July 24, 2000


Our elites don't like opposition, whether from the left or the right. This presidential election year, with the Buchanan and Nader campaigns challenging the two-party system – and exposing, each in their own way, the bipartisan ideology of corporatist control over government policy both foreign and domestic – a concerted campaign by our militant "centrists" to discredit them both is underway.


The Bush camp would like to be able to move leftward without having to shore up their right flank – which is endangered as long as Buchanan remains a factor. The Gore campaign would dearly love to see Nader disappear, so they can pull off another feat of Clintonian "triangulation" and move rightward. The culmination of this convergence will no doubt be the presidential non-debates, which will be reduced, as Nader puts it, to a battle between "the drab and the dreary." This deadly dull performance is likely to put the American people to sleep – if they tune in at all. But the elites are hoping that you won't be tuning in: voter turnout this year is expected to be at an all-time low, and for the people who rule this country that is really good news. They don't want you to tune in, or to vote, or to get too interested in or excited about the election, or politics in general – that is their domain, and they want to keep it that way. But this year trouble is brewing: both the left and the right are challenging the elites' chief asset, and that is their legitimacy.


The mandarins of the Establishment, in government and the media – or do I repeat myself? – are outraged, and fearful. Their fear is fully justified. This election-year charade, instead of preserving the illusion of popular consent, could backfire by exposing the ironclad exclusivity of a closed system – and that could lead to trouble (big trouble) not too far down the road. The people who really rule this country – the corporate interests who profit from state intervention in the economy, both at home and abroad – are rallying the troops to defend their positions, because a full-fledged two-pronged assault on the fortress of Privilege has been launched. The first salvos were fired by Pat Buchanan, who is filing suit in federal court to stop the corporate-sponsored "debate commission" from excluding him. The commission is an ostensibly "private" group co-chaired by former GOP national chairman Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, his Democratic equivalent: their criteria for inclusion in the debates is geared to exclude all dissenting voices and foster the duopoly of the Republicrats (or is that Demopublicans?). To receive an invitation to discuss the future of the country on the national stage, a candidate must average at least 15 percent in 5 polls. Now here's an interesting coincidence . . .


These polls, two of which are run by the Washington Post and the New York Times (in cooperation with major networks), are paid for by the same media organizations which have shown a visceral hostility to both Buchanan and Nader, not only on their editorial pages but in their reporting. A classic example is a piece in yesterday's Washington Post by Thomas Edsall, "Buchanan's Bid Transforms Reform Party" – classic in the sense that it uses a shopworn (yet very effective) technique deployed by character assassins down through the ages: guilt by association. The method is simple: first, you find some obscure slob sitting in a basement somewhere churning out racist claptrap and half-baked conspiracy theories for the delectation of his dozen or so followers. You then call him up, and say: "Hello, this is Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post" – pregnant pause – "and I'd like to get your opinion on the Buchanan campaign. Do you have a moment to talk?" A moment? The crank in the basement has plenty of time to pontificate not only on Buchanan, but on the world-historic importance and burgeoning influence of his tiny – and, on the whole, mostly imaginary – organization.


This is essentially what Edsall did in his vicious, deliberately misleading piece. Even the title is polemical "Buchanan's Bid Transforms Reform Party" – designed as grist for the mill of the Stop Buchanan wrecking operation inside the Reform Party. The party, once "centrist" – i.e. without any ideology whatsoever – has now become "a magnet attracting leaders and activists of such extreme right organizations as the National Alliance, the Liberty Lobby, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the League of the South." This would be called "McCarthyism" if the left could think of itself as being guilty of such a crime. Unlike McCarthy, however, whose accusations were eventually proved essentially correct, the smear tactics of the "get Buchanan" crowd are without any basis in fact. Edsall reports a "flood of support from the extreme right" for Buchanan and the Reform Party: he then cites a gaggle of fringies who are more than happy to inflate their significance – which is nil. Thus, the heretofore completely unknown Reform Party "leader," one Will Williams, gets his fifteen seconds of fame when his "e-mail to members of the National Alliance" is cited by Edsall as the number one bit of evidence for his conspiracy theory. Says Williams:

"It's our job to get out there in our areas, to raise consciousness, attract and radicalize 'those very people' – OUR people – then organize them into a majority. Many good people will have joined a much more radicalized, White-friendly Reform Party come November. . . . It is going to be a very interesting year with the Jews constantly screaming 'NAZI!' at PB [Pat Buchanan]."


How interesting that, in employing neo-Nazi rhetoric rather freely, Williams would descry the charge against Buchanan in the very act of buttressing its credibility. Another hint that there is something very fishy about this particular accusation is the information, provided by Edsall, that "the e-mail was provided to the Post by the Southern Poverty Law Center." The SPLC specializes in "extremist"-baiting (exclusively on the right); its pronouncements are often accepted as gospel by the mainstream media: but its agenda is hard-left, and it invariably attacks Buchanan and the repulsive David Duke in the same breath. The Reform Party has no rules for excluding people, and indeed boasts of its openness as the reflection of its populist spirit: anyone can join and participate – including Commie psycho-cultist Lenora Fulani, the followers of the Giggling Guru, and any number of agent provocateurs, both paid and volunteer. The complete phoniness of this email canard is proved by the fact that Williams is not a Reform Party official, nor does he have any connection with the Buchanan campaign – other than in Edsall's imagination. But our intrepid reporter is not going to let mere facts get in the way of his "investigative" reporting.


Edsall interviews William Pierce, fuehrer of the "National Alliance," a neo-Nazi organization which the SPLC estimates has a grand total of 1500 members nationwide. Pierce rails against the Jews, and is quoted as saying that "the overwhelming majority" of his National Alliance members will be voting for Buchanan: "Among Bush, Gore and Buchanan, Buchanan would be a hands-down winner." Yes, but what about Howard Phillips, the Constitution Party candidate, who will be on the ballot in at least 38 states? Edsall cites a survey taken of members of the Council of Conservative Citizens – a small Southern-based organization that has not and will not endorse Buchanan – indicating "Buchanan had 55.5 percent. Texas Gov. George W. Bush was second at 12.5 percent." But what about the other 32 percent? A few contrarians will vote for Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate, but you can bet that Gore and Nader both got zero. That leaves Howard Phillips and the Constitution party breathing down Pat's neck, but for some reason this goes unmentioned by Edsall.


The reason Phillips is dropped out of the picture is that his campaign wouldn't fit in with the thesis of this piece – that the wackos are flocking to Buchanan. For Phillips criticizes Buchanan from the right, incredibly enough, claiming that Pat has sold out the One True Cause of constitutionalism; his party at its last national convention had a rather heated debate about whether or not to make a rule forbidding any but Christians from being Constitution Party candidates or holding party offices. Furthermore, the activist types in any movement tend to be purists, and to "far right" purists, Phillips has a natural appeal. Hmmm . . .This, it would seem, is the real ideological home for Pierce and his National Alliance crowd – but if I were Howie Phillips I wouldn't get too excited. Contrary to the SPLC, which has raised tens of millions exaggerating the threat of imminent "fascism" on the rise – and which habitually inflates the membership numbers of "radical right" organizations – the National Alliance has no more than a few hundred active dues-paying members, at most, and, according to the SPLC, has recently lost two chapters. So much for the "flood" of support from the "far right."


Edsall goes on to cite a number of other phony connections between Buchanan and such groups as the Spotlight newspaper, run by anti-Semitic godfather of the Far Right, Willis Carto, and his front group, "Americans for Pat Buchanan," a rather obvious attempt by Carto to cash in on the popularity of Pat's good name without asking for or receiving permission. The idea that Buchanan is responsible for the activities of a madman like Carto, whose racial theories are un-Christian and un-American, is patently ridiculous. But the real argument against Edsall's thesis that such groups are "transforming" the Reform Party via the transmission belt of Buchananism is my own experience at the Colorado convention of the Colorado Reform Party, renamed the Freedom Party. I was a speaker at their organizing convention, and when I walked in the hall practically the first person I met was a nice but rather strange-looking fellow who immediately handed me a copy of the Spotlight. He was dressed in what looked to be a uniform, but which, on closer inspection, was matching olive-green shiny slacks and a military-style shirt – even shinier – complete with snappy little epaulets. His shoes were shiny and bootlike, and a complicated arrangement of keys hung from his heavy black belt. With his handlebar mustache and earnestly brisk manner, I expected, at any moment, to hear him to burst into the first verse of the "Horst Wessel Lied." I noted, with growing horror, that he had placed copies of the Spotlight, and also the Nationalist Times – another dubious journal from an equally insignificant nutball sect cited by Edsall – on the desks where the delegates would sitting when the session began. I repressed the urge to make a clean sweep of the room, and thus give this loon the attention he so desperately craved. . . .


Instead, I took him aside and told him what I thought of the Spotlight and why it would be a bad thing if that highly entertaining (in the sense of unintentional humor) rag became associated in the public mind with Buchanan. What struck me, however, was how completely isolated this character was, not only in his wardrobe but in his views: very few showed any interest in the Spotlight, or any of the other material placed there by this semi-uniformed agitator, who seemed more clownish than threatening – and hardly very effective. The earnest young delegates were completely focused on the task at hand – building an alternative to the two-party duopoly, and fighting for a foreign policy of peace and nonintervention. Instead of reaching out to the wackos of the far right fringe, the chairman of the Colorado Buchanan group seemed more interested in reaching out to the intelligent nonpartisan left. During the question-and-answer portion of my talk, I was asked if I thought the "support" the Spotlight was a plus or a minus and I told the assembled delegates in no uncertain terms: "a very definite minus. Their agreement with me on this point seemed almost unanimous – except for the woeful little man I had talked to earlier, who seemed to wilt and sink lower in his seat.


The real point of the Edsall smear article, aside from being the opening salvo of Anti-Buchanan Brigades' pre-convention warm-up, is that Buchanan's ideas are so poisonous ("toxic," says Arianna Huffington, the daaaahling of limousine liberalism, who is excluding Pat from her phony "shadow convention") that they must not be given a platform. According to Edsall, Pat's point of contention with Israel's "amen corner" in the US – his idea that American foreign policy must put the interests of this country first, and no other – necessarily attracts and even generates bigotry. The implication is that therefore such ideas must never even be raised, they are beyond the pale, a kind of nonviolent hate crime that must be punished if it can't be ignored. The same goes for Buchanan's program to stop the floodtide of immigration, his opposition to affirmative action, and his principled defense of the cultural traditions and symbols of the Old South, which are now being purged in an orgy of political correctness run amok. Edsall opines that "Buchanan's harsh critiques of the 'Israel lobby,' of third world immigration and of such civil rights leaders as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have resonated with groups that see Jews as corrupters of American culture and that see blacks and Hispanics as threats to white majority rule of the United States." But Buchanan does not single out the "Israel lobby" for special criticism: his critique is equally "harsh" when it comes to the machinations of other foreign lobbyists, whose influence he has descried in his book, A Republic, Not an Empire. And as for "third world immigration" – my understanding of Pat's position is that he is for a complete moratorium, for five years, on any and all immigration – a restriction, as I understand it, that would extend to the inhabitants of the British Isles as well as Mexicans, Pakistanis, and Rwandans.


And as for Martin Luther King – a man who plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, collaborated with well-known Communist party members and sympathizers, and did more to overturn private property rights and deliver America to socialism than any other figure in American history – well, we'd better not go there, lest I, too, am blacklisted as a dangerous "extremist," perhaps a "white supremacist" or even a nefarious "neo-confederate," as the League of the South is termed by professional "extremist"-baiters. Edsall puts them on the same terrain with the neo-Nazis, but this is a low blow and completely untrue. The League is nothing but a romantic gesture: it is not racist (indeed, they boast of black members), intent on preserving the genteel traditions and symbols of the Old South, a project of the paleoconservative rather than the national socialist wing of the Right. The League is headed up by Professor Michael Hill, a scholarly type who holds summer schools in conjunction with the paleoconservative Rockford Institute in which the subject of a seminar is likely to be "'I'll Take My Stand': The Influence of the Southern Agrarians on the Literature of Protest" or the historical revisionism of Eugene Genovese. The League's political position is utopian but by no means sinister: they are rather charming Southern secessionists, who really want to restore not the old South (and certainly not slavery!) but the Articles of Confederation. In that sense, they are "neo-confederates." Their thesis is that the radical decentralization of power – in the former Soviet Union, in places like Italy, where the North wants out, and throughout the Third World, in, say, Indonesia – must also take place in this country. A startling thesis, yes – and an intelligent one. This is not about "racism." Yet Edsall and the editors of the Washington Post put them in the same category with the nutball William Pierce and his neo-Nazi ravings. This is an out-and-out smear, or else just plain ignorance of the willful variety. A simple search on Google.com would have turned up the truth about the League of the South as an organization that explicitly opposes racism. Whether Edsall's laziness was born of ill will, or habit, I leave to my readers to judge.


It isn't just Buchanan who is getting the "extremist" treatment. The latest assault by the New York Times – which editiorially chastised Ralph for "cluttering up" the presidential contest – comes from their most obnoxious columnist, Paul Krugman, the celebrator of globalization who steps out of his role as resident economist-in-chief of the Times op ed page to play the part of DNC hit man – and he plays it quite well. He dares to quote George Orwell on Gandhi to buttress his view that Nader is a dour (and possibly dangerous) "extremist." "Saints should always be judged guilty until proved innocent." What he leaves out, in truly Orwellian fashion, is the rest of Orwell's sentence, which reads: "but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases." The test that Krugman applies is a weird one, indeed. The news that the ascetic Nader is a millionaire did not shock Krugman: indeed, we ought not to be worried about his "vices, if he has any, but his virtues – and his determination to impose those virtues on the rest of us."


Wow! So old Ralphie is now being caricatured as a kind of Gandhi-Torquemada, who would "impose virtues" on us high-living heathens with the same forcefulness and alacrity as the Taliban or a liberal's caricature of the "Moral Majority" and the Christian Coalition. Will the Gore campaign manage to pin the nascent Green Party with the "extremist" charge – or will Nader have to wind up quoting large sections of Earth in the Balance, perhaps reprinting it in the special Green Party edition? This really is a joke, and a pathetic one at that. Krugman acknowledges Nader's almost mythic status as the original reformer and battler against bigness, but avers that "somewhere along the way the practical radical disappeared." In his place, an "extremist" (and possibly racist) spirit apparently took over Nader's body and led him to oppose a bill removing barriers to Africa's exports. Nader even disapproved of South Africa's new constitution – "the one that ended apartheid," Krugman helpfully reminds us – because it places corporations in a separate legal category from individuals. But Krugman's piece begs the obvious question: just what kind of "extremist" is the calm, reasonable, self-deprecating Nader, whose tone and personality are anything but demagogic?


Krugman is vague on this point: no, Nader isn't the Unabomber, nor is he a closet Mussolini: the source of his "extremism" is "general hostility toward corporations." Omigod, this is terrible! God forbid that anyone should not believe that what's good for the corporate oligarchs is good for the country – why, that's "extremism"! Krugman is horrified to learn that Nader once gave a speech that attributed the Columbine killings indirectly to the "corporate influence" on American culture. But this is not such a unique stance to take, nor is it limited to the left: indeed, after Columbine, the right was also condemning the cultural context of Columbine: a culture shot through with violence, hedonism, alienation, and the decadent nihilist anti-values promoted by Hollywood – which is, I might add, the very apex of American corporate culture. By the way – don't confuse "anti-corporate" sentiment with anti-capitalism: it means resentment of the behavior of certain capitalists, and not necessarily opposition to laissez faire as an economic system. Nader is not anti-capitalist, he is not a Marxist: neither does he speak the language of extremism in any sense. He is that archaic rarity, a true American progressive in the tradition of the Robert LaFollette, a crusader against bigness and the impersonality of the modern managerial state. I don't agree with Nader's politics: a great many of his proposals are anathema as far as I am concerned. But he is no extremist. Yet Krugman is practically beside himself with the sheer spookiness of it all: "Am I the only person who shuddered when Mr. Nader declared that if he were president, he would not reappoint Alan Greenspan – he would 're-educate' him?"


As a libertarian – and one who listened to Greenspan lecture ("The Economics of a Free Society") at the Nathaniel Branden Institute, years ago, on the subject of why we need a gold standard and why the Federal Reserve ought to be abolished – I, too, would like to "reeducate" Greenspan. Or, rather, remind him of how he re-educated me about the US banking system in his lecture course – that it ought to be completely privatized. But that is another story, and another column: suffice to say that that, too, would no doubt make Krugman shudder. But then he seems to be easily spooked. Almost any challenge to the conventional wisdom, and the limited knowledge of his middle-brow readers, throws him into a fit of convulsive shuddering – especially the prospect that Nader could derail Gore and delay the final triumph of the Third Way in America. That nasty Nader, we are told, who used to be "the moderate humane activist of the 1960s" is "a changed man" – he has turned into an "extremist" monster. Why? How? "Your amateur psychology," says Krugman, "is as good as mine." If what Krugman has done – or tried to do – to Nader is "amateur psychology," then get ready for the professionals. Because this slimeball is but the first of several that the Gore camp intends to send Nader's way.


The Democrats and Republicans have a natural interest in uniting to eliminate the competition, and set the stage for their convergence, ideological as well as tactical – so they can divide up the goods. This is the very nature of a corrupt regime: a self-serving and self-enriching elite that puts its own interests against and above the interests of the rest of the nation. This elite is now fighting to preserve its legitimacy in the face of assaults from every quarter. Their strategy is to take the focus off their own lack of legitimacy by de-legitimizing and marginalizing their opponents, on the left as well as the right. Keeping independent and third party candidates off of the ballot through onerous ballot access laws; excluding dissident candidates from semiofficial debates, and smearing them in their partisan press – our rulers will stop at nothing to stifle this double-barreled challenge to their power. From Edsall in the Post to Krugman in the Times, the Popular Front against Extremism extends all the way to the "neoconservatives" on the Respectable Right to the Clintonian liberals of the limousine left, who are appalled that Nader came out for the impeachment of their Priapic hero. Will the new Pop Frontiers succeed in exiling all dissent to the margins, and label Buchanan and Nader "extremists" and political pariahs? They didn't succeed with Buchanan, who is still wildly popular with conservative Republicans and commands respect if not agreement in the mainstream media, and they'll fail with Nader, too. Perhaps their failure, and their viciousness, will even lead to a bit of a backlash among thinking voters. The more they attack Nader, the more popular he will become – and the more support will be forthcoming from Nader's followers, who will be energized by the attention and the reality that their candidate is making a difference. I know that is the case with the Buchanan Brigades. So, bring it on, guys, we need more easily-refuted and desperate attacks like this on both candidates – the more the merrier. And, you know what? In the weeks and months to come, I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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