writer yourself.
Les Phillip: Thank you very much.
AR: Would you mind starting by providing for our readers some general background on yourself?
LP: Sure thing. My family immigrated here in 1971, and I became a citizen in 1979. I eventually attended the Naval Academy, from which I graduated, and then I went on to serve in the Navy for eight years. During that time I served as a pilot and service warfare officer. In 1993, I left active service and went into private industry.
Around 1996, my family opened up our own business in Jacksonville, Florida but with the market bust in 2000 I went back into the corporate world. I worked as a third-party logistics manager, moved around a bit, and eventually wound up in Huntsville. While there, we have since opened up another business. My wife had always wanted to open up something big in the food industry, which actually wasn’t my thing, but since she had followed me around for about twenty years–military and so forth–I decided to give it a shot for her. As a result of the last election cycle, I made a determination that I wanted to run for Congress.
AR: Exactly what led you to that decision?
LP: The State-of-the-Union Address in February of last year. It was simply stunning what this gentleman wanted to do, and he had 60 percent of the Congress and Nancy Pelosi on springs all behind him. I think I felt the same way that millions of others around the country felt.
At the time, everyone thought I was nuts. I began talking to people about our values, the Constitution, and how this administration would destroy the fabric of our country that we have always known as America. At the beginning, I didn’t ask anyone’s permission; I simply started talking to small groups, Tea Party groups, and one thing basically led to another. Gradually I talked to more and more people, traveling the district and using the same format that Fred Thompson uses. He’s a six-term senator; I used his basic plan, which is to get out there, get to know the people, get a sense of their values, and see if our values coincide. If you find that the people with whom you speak are concerned about the same basic things, then you’re on the right track.
AR: As an administrator at an all-boys’ Catholic high school, I interact with our young people every day, as well as with their families. What I’ve come to discover over the better part of two decades in education is that the term “conservative” has evolved into a very negative stereotype of sorts, suggesting a person who is resistant to change, mean-spirited, selfish, and a war-monger. Can you define for us what it means to be a “core conservative,” and what we can do to change that perception among young people?
LP: Well, let me first give you what I feel is the correct definition. The most important characteristic of we “core conservatives” is that we respect life, the Constitution, limited government, and individual responsibility. By nature, this would seem to mean that such a person is a fairly stable individual. That, however, is just our foundation. There is much, much more to a person who is working from this base. Once you know what you are at your core, then every decision going forward will not only benefit you but also the greater society.
A sense of service, I think, is something that all people look for, but instead of waiting for the government to organize some type of “service,” young people need to learn to initiate this for themselves. Young people are by nature more interested in action, not words; they need to learn that in order to benefit the community and the larger society, it must start with their own actions. This conservative movement is now quickly becoming the latest, greatest thing, and I feel that our young people are beginning to sense that conservatives are people with values that run deep. They’ve just never been taught these values. Considering the manner in which young people are so closely connected to the latest technologies, we need to find a way that allows them to learn more about becoming politically active by communicating with them digitally.
There’s a young lady down this way that I’ve come to know. When the presidential campaign was going on, she was all for Barack Obama; now, however, she’s seen the difference between the talk and the walk. Conservatives have the walk; they also have the talk. We need to find a way to put it into action.
AR: Can you characterize for our audience the divide that currently exists between the mainstream Republican party and what we are sensing in this re-surgence of conservatism?
LP: I feel that the Republican party, as it now defines itself and seems to be presently constituted, feels that the core principles of conservatism are no longer their values. Their principles seem to be more based on agreement amongst the moderates, or simply going along to get along. They need to understand that the conservative movement is being driven by people who are willing to fight for their rights, people who are not satisfied by “going along to get along,” people who want the country back as it is constituted in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These people know that the government serves us and that we don’t serve it.
The Republican party has to understand that if they’re going to be moderates, then philosophically that is a very big divide. They’re having a hard time believing that there are that many people who actually want a limited government, because that is not the base of their power structure. Hopefully, the party leadership is beginning to understand that conservative Republicans are mad and that we intend to hold them responsible for the position in which we now find ourselves. The party members don’t seem to actually believe that we’re going to hang around long enough, that we’ll amount to little more than a passing fad in the long run. They seem prepared to hunker down and to try to wait it out, until the movement burns itself out. They just don’t realize that we’re not going away.
AR: Our discussion of this conservative resurgence naturally lends itself to mentioning the Tea Party movement. I understand that you responded, in some sense, to Meghan McCain’s contention that the Tea Party movement is in some sense founded on racism. You were then apparently attacked by Rachel Maddow for your comments on MSNBC. First, what are your thoughts with regard to the movement itself?
LP: The Tea Party movement, to me, is merely a resurgence of the American people and culture. They don’t want to move to the left. They want to remain right-of-center. At first, most people didn’t understand what was happening, but they knew that something wasn’t right. The Constitution is what keeps the marketplace open and allows you and I to have this conversation. There are even people on the left that don’t want that to disappear. This movement is being led by everyday people – mothers, shopkeepers, and business people.
Unfortunately, these people have been branded by the left as those who want more “control” over their own lives – things such as their schools and how much money the government is allowed to deduct from their paychecks. If that’s racist, then put me down as a racist. A black racist, at that. When Meghan McCain made her comments, I immediately looked upon myself, a man who came to this country and worked his way up in the American way-of-life by playing fair. Is life always fair? No, it isn’t. I’ll tell you what, though … it’s better here than anywhere else.
When I heard her say what she said, I thought about it for some time. Each time, I kept coming back to the fact that people who do not have any “skin in the game” will loot the treasury for anything that they can, as the Founders predicted 200 years ago as a result of having been well-read in ancient Athenian literature. They knew that a pure democracy never works for more than a few generations, and we are at the tipping point now. Somewhere around 45 percent of our people put nothing into the system financially, but they get a tremendous amountof money back under tax credits and various other handouts. As a result, the treasury is empty. The only way to re-set the system is to ensure that all the people actually contribute and have a say as to how the money is spent. People who put nothing in should have no say.
The bottom line is this: there are responsibilities that come with being an American citizen. You need to understand the manner in which the government operates, you need to understand your rights, and you need to understand why the government was designed to be a limited one. I don’t see what’s so difficult about that. Many people in the South have used these concepts as a way to limit personal liability, but now it’s beginning to happen on a society-wide scale. We need to get our system back on track, especially as it regards governmental literacy. Our people today have, for the most part, lost touch with that which the Founders so clearly understood 200 years ago.
AR: In what sense did Rachel Maddow react to this?
LP: My response to Meghan McCain’s assertion had apparently made its way out into the blogosphere, and my picture was naturally attached to it. Maddow picked up on the story, and she felt that I apparently wanted to re-institute Jim Crow laws. Well, she apparently didn’t invest the time to actually first take a look at my picture that MSNBC used as part of her presentation, because her mindset is such that the Tea Parties naturally consist of nothing more than racist white men. I got a little hate mail for it, but not much.
AR: Have you heard anything that might substantiate the rumor that Bill Clinton and James Carville are working behind-the-scenes to undermine the Tea Party movement?
LP: No, I haven’t, but it wouldn’t surprise me, since we’ve been much more effective articulating the conservative movement than the Republican party has been.
LP: Two million people stood up on 9/12. I was there. These people are the ones who are concerned about constitutional issues, bringing us back to the place at which the government should fear its people, not the other way around. That’s the foundation of a free society. While the Republican party gives good lip service to conservative values, they haven’t moved the ball down the field at all. They’re following the Tea Party, not leading it. That’s the primary reason that the Republican Party is so paranoid right now – they have no control over the true conservatives.
If I were sitting on the other side, therefore, I would see this mass movement of true conservatives as the real threat; since it’s a much more loosely-constructed organization at this point, that would be my bet, because it would be, at least on paper, somewhat more vulnerable. The obvious tactics are to label these people as racists and extremists. That’s what I’d do. But, to answer the larger question, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Clinton and Carville would make an attempt at it.
LP: Offering some type of universal amnesty to those who are not proper citizens is just not right, because its objective is to dilute the voter base of the true citizenry. I’m also against any type of a cap and trade program, because all it amounts to is a huge transfer of wealth. Small businessmen would be paying the steepest price for it. I’m driving around DC right now, and I’m looking at the amount of snow that is piled up all over the place. If the intent of this is to combat some type of climate change, I just don’t see it happening.
As far as health care is concerned, let me say this – I have literally traveled all over the world, and we have the best. Could it use some tweaks? Sure it could. Do we need the government to step in and take over one-sixth of the nation’s economy? No, we don’t. Look, I was in the military. I had government health care. For an officer, it was alright. Can it be done for 300 million people? No, it can’t. In fact, it’s been tried in different parts of the world, and it’s never worked. Now, if the government would just get out of the way, allow the free market to assert itself, allow competition beyond state lines, standardized formats, allow the insurance companies to regulate the manner in which they deal with people [then we would be in better shape].
As for stimulus, we’ve got the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world. Unless you cut taxes to bring businesses back and abolish the capital gains tax, there’s no amount of money that you can print that will either stimulate the economy or float universal health care. The economic cycle will simply intensify and the time between boom and busts will dwindle. We’re now at a point in which all this money is not doing anything. We’re not making anything. We’re approaching the failure point as we speak.
AR: So the “Jobs Bill,” therefore, is just more of the same?
LP: Yes, that’s what I see. It’s just a method of appeasing the Democratic voter base as we draw closer to the November elections, an attempt to show their base what they’ve done for them. What they’re not telling them is that it’s being done at the expense of the rest of the country. If I were in their position, however, that’s what I might do. They’ve got nothing but a losing hand. They really have no values. They bring nothing to the table other than the same tried and failed policies.
AR: Speaking of bringing tried and failed policies to the table, do you feel that there is any direct bearing on the two general political phenomenons that we’re witnessing, mainly the mass defections and retirements of Democrats and the stunning elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts?
LP: Absolutely. They clearly felt that November 2008 gave them a mandate, and now we see that the country is reacting to their having pushed too far, too fast. They no doubt figured that this was their time to go for it, because they have both the House and the Senate. Now, they’re encountering serious resistance. Some of these guys have seen the handwriting on the wall. This could possibly be worse than 1994.
I think Evan Bayh probably has an eye toward running somewhere else down the line, but the other guys are just getting out while they can. There’s a direct correlation no matter how they choose to spin it. As to the larger reasons why these guys are getting out, as one of my school teachers used to say all the time — follow the money. Evan Bayh gets to walk away with $50 million in cash, because he was grandfathered in to many of the campaign changes and is allowed to keep his campaign cash.
AR: I also believe you had a reaction to a recent Huffington Post piece, in which the author was essentially advocating violence against conservatives.
LP: Yes, Chicago-style politics. Go break kneecaps. I’d like them to try that down in Alabama. There are a lot of people who aren’t afraid to assert their Second Amendment rights down here. Most common-sense people know that you don’t bring a baseball bat to a gun fight.
AR: Alabama 5 is a unique district because of its voting history. It hasn’t really elected a true conservative since reconstruction following the Civil War, has it?
LP: That’s true. Not since 1867.
AR: And I understand that there’s quite a bit happening in the district, especially as regards Parker Griffith’s defection from the Democratic Party to the Republicans?
LP: Well, the commotion is essentially happening because if he’d remained with the Democrats, the media would’ve run defense for him, but now they’re not going to do that. Now, he’s totally exposed, and he’s probably about to find out that the people down here are a lot smarter than he thinks.
A lot of people know who I am, and they know that I’ve always been the same person. Let’s look at it from this perspective – we recently had a three-way debate, and it was clear who the crowd favorite was. The people who were there know what I’ve stood for from day one, and know that my message has never changed. My message is this: this is all about freedom and liberty. It’s exactly what the Tea parties are espousing–freedom, liberty, economic opportunity–nothing more, nothing less. Parker Griffith can’t honestly stand there and say these things, because he’s already made many other statements to the contrary. I’m looking forward to the fight. It’ll still be difficult, but it’s far more winnable now than it was four months ago, before he switched.
AR: Are there any issues in Alabama-5 that you feel need to be addressed?
LP: The space industry is a huge part of the economy down here, but it also needs to be a national effort. What we’re fighting for also goes hand-in-hand with an eye toward the betterment of the human race. Ensuring that the United States remains a pre-eminent space power goes a long way to the broader goal.
AR: Anything else that you’d like to add?
LP: Everyone needs to get in the race. Go to my web site, LesPhillip.com, and the people can see for themselves what we’re all about.
AR: Thank you for spending the time with America’s Right today, Mr. Phillip. Good luck in your campaign, and we hope to hear good things from you in the future.
LP: Thank you very much.