The campaign to destroy Patrick J. Buchanan, politically and personally, continues unabated, and is now accelerating as the official presidential campaign season gets underway. The reason for the escalation is because, incredibly, his somewhat quixotic guerrilla campaign to take the White House, as vastly under-funded as it is, has managed to mount a credible challenge to the "Respectable" Right and the equally well-behaved "Left." Buchanan is a threat to the former, because he promises to derail George Dubya’s candidacy in a repeat of the humiliation suffered by the elder Bush at Pat’s hands. He threatens the latter by stealing "their" issues: the folly of perpetual war for perpetual "peace," and the plight of ordinary working people at the hands of transnational corporate entities. As I have pointed out in past columns, smearing Pat has become such a favorite pastime of the punditocracy that the Pat smear has become a literary form unto itself, with so many permutations and variations that it qualifies as a whole new school of writing, like modernism, naturalism, or Romanticism. But there is a problem – it isn’t working.
The pundits, left and right, have been out on a Pat-bashing expedition of such relentless ferocity that they appear to have used up their favorite smears long before the campaign season formally kicks in. This has backfired in their faces. After making his much-vilified book, A Republic, Not an Empire, a bestseller, their overkill tactics have had precisely the opposite effect on most grassroots conservatives, who tend to believe the opposite of whatever the Clinton-loving trendy-lefty media is telling them. The smear campaign had a similar effect on the Reform Party activists and independent voters Buchanan is now trying to reach. For Ross Perot, when he ran for President, was similarly attacked, and by the same people, for daring to question the sanctity of the two-party monopoly, and for his principled and courageous opposition to the Gulf war. Besides, they’ve been smearing Pat since 1992, and he comes out of it stronger and more confidently articulate than ever. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now – and so the Smear Machine is taking a different tack.
Instead of attacking Pat, their new strategy is to smear his supporters, and Lenora Fulani is the first in the line of fire. Fulani is a longtime left-wing activist and a professional psychotherapist who ran for President as the candidate of the New Alliance Party the first black presidential candidate to get on the ballot in all fifty states. Active in the Reform Party since its inception, Fulani is a tireless activist on behalf of independent politics, and has been trying for decades to lure the left out of its traditional obeisance as a satrap of the Democratic Party. Finally giving up, in the early nineties, and declaring most of the left to be hopeless, Fulani and her associates joined the nascent Reform Party, founded by Ross Perot: having come out of the New Left, and run up against the limitations of their own politics, they sought to reach out beyond traditional "left" constituencies and make their case to Middle America.
In the process, their own politics were changing: instead of repeating the ancient mantras of "socialism" and "revolution," they began to speak in a language meant to appeal to their intended audience. Applying their own version of the "power elite" analysis developed by such New Left writers as G. William Domhoff to the American political scene, they began to talk about the essential unfairness of the political process. The two-party system stacks the deck in favor of the elites – they had been saying this to the left for years, mostly in New York City and environs, to no effect. So they took up the populist rhetoric of the Perotistas, and their progressive forebears, in calling for direct democracy, popular referenda, and especially the liberalization of election laws that effectively keep "third" parties off the ballot.
Former activists in the New Alliance became an important part of the Reform Party anti-Establishment coalition; at the last Reform Party national convention, Fulani received 45 percent of the vote in the race for vice chair. My overseas readers, and even many Americans, don’t realize that third parties must undergo onerous petitioning requirements to even get on the ballot. Naturally, the two "major" parties are automatically on. With their encyclopedic knowledge of the arcane legislation governing ballot status – it is different in every state – the New Alliance folks were and are an invaluable asset to the Reform leadership, and Fulani has become a respected figure in the party. This, of course, was almost too much for her former leftist colleagues to bear. They really went bonkers, however, when Fulani committed the one unforgivable sin and endorsed Buchanan. From then on, it was open season on Fulani, her political associates, and every jot and tittle of her FBI file.
The first to raise a hue and cry were the neoconservatives. As Peter Steinfels said in his book on the subject, there are only about 17 of them, but 15 are syndicated columnists. And they were unanimous in the braying, jeering note of disdain that characterized their collective commentary: Aha, they cried, Pat has become a Marxist-Leninist! All the usual suspects chuckled with glee that Pat had finally shown his true "leftist" colors. Their disdain was best expressed by the invidious Linda Chavez, who opined that Pat had been "body-snatched" and that an imposter had taken him over:
"And what about the company this Buchanan impersonator keeps? Would the real Pat Buchanan have deigned to lunch with a Black Power leftist turned therapist, Lenora Fulani, who once ran for president on the New Alliance Party ticket? Fulani is now a power broker in the Reform Party, where her own brand of weirdness apparently doesn't stand out, and Buchanan is said to be courting her favor in order to win the party's nomination. Who knows, maybe the whole party is made up of cyborgs plotting to take over the world."
Who were all these "weird" people outside of the Washington beltway who imagined that they somehow had something to say about the way the country is run, and by whom? The characterization of Fulani as "a Communist," as Jack Gargan, newly-elected Reform Party chair put it in an interview with Weekly Standard reporter Matt LaBash, was endlessly repeated, and the red-baiting chorus was taken up by Krauthammer:
"So off to dance with Ross Perot and to lunch with Lenora Fulani, self-described (former?) ‘militant black nationalist . . . Marxist and social therapist,’ now a power in the Reform Party. Buchanan's association with Fulani, once head of the ‘black-led, woman-led, multiracial and pro-gay’ New Alliance Party, is beyond parody. Fulani is so far out on the loony left that she once called Michael Dukakis a ‘white supremacist candidate.’ (She ought to read Pat's columns.)"
As if Pat is some kind of anti-black bigot – but then what is a black woman, the leader of a multi-racial black-organization, doing up there on the podium with him? And why the outrage at Fulani’s attack on an archetypal liberal Democrat? Black conservatives have been making the same point about liberal institutions like the public schools and the welfare state for years – that they keep African-Americans down and dependent on the State and a managerial elite that benefits from their misery. If that isn’t white supremacism, then what is? There is something odd about Krauthammer’s sudden compassion for Michael Dukakis. It sounds suspiciously like the complaints of liberal Democrats and orthodox leftists like Chip Berlet, whose organization, Political Research Associates, is almost entirely funded by a major Democratic Party donor.
Berlet is professional political hit man whose specialty is smearing anyone outside the traditional left-right categories as an extremist, at best, and a nascent Nazi at worst. He and his organization have been a veritable fountainhead of anti-Fulani material, which details the political history of Fulani and her group from a leftist perspective. In Berlet’s view, Fulani endorsing Buchanan is a betrayal of leftist principles, a sell-out that does not augur well for the left. Clearly he and his fellow left-wing dogmatists are in a panic, which is palpable in the following tirade by Berlet & Co.:
"What can possibly explain the Reform Party and the discussions about recruiting Pat Buchanan, that include possible support from H. Ross Perot, and Lenora Fulani? We think the rhetoric of right wing populism is attractive to some forces on the left who side with business nationalists and isolationists because of joint opposition to global "free trade" treaties that undeniably benefit international corporate elites at the expense of working people. Liberals and progressives are being asked to ignore the historic prejudice behind right wing populism. Consider the statement of John Talbott, the Reform Party spokesperson in New Hampshire: ‘If you close your eyes, it is difficult to hear much of a difference between Ralph Nader on the left and Pat Buchanan on the right when they talk about corruption in government, the excesses of corporate welfare, the devastating effect of free international trade on the American worker and a desire to clean big money and special-interests out of Washington. There's a reason for this; 91 percent of the American people consider themselves middle class or working class. The time is now for a new political party that is neither right nor left, neither conservative nor liberal, but created and built to represent the hard-working average American in reforming our government. If we all pull together, put our prejudices behind us, and ignore traditional labeling such as liberal or conservative, we can join together to fight the battle of our lives against the collaboration of big business and big government, break the two-party monopoly, and return controlof our government to the true owners of this country the American people.’
"The call to put prejudice behind us is ironic indeed in this statement which really is asking people to close their eyes to the prejudice of Pat Buchanan with his history of racism, sexism, homophobia and antisemitism. Liberals and progressives who join in coalitions with right wing populists see the anti-corporate and anti-government arguments. What they don't see (or choose to ignore) is the flip side of what is called the ‘producerist’ narrative of right wing populism. The producerist narrative sees a hard-working productive middle class and working class being squeezed from above and below by social parasites. Historically, this has led to scapegoating and conspiracy theories of power. The overall outcome of the producerist model of populism is a broad social and political movement sometimes called "Middle American Nationalism" or "The Radical Center" or "Middle American Radicals." Whatever the label, this is a form of repressive populism with a producerist narrative. Some argue that globalization of the world's economies on behalf of powerful corporate interests is the only issue that matters. But what about racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism? It is a political fact of life that many liberals and progressives find themselves on the same side of the struggle against corporatist globalization along with business nationalists and the followers of Pat Buchanan. But working on the same side of an issue is not the same as creating a coalition where we give assistance to the enemies of our friends. Which of our allies on the left are we willing to toss overboard to keep the leaky lifeboat of populist anti-elitist politics afloat?"
It is worth quoting that whole tirade in full just to show how panic-stricken the Left is at the Buchanan phenomenon. These guys are clearly frightened to death that the so-called Radical Right is about to co-opt their captive constituencies – and with good reason. They have, typically, developed an arcane and highly abstract theory to explain how and why Buchanan has more genuine workers in his camp than all the socialist parties in the US combined. Any attempt by leftists to move to the center is anathema to the orthodox leftist Berlet, who speaks the language of post-Marxist identity politics in order to demonize the Right – and smear those leftists, like Fulani, who dare to break with their Marxist past.
Now, plenty of leftists have swung over to the right over the years – isn’t that what the neoconservatives were (and are) all about? Nobody brings up the Trotskyist past of Irving Kristol, father of William, or questions his rightist credentials, in spite of his past association with the Workers Party of Max Shachtman, and the "Shermanites" grouped around the periodical Enquiry – many of whom became prominent neoconservative academics and publicists of one sort or another. The sainted Sidney Hook, who received the Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan, wrote the manifesto of the Workers Party. Yet he was never red-baited although he never stopped calling himself a socialist. From the Young Peoples Socialist League to the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute is a journey undertaken by many an intellectual nomad, but only Fulani has provoked a storm of outrage and invective matched only by the attack on Buchanan. Using the material provided by Berlet, and other sources, a number of pieces have come out, all echoing the same line: Fred Newman, Fulani’s close associate, is a sinister Svengali, and Fulani is a "cultist" and a "Marxist-Leninist," a member of a secret "underground" Marxist party that is hiding its true "totalitarian" politics behind a façade of political banalities. "What You Don’t Know About Lenora Fulani Could Hurt You," by David Grann, in the New Republic, is – as you can tell by its title – the most hysterical of these hit pieces, and I quote:
"But, in fact, Newman and Fulani's presence in the Reform Party is something entirely different. It is the culmination of a 30-year crusade by a group the FBI once considered armed and dangerous to infiltrate the political system. Now, after years of absorbing little-known organizations on the left, Newman and his followers are on the verge of controlling the third-largest party in America and doing what once seemed unthinkable: influencing the race for president of the United States."
Wow! Why don’t we make public the files of everyone the FBI considered "dangerous" during the scary sixties? You can bet that would make an impressive list, which would contain the names of many more than several prominent politicians – not to mention magazine editors and writers, and celebrities in every field.
Grann follows the scenario laid out by the orthodox leftist Berlet: in the seventies, he recounts, the Newman group held informal discussions with Lyndon LaRouche, and although the relationship lasted barely a month, Newman was supposedly affected for life. It was there, avers Berlet, that Newman acquired his "deprogramming" skills, and learned how to run a "cult." The basis of this alleged secret "cult" is Newman’s psychological theories, which are utilized in the very successful "social therapy" centers that operate in New York City and throughout the country. Newman and trainees in his methods have turned around the lives of drug addicts, career criminals, and other losers in prisons and welfare facilities nationwide. Their method is simple: get the patient out of himself, and direct his attention away from the self-obsessions that bring on his problems and toward the process of social change. It is political activity as "social therapy," and the theory behind it is sound: why is this necessarily "cultist" or "kooky"? To give the emptiness of his case against Newman some spice, if not some real meat, Grann goes on to describe the more lurid aspects of Newman’s psychological theories: "Others have said Newman encouraged them to participate in what he called ‘friendosexuality,’ a practice that Newman cheerfully recommends in his book Let's Develop." Gee, it seems to me that the New Republic was all too willing to overlook a little "friendosexuality" when it involved their beloved Philanderer-in-Chief. Why not cut Newman a little slack?
Grann writes as if the kookiness of all this is self-evident, but then so much is self-evident to him that would not be so apparent to an ordinary person like you or me. He takes the word of a few embittered ex-members of the Newman group as if it were holy gospel, repeating unproven assertions that the group was arming "with semi-automatic rifles." Well, at least we know they’re good on the gun control issue – although this knowledge will no doubt scare the bejesus out of all the little Al Gore groupies, the white yuppies and soccer moms who avidly read the New Republic each week.
Oh no, not semi-automatic rifles! Grann also breathlessly relates hearsay about how Newman "broke up at least two marriages" and otherwise intervened in the most ‘intimate" details of his followers’ life, describes the house he lived in as a "compound," and hints that some of the Newmanites were sexually abused or exploited. Will somebody please call Janet Reno? Time to get out the ninja-clad Special Forces and the local SWAT team – they’ll make short work of those "cultists"!
Grann retails the complaints of each and every dissident and disgruntled member, accepting them at face value, and even chronicles the carping of one Jack Essenberg, who claims legitimacy for his mostly upstate version of the New York Independence Party (as the New York branch of Reform is called). According to Grann:
"Strangers began to show up at state party meetings—busloads of them, it seemed, voting and working in tandem, as if in an elaborately choreographed production. It didn't take Essenberg says, before he traced the incursion to a tiny office on the twentieth floor of a building in lower Manhattan. Protected by a series of thick metal locks, it housed the Reform Party's Manhattan chapter."
But I thought the whole idea of getting into politics was so that strangers would show up at state party meetings – that’s called success. But in the mind of Essenberg, who just wanted to maintain his position as a big duck in a small pond, and couldn’t care less about the growth and success of independent politics, this was an "incursion." Furthermore, I don’t know how familiar Grann is with life in New York City, but what building in lower Manhattan isn’t protected by a thick series of metal locks?
Grann writes that Lyndon LaRouche, the archetypal political nutball, "though once a figure respected on the left, by the early '70s [he] had descended into a gothic world of conspiracy theories." Yet the baroque conspiracy theory woven by Grann about the supposedly sinister Fulani-Newman "cabal" – consisting, as he admits, of about "30 hardcore members" – makes old Lyndon look like a piker.
We are expected to believe that a secret Marxist-Leninist organization – Berlet and his fellow "researchers" strongly imply that the Fulani group still maintains the "underground" organization, known as the "International Workers Party" – has penetrated the very center of American politics. "Since the '60s," Grann opines, "they have searched for ways to penetrate the political establishment, and, with the Reform Party, they now have." Say, what? Since when is the Reform Party "the political establishment" – and, if it is, then why are all the Establishment’s kept pundits panning the Reformers unmercifully? And if Grann thinks that joining the Buchanan campaign is tantamount to joining the Establishment, then one can only wonder how that one got past the New Republic’s editors – probably the same way all those fabricated stories written by Associate Editor Stephen Glass did.
That the furor over the Fulani endorsement is really motivated by leftist pique at the perceived defection to the right is exemplified most clearly in the analysis provided by Grann’s other major source, the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL, which specializes in smearing rightists and critics of Israel as "anti-Semites," naturally levels the same charge against Newman and Fulani. Their affinity for Louis Farrakhan – on account of his hostility to both major parties, his message of black economic independence and self-help, nis aloofness from the liberal black leadership – comes in for criticism from the ADL, along with Newman’s insufficient enthusiasm for the state of Israel – which is evidence of "anti-Semitism." That Newman is Jewish does not seem to enter into the ADL’s calculations: in their book, an anti-Zionist Jew is no better than a Hitlerite, if not worse. Such dogmatism is not arguable: it is a theological, and not a political, debate.
What is arguable, however, is the proposition that people ought to be judged, not by what they did or believed twenty or thirty years ago, but by what they are doing and saying now. People change their politics all the time: people live and grow (or, like certain neoconservative ideologues, they merely stew in their own ideological juices, growing more stagnant and crankish as the years go by).
All right, then, what is Lenora Fulani saying today? Oh, such dangerous "Marxist-Leninist" ideas as the need for a noninterventionist foreign policy, why the lesson of Waco is that the federal leviathan needs to be reined in, the need to free up the educational system with vouchers, how the political establishment is the main obstacle to a free and fair electoral system, and the failure of the welfare state: "The Democratic Party’s heavily funded welfare extravaganza," she writes, "was useful for keeping Black America in line with the Democratic Party. But did such spending eliminate poverty and help us to become good wage earners in a productive and expansionary economy? Apparently not. Black America is still poor." To add to her credentials, besides serving as a co-chair of the Buchanan campaign, Dr. Fulani is now a weekly columnist for Joe Farah’s WorldNetDaily, the independent Internet newspaper, wildly popular with many conservatives and libertarians. This is a "Marxist-Leninist"? I don’t think so.
Face it: anyone else coming out of the black community and advocating what were formerly thought to be "consevative" ideas would be embraced with open arms by the Bush people. Isn’t George Bush going around the country touting the glories of vouchers? A black woman challenging the moral and political efficacy of the welfare state is a powerful image that the Bushian political technicians would just love to make use of. The problem is that she has endorsed the "wrong" candidate. At least one black radical, Eldridge Cleaver, a leader of the murderous Black Panther Party, was forgiven his radical past and accepted into the Republican fold. And plenty of white radicals, too – just look at David Horowitz, a conservative who has made a career out of his Commie past. Why not Leonora?
As the concept of "left" and "right" begins to shift, and change, yesterday’s reactionaries are today’s revolutionaries, and that’s a major reason for the "strange bedfellows" syndrome that seems to be going around. During the Kosovo war, we had ex-peaceniks as hawks, and yesterday’s cold warriors cooing like doves. Now, we have ostensible leftists like Fulani and Ralph Nader joining with Buchanan is a concerted attack on the depredations of globalism but that’s another column.
For now, suffice to say that the smearing of Lenora Fulani is meant to intimidate thinking leftists (and thinking conservatives) into staying safely inside their predetermined and unalterable political categories, like prisoners locked up for life. It is meant to scare people away from Fulani, and Buchanan, and mark them as political untouchables. But, most of all, it is meant to show that the realm of politics belongs to the elites, and is not to be intruded on my the hoi polloi like Buchanan, Fulani, or anyone not likely to be endorsed by the editors of the New York Times or the New Republic. At the end of his article, Grann lets loose with a remarkable monologue of pure hatred and contempt that is worth reproducing in full, for the sheer force of its bitter disdain. Fulani and Newman, he writes,
"have succeeded because the U.S. elite itself has changed, too. America's political and media establishment once excluded people like Fulani and Newman without a second thought. Today almost no one the courage to. The establishment, which Newman and Fulani once assailed, has embraced the notion that everyone has something to say."
In the elite world of Grann and Marty Peretz, the peasants outside the Beltway are a vague menacing presence that is to be feared but never consulted or even considered. "People lke Fulani and Newman" means anyone who doesn’t think Al Gore is awful cute in his earthtones and isn’t thrilled at the sight and sound of John McCain telling us how he would have taken Belgrade. And don’t tell me how the Establishment doesn’t exclude people anymore: Perot was excluded from the last presidential debates, and now they’re scheming to keep out Buchanan. The day the Establishment embraces the idea that "everyone has something to say" is the day they start liberalizing American election laws and giving new parties a fair shot and a level playing field. Yeah, right – that’ll be the day!
But Grann is unselfconscious about his aristocratic prejudices: if only we could be governed by the subscribers to the New Republic! Ah, but it is not to be. The peons insist on having their say, and now – horrors of horrors! – they are getting a respectful hearing. Grann is furious:
"Lenora Fulani, like any other politician or pundit, has spent the past few months shuffling from CNBC to CNN to Fox News Channel. One day not long ago she appeared on CNN with a former U.S. congresswoman and a retired secretary of labor to talk about the presidential race and other issues of the day. At one point the anchorwoman turned to Fulani, a leader of a movement the FBI once called ‘armed and dangerous.’ ‘Let's talk about the test-ban treaty, if we can switch gears here a little bit,’ the anchorwoman said. She paused for an instant; the congresswoman and the secretary of labor waited.
‘Lenora, what do you see happening in the Senate?’"
How dare she pretend to be a legitimate commentator? Who does she think she is – William Raspberry? Or that nice young man on the McLaughlin Group who writes for the Chicago Tribune? The hatred, the arrogance, the presumptuousness of this self-appointed arbiter of social and political legitimacy apparently knows no bounds. It is typical of the anti-populists who dominate both the neoconservative "Right" and the compromised Clintonian "Left" – an attitude that they and they alone were born to rule. Well, I have news for them: their days are numbered, and their rule is about to be challenged. The Buchanan campaign is just the beginning – the beginning of the end for the elites in politics and business who believe they rule by a kind of divine right. America is still a republic, and not an empire – a fact they are about to be rudely reminded of.
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