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Trilateral who?

Whatever else happens after yesterday's primaries, the conspiracy theory of membership in the Trilateral Commission ought to be retired as a campaign tactic. It exploits fear and ignorance among the voters in a manner any candidate should repudiate. Reagan supporters have been using it against George Bush, but what does this say about fellow Republicans who were members before Mr. Bush's brief term -- Senator William Roth, for example, Representatives BArber Conable and John Anderson, and even the present party chairman, William Brock? Such a sample hardly suggests the Trilateral Commission is the liberal cabal of the conspiracy theory fielded by the right -- or the nest of imperialists decried by the far left.

What is the commission then? It is an organization launched by banker David Rockefeller in 1973 to bring together business, governmental, and academic leaders from North America, Europe, and Japan in an effort to foster "trilateral" economic and political cooperation. They consider analyses and reports, sometimes rejecting them, as they are said to have done to a proposal that what their nations neded was more government authority in relation to popular democracy. They seek international solutions to international problems. They issue publications.

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To imply any analogy with America's racist White Citizens Councils is ludicrous. Yet, in the Florida campaign, a conservative publicist reportedly complained of what he said were 15 Trilateral members in the Bush campaign and added: "Imagine the coverage if 15 White Citizens Council members had shown up as Reagen contributors."

How could any conspiracy theory get started? It so happens that Jimmy Carter was a member of the commission when he campaigned for the presidency. And so were a long list of people who wound up serving President Carter in one way or another: Walter Mondale, Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Warren Christopher, Harold Brown, Lloyd Cutler, Hedley Donovan, Leonard Woodcock, Richard Holbrooke, Sol Linowitz, Elliot Richardson, Paul Warnke, Richard Cooper, Robert Bowie, George Ball.

The appearance may be that there was a design to employ Trilateral members, even as anti-Bush campaigners have suggested an appearance that Trilateralists are supporting him in order to have both a Republican contender and the Democratic leader in tow. But think about it. Would the people above be enlisted in government because they were Trilateralists, or were they Trilateralists because they were part of the same pool from which officials are likely to be drawn?

The commission is fair game for criticism. A voter could well include membership in such an internationalist organization as a plus or minus factor in evaluating a candidate. But let's not see conspiracies where none exist, or let an endless campaign get muddier and muddier.


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