August 10, 2000

Dispatches From the Front


Driving down the freeway, on our way to Long Beach and the Reform Party national convention. A few minutes out of San Francisco and the fog is already lifting. The permanent layer of wet cold air that hovers perpetually over the City dissipates in the rising heat, and the warm California sun pours through the open roof of the car. With this change in weather comes news via cell phone: the much-vaunted National Committee meeting has ended as anyone could have predicted – a walkout by the Verney-Mangia-Fulani forces, whose only real ideological loyalty seems to be a principled petulance. I mean just what does a man like Verney, or Mangia, stand for, anyway? They never talk about political ideas of any sort. Their whole mantra – that Buchanan is "divisive," that he is "hijacking" their party – is utterly negative: although it is Buchanan and his followers who are supposed to be reactionaries, it is the Verny-Mangia folks – a few dozen, at most – who turn out to be the nattering nabobs of negativity.


There is a peculiar language and style to their brand of politics: their vocabulary consists of only a very few words, all of them epithets: basically "unethical" and "corrupt." They, of course, are the embodiment of virtue, no doubt because they have committed large sections of Robert's Rules of Order to memory and have very loud voices – everyone else is "corrupt." It is a word they use so promiscuously that it has become a kind of mantra, such as the followers of Pat's rival, a Transcendental Meditator John Hagelin, might go into at the drop of a hat. Buchanan has "stolen" the nomination, and is "corrupt" – therefore any tactic, including staged acts of violence, is justified.


Russell Verney is trying desperately to get arrested, and before the end of the Reform Party convention – being held here in beautiful downtown Long Beach at the Convention Center – he just might succeed. Verney, a heavyset red-faced kind of guy, with a stentorian voice and the look of an old-time Tammany Hall ward-healer, was once the national chairman of the Reformers, but currently holds no official position in the party. However, that didn't stop him from marching up to the entrance to the National Committee meeting held Monday and loudly demanding admittance: when told that only current members would be allowed inside, Verney roared: "You're going to have to arrest me, I am going in.'" He and his crew of heavyset red-faced clones then got into a shoving match with the security guards, while Jim Mangia was cheerleading on the sidelines: "This is illegal! This is il-legal!" – just in case the assembled reporters missed the point. With this as their cue, less than a quarter of the people in the room walked out, while Mangia ranted to reporters in the lobby – who eagerly scribbled down every word of his diatribe. The group then was shepherded across the street to a room that had been rented by Verney and his wrecking crew well in advance, where they conducted their own "National Committee" meeting – at which Buchanan was purged, John Hagelin proclaimed the candidate by default, and their tiny group proclaimed itself "the true Reform Party" . . . in the name of "democracy," of course.


It's all an elaborate fiction, of course, a morality play with a legal theme that will eventually be played out – Verney hopes – in court. But while it's on stage, this show has the media mesmerized: the Long Beach Press Telegram lead headline screamed: REFORM STORM! The Verney-Mangia show plays into the Establishment's line on Buchanan and third parties in general – that they're irrelevant, the domain of kooks and in any case not to be taken seriously – which is why it is getting such big play.


Yoshi and I arrived at the Convention center just in time to see another Mangia command performance, as he stormed out of yet another committee meeting – Credentials, this time. He jumped atop a chair – or perhaps he carries a podium around with him wherever he goes – and projected his voice across that cavernous space like a real diva: "I am now calling this meeting of the credentials committee to order!" He then proceeded to explain, in a very loud voice, why he and only he has the power to convene a "legitimate" meeting. Yes, the Power – that is what the Verney-Mangia "Wrecking Crew" seem to be all about, the ability not only to convene a meeting but to command the attention of reporters at an event such as this. But their act may be wearing just a little thin – and will in any case, close quite shortly – if Tom Edsall's piece in the Washington Post is any indication.


Edsall, whose smear piece on Buchanan I dissected in a past column, is at least not dumb enough to be taken in by the theatrical antics of the Verney-Mangia Players – and too discerning not to be pretty bored with them by now. Edsall's piece gives a pretty fair account of the petty factional and organizational maneuvers engaged in by Verney-Mangia: essentially, their strategy was to challenge the credentials of virtually every Buchanan National Committee member, and thus disqualify them from voting on the grounds that their participation wouldn't be "ethical." When this didn't work, Verney and his pals walked out. Edsall ends his piece on a revealingly ironic note: as Mangia stands outside the meeting he just stormed out of, he is confronted by a huge crowd of Buchanan delegates chanting the ubiquitous slogan of the Brigadiers – "Go Pat Go!!" – and suddenly he looks like exactly what he is: a very tiny minority. But the seriously deluded Mangia is undaunted:

"'We will convene the national committee at the Renaissance Hotel,' Mangia shouted as he marched out of the Westin. Then, raising his voice in an attempt to drown out the Buchananites chanting, ‘Go, Pat, go! Go, Pat, go!' Mangia screamed, ‘Democracy! Democracy! Democracy!'"


The media spin is that the Reform Party is a shambles, a completely dysfunctional family of quarreling factions that couldn't possibly challenge the two-party monopoly. After all, haven't they split into two camps? Yeah, right – over a thousand Buchananites versus a few dozen super-"ethical" delegates. On Crossfire, Bob Novak wondered how the party which is getting a few percentage points in the polls could possibly split into two factions – isn't that bad? The correct answer is a flat no. With Verney gone, set up in business as the chieftain of a small sectarian cult-of-personality – and that will no doubt make him happy, at least for a while – the Reform party can now proceed to grow. The Verney show is just about over: having walked out of the Reform Party, Verney has ensured that the Buchanan camp will get that $12.5 million in federal funds. And when Buchanan gets his hands on that rather measly sum – less than the amount spent by the taxpayers on either "major" party convention – it is going to be put to good use. Verney & Company are in the process of being swept into the dustbin of history – and Buchanan is making history.


Okay, enough about pygmies like Verny: the real story here is what is happening inside the Buchanan campaign. Their vice-presidential candidate has been picked: a middle-aged man, who has been in both major parties, and is now an independent: he's a commentator, I'm told by an inside source, and a bit unexpected, I hear – and no, I don't know his name – yet. But watch this space. We're going to be the first with this breaking news. . . .


I couldn't attend a convention like this without getting involved – I wear a delegate badge but flash my press credentials whenever I really need access. I will be among the four or five delegates who will give official nominating speeches for Buchanan during the convention on Friday. If you're wondering why this whole thing is important – why the editorial director of is covering the Reform Party convention – check it out. In any case, aside from more coverage of the convention, you can read it here. Pat is about to enter the room and make some kind of statement, so I'm going to cut this short. Until my next dispatch – scheduled to be written sometime tonight – keep in mind that the real story of what is happening at this convention is not likely to get out to the voters …. unless, of course, they log on to

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“Behind the Headlines” appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of 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 (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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