October 31, 2008

In writing my endorsement of Ralph Nader, I passed rather quickly over the question of the right-wing splinter parties, namely the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party, so as not to get bogged down in an extended discussion. I see, however, from the reaction to my piece, that the bog is unavoidable.

The question I quite consciously avoided is the one that leaps out at the careful reader: why not cast a ballot for either of these two parties? Why give your vote to a “leftist,” like Nader, who’s just a commie wearing faux-populist colors?

To answer the last question first: Nader has an interesting history, one that belies the “leftist” label. His first published piece, as I pointed out in a piece for The American Conservative last time around, appeared in The Freeman, that venerable old mainstay of the libertarian media, now enjoying a renaissance under the able editorship of Sheldon Richman. The article denonced a public housing project being built near his home in Connecticut, and descried the distant authority of the federal government for overriding the clear wishes of the locals. Nader a leftist? It’s true that he finds his constituency on the left, and his campaign is directed at and supported by the few lefties who haven’t been swept up in the Obama-lanche, but he is personally very far from that. Now that the ostensible “free enterprisers” of the GOP are hailing the bailout, he’s taken up the cause of small business, which is “the only free enterprise left in America,” as he puts it.

Too true. I wonder if Bob Barr realizes that. Somehow, I doubt it. As for Chuck Baldwin and the Constitution Party ….

I have to admit to not being all that familiar with Senor Baldwin’s campaign: he certainly looks like a presidential candidate, although I can’t say I think that anyone who calls himself Chuck is going to be seriously considered for the office of President. I’m sure he’s ideologically sound: after all, he has Ron Paul’s endorsement, and, as far as I’m concerned, that settles that. However, the issue is not Baldwin, but the Constitution Party as an organization, which, from the perspective of a serious activist, has grave problems as the vehicle for a paleo-rightist insurgency.

In the preamble to the party platform, we find this:

“The Constitution Party gratefully acknowledges the blessing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as Creator, Preserver and Ruler of the Universe and of these United States. We hereby appeal to Him for mercy, aid, comfort, guidance and the protection of His Providence as we work to restore and preserve these United States.

“This great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been and are afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.

“The goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.

“The Constitution of these United States provides that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’ The Constitution Party supports the original intent of this language. Therefore, the Constitution Party calls on all those who love liberty and value their inherent rights to join with us in the pursuit of these goals and in the restoration of these founding principles.”

I’m not sure what they mean by “original intent” in this context, and they don’t say, though one suspects it’s some arcane rationalization for the internal politics of the party itself, which has been in a prolonged faction fight over the question of whether they’ll nominate a non-Christian for public office. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the party has a rule forbidding anyone who has not accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior from running for office under its banner.

Now there is nothing wrong with a political party that explicitly upholds Christian principles, although it necessarily limits the party’s constituency, and—in America—effectively blocks it from mounting an effective national campaign. However, limiting candidates—and even membership—to persons of a particular faith is an exercise in sectarianism all too familiar to those of us on the right who have supported independent political action.

The Constitution Party was founded by Howard Phillips, leader of the Conservative Caucus, who converted to Christian Reconstructionism and led his followers out of the GOP: he had served in the Nixon administration as a director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and walked out when Tricky Dicky broke his campaign promise to veto welfare appropriations. A great many Constitution Party members are Christian Reconstructions, who have their own unique interpretation of the Bible, and insist on the application of “biblical law” by government. Others are ordinary “born again” Christians of various denominations, who are active in the anti-abortion movement. In any case, religion has become so much a central part of the organization’s identity and mission that there is a huge internal debate over whether Mormons are really Christians. The party, in short, has become a battlefield for rival factions of Christianity—which points precisely to the inherent flaw in the party’s strategic vision.

Political activism takes time, and effort: both are in short supply, and any serious political activist is going to want returns on his or her investtment. They aren’t likely to join parties with self-limiting constituencies, and certainly they won’t join the Constitution Party if they happen to be Jews, agnostics, Christian Scientists, Swedenbogians, or out-and-out atheists

Ron Paul’s endorsement of Baldwin was a response to Bob Barr’s arrogance, which is by now legend, and yet it underscores an important point: there is no real difference between libertarians and Christian constitutionalists, as the CPers like to call themselves, at least not politically. Paul ran as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in the 1988 election: Baldwin himself says that Paul is the better candidate, and that he’d step aside if only Ron would take the helm. The Good Doctor demurs, however, and there is a leadership vacuum, one that Barr, who appears to be a bit of a megalomaniac, did not have the temperament or the stature to fill. Announcing that he would show up at a joint press conference with all the third party candidates, Barr was a no-show—a display of rudeness that was pretty much consistently applied by his campaign in its relations with Paul and the Campaign for Liberty. By endorsing Baldwin, Paul, the bridge between the libertarians and the constitutionalists, effectively split these two wings of the populist right, disabling the movement from launching an effective national campaign.

The problem of unity on the “far” right has been an ongoing one, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. In any case, Nader stands outside—and above—all that. More importantly, he seems to understand that the enemy we’re facing isn’t just “socialism,” but a particular form of it: plutocratic socalism. That’s what the bank bailout—the biggest swindle of all time, as well as the biggest step we’ve taken toward a socialist economic system since the imposition of the income tax—is all about.





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