"WE WUZ ROBBED!"
The Reform Party(s) in Crisis
Saturday, August 12, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
Nearly half a year ago I wrote a commentary on the flaws, foibles and failings of the Reform Party- a piece occasioned by the craziness which erupted at a Party meeting in Nashville, Tennessee at which Jesse Ventura and his choice for Reform Party chairman were- in an old New England tradition- "warned out" of that Party: the piece was entitled "CAREENING OUT OF CONTROL!!!". Now, six months later- on another Saturday the 12th- we find the Reform Party doing nothing except adding a few more exclamation points to my half-year-old title.
The cause is the fact that Ross Perot's 8 1/2 percent of the vote in the presidential election four years ago means that, under Federal Law, the Reform Party is entitled to $12.5 million in federally matching funds- a rather large chunk of change for a Third Party (although it, obviously, pales in comparison to the amount of funding available to both the Democrats and the Republicans). Thus, the prize of the Reform Party presidential nomination means access to that rather hefty sum and two men aim to get it: in one corner, Patrick J. Buchanan- who could finally get his hard right views out into the General Election arena where they could not be heard before, thanks to his inability to gain the top prize in one of the Major Parties twice before; in the opposite corner, John Hagelin- now three times the candidate of the Natural Law Party, whose soft left dream is to form a coalition of Third Parties under one banner in order to guarantee ballot access to the resultant "alternative" coalition in all 50 States: his plan is to start this Third Party end-run around ofttimes discriminatory state laws by forging a Natural Law/Reform ballot access axis.
Hagelin's strategy is politically well thought-out, but Buchanan much better appeals to that amorphous mass of people very VERY ticked off at Government (it doesn't really matter WHICH level of Government) in general and the two major parties in particular without ANY real sense of direction or purpose which I described in my earlier piece and to which the Reform Party has always appealed. As a result of the energizing force which is Anger, Buchanan won the majority of those attending the Reform Party Convention through the delegate selection process: however, those who founded and ran- until this past week's "coup"- the Reform Party are adamantly opposed to the Party nominating an extremist such as that they see in Mr. Buchanan. The effect of the cause already stated is that what is, in its essence, a battle for the heart, mind and soul of America's most recent successful Third Party has now devolved into a battle over campaign cash and who should control the coffers now so ready to receive it.
The resultant turmoil so reminds me of the bitter split within the Russian Social Democratic Party of nearly a century ago that I will use the term bolshevikii ("majority") to refer to the Buchanan-supporting wing of the Reform Party which controls that Party's National Convention and the term menshevikii ("minority") to refer to the Reform Party hierarchy which supports Hagelin over Buchanan. I only use these terms for descriptive purposes: I make no comment herein as to which side in this dispute actually IS the majority; I merely indicate that the bolshevikii Buchananites happen to control (whether rightly or wrongly) the main Reform Party National Convention, forcing the menshivikii Reformers to set up a rump Convention elsewhere. You will see that I am very critical of many of the tactics of those I call the bolshevikii; however, we must also keep in mind that those I call the menshevikii were basically the same clowns who ousted the Party's only elected major office holder- Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota- merely six months ago and it was this group I roundly criticized in my "CAREENING OUT OF CONTROL!!!" Commentary of this past February.
So, how did the Reform Party get into this predicament anyway?... very simple, really:
Pat Buchanan's campaign team was accused of sending ballots for this mail-in primary to the unauthorized as, under the Reform Party's own rules, only registered Reform Party members (who had been members for a certain amount of time) were eligible to vote in the mail-in primary. There were reports that non-Reform Party members were being sent ballots (apparently, at least some of those being sent ballots were culled from lists consisting of supporters of Buchanan's unsuccessful bids to gain the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996... just for the record, I myself received a Reform Party ballot in the mail not quite a month ago with instructions as to how to use it to support Pat Buchanan: I promptly threw it out- not necessarily as a reflection of my own personal or political opinion regarding Mr. Buchanan, but because I am not a member of the Reform Party and I knew, from when I had earlier researched re: the Reform Party Presidential Primary rules for "The Green Papers" [posted at http://www.TheGreenPapers.com/Third/Re-Proc.html#Pres], that I was not in one of the three categories of persons eligible to participate in that mail-in primary... given all that has happened since, I wish I had saved it as a kind of souvenir [at the time I received it, I DID wonder just what list I could have been on to even get it!]... silly me!!)- including multiple ballots (I only got one), a clear violation of the rules of the Party.
So, there was an in-party audit and both candidates for the Reform Party presidential nomination- Pat Buchanan and John Hagelin- were required to submit back-up documentation re: the lists of those to whom they had sent ballots [section IV, # 2 of the Party's rules- posted on "The Green Papers" at the above link- not only includes definitions of who was eligible to vote in the mail-in primary, but also how lists of those eligible were to be submitted to the Party]: Hagelin evidently complied, Buchanan apparently did not. As a result, on Tuesday 1 August, the Executive Committee of the Reform Party adopted the following resolution:
The response of the Buchanan campaign was that they had a majority of the delegates at the upcoming Reform Party National Convention in Long Beach, California; that the Convention could, if they so desired, override the results of the mail-in primary (Elections? Who needs 'em!... as those of you reading this will soon see!) as provided for in section IV, # 11, as follows:
Of course, for the Buchanan supporters [the bolshevikii in this whole sorry affair], there were two major questions as the now-fractured Reform Party prepared to hold its National Convention in the Long Beach, California Convention Center beginning Thursday 10 August:
1. did Pat Buchanan (tainted votes or no) actually win the mail-in primary? (a subsidiary issue, unstated of course by this faction, being: would the tainted votes be included and did Buchanan win the mail-in vote even without the tainted votes?) and- more importantly-
2. did Pat Buchanan, although holding a majority of the Convention, control two-thirds of it?
The answers to both these questions were both not known for sure as the Convention got set to convene. Buchanan's people could not do anything about 1.- but they sure as hell could do something about 2.! The opening of the Convention was delayed as delegates were locked out of the Hall and time was bought to make sure the Buchanan bolshevikii controlled the debate over credentialing delegates to the Convention. Even once the Convention got underway under the firm hand of bolshevikii Chairman Gerald Moan, there was much confusion as to the rules of parliamentary procedure: the whole scene unfolding before me on C-SPAN reminded me somewhat of Student Council meetings I had attended back in Madison (N.J.) High School in the early mid-1970's- except that the MHS Student Council of which I had been a part had been much better organized! It didn't help that this first session of the Convention was held in a ballroom instead of the main hall the Convention would be using for the rest of its sessions. A typical example of what craziness was seen on the floor of the Convention during this first session was as follows:
There were four states where credentials challenges had been brought before the Convention's Credentials Committee- chaired by Frank Reed (who seemed to be completely bewildered by what was going on before his very eyes as he stood at the dais): Georgia, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia. Evidently, these challenges had been brought to the attention of the Committee BEFORE the split between Buchanan's bolshevikii and Hagelin's menshevikii had erupted into a hard breach with the passage of the aforementioned Executive Committee resolution less than a fortnight earlier. However, since the breach, several other states had had credentials challenges brought- evidently as the bolshevikii sought to assure themselves not just a majority but 2/3 of the Convention in order to override a mail-in plebiscite of which they could not quite be sure the outcome would be in favor of their candidate, Mr. Buchanan!
There was an attempt to include 10 other delegations in the credentials fight ongoing within the Convention: California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. There was already an amendment to the Credentials Committee report on the floor (the report of the Credentials Committee had obviously been to seat delegates "as is"- that is, delegations composed of anti-Buchanan menshevikii [most notably, that from New York's Independence Party- the Reform Party affiliate in the Empire State] would still have been seated as delegates; the amendment was a challenge to delegates being seated from the original four states in question- in formal "Roberts' Rules of Order" language: if the amendment to the motion to accept the report were adopted and the motion to adopt the report subsequently approved by the Convention, the report would be amended so that it would be accepted except as regarded these four states). A delegate from California moved an amendment to the amendment which would have also challenged the delegations from the other ten states (including California)- at one point, she also asked that all the challenges be explained state-by-state "or else we won't know what we are voting for" (to which I thought ' why should THIS political Convention be different from any other? ').
The problem was that, under the rules, none of the delegations named could vote on any motions or amendments thereto in which their delegation was named. Under parliamentary procedure, the delegate from California could, therefore, not make a motion to amend the report by including- among others- her own state, as that would make her ineligible to vote on "the amendment to the amendment" which, in turn, meant that she was ineligible to even move "the amendment to the amendment" itself! As a result, the "amendment to the amendment" was not even considered (I got the distinct impression it wouldn't have been anyway: since the predominantly menshevikii delegations were being challenged in the original amendment to the report, there was no way for them to make motions on behalf of the other ten states: the bolshevikii certainly weren't going to help them!)... but it took up quite a bit of discussion between Frank Reed, Gerald Moan and the Convention parliamentarian- - along with a concomitant waste of precious time- to sort this all out!
Once the illegal, under the rules, but perfectly understandable- from the menshevikii perspective- "amendment to the amendment" had, thus, been unceremoniously disposed of, the original amendment to the Credentials Committee report was adopted followed by the approval of the motion to adopt the report itself (as thus amended). When, during these proceedings, a delegate complained that he had not heard a proper second to a motion to put the previous question, Chairman Moan boomed: "I saw a second in the room... I AM the Chair!" There was little doubt that the pro-Buchanan bolshevikii were in charge of THIS gathering!
However, there was already another gathering elsewhere in the same complex- at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center: the menshevikii supporting Hagelin had obviously been prepared for much of what was going on inside the Long Beach Convention Center nearby and had prepared for a "rump Convention" of the Reform Party. This created its own problems for many of those inside the bolshevikii gathering: as regarded some delegations, both the Chair and Vice-Chair had already gone to "hang" with the menshevikii. Under Reform Party rules, only the Chair (or Vice-Chair, in the absence of the Chair) of a given delegation could alter its composition by deputizing alternates to act in the place of delegates: yet, now Minnesota and South Carolina- among others- had NO Chair or Vice-Chair present and these states now had to- right in the midst of the credentials challenges- move that the Convention give others in the delegation permission to so deputize alternates (they were... surprise, surprise!).
As for the credentials challenges themselves, the worst was that of New York and the treatment of its menshevikii Independence Party, which had actually held a presidential primary in the Empire State to choose delegates at the same time the Major Parties had- on "Super Tuesday", back on 7 March. Here, the main Reform Party Convention less resembled a Student Council meeting gone awry than Adolf Hitler's Reichstag. A bolshevikii Buchananite group- consisting largely of members from the New York Freedom Party-argued that, as Buchanan supporters (although, keep in mind, no one yet formally knew who the nominee would actually be: either via the mail-in ballot or subsequent override- by 2/3 vote of the Convention- of that mail-in plebiscite), they should be seated in place of delegates duly elected. The rest of the bolshevikii Convention dutifully followed orders and de-credentialed the entire menshevikii New York delegation, one elected in a State-run presidential primary, and seated the unelected bolsehvikii insurgents in their stead.
I myself thought this was all just "overkill" (the Buchananites now clearly held 2/3 vote and more in THIS gathering!) which only served to rub salt into the wound and, frankly, it all smacked of political chicanery that had no place in America. Sure the Buchanan supporters wore red hats instead of brown shirts but the effect was just the same and, for those who- like me- actually thought about its ramifications instead of looking at the split within the Reform ranks as being nothing more than an entertaining side-show- a harmless diversion (I'm talking to YOU, mainstream media!), just as chilling. That these people would subsequently make sure to wrap themselves in the flag as this main bolshevikii Convention proceeded would serve only to make this gathering even more of a travesty than it had already become! But Money Talked and B***S*** Walked THIS day!!
For let us not forget what this split in the Reform Party is all about, folks! The "dirty laundry" of Politics- the kind of stuff you see crawling around once you pick up the rock marked "Elections" and look at what lurks underneath. The flip side of the coin labeled "Democracy" IS "coin"! And, in this respect, Democracy is really no different from any other form of government- as it, like the others, is- at its heart- a device by which to secure two "five-letter words": POWER and MONEY. I have little doubt that, had $12.5 million of the taxpayers' money NOT been at stake here, we wouldn't have been seeing even half of the garbage that has gone on in Long Beach, California into this weekend!!
After the Convention had decided on the fate of the New York delegation, a delegate from Washington asked for a roll call vote; her motion was voted down as she shouted into the microphone: "shame on you! shame on you!" I was reminded of the story of a woman- a member of the Russian Social Revolutionary Party (which was different from the Russian Social Democratic Party which had split into bolshevikii and menshevikii in the first place)- who, while the Red Army dispersed the Constituent Assembly which had been elected in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, shouted at Lenin: "you're trying to become another Czar!" I could not imagine that the voice of that woman back in January 1918- under admittedly very different circumstances- could have been much different from that I was hearing now. Another female delegate asked for a division of the house- perfectly acceptable after a vote by, in this case, show of hands under ordinary parliamentary procedure: but ordinary parliamentary procedure had fled this gathering hours before and so she was ignored as this first bolshevikii session recessed.
The evening session for that first day of the bolshevikii gathering was an odd one... in many ways, it was a poor man's pastiche- at times, almost a parody- of the presentations of the two major parties (of the type we had already seen in Philadelphia and would, once again- I am quite sure, see in Los Angeles shortly thereafter)... a few notes:
Beverly O'Neill, the Mayor of Long Beach and a Democrat, greeted the bolshevikii delegates (now assembled in the conference room within the Long Beach Convention Center which would serve as the main Convention Hall from this point on), reminding them that they were an expression of "our right to hold free elections" (oh, yeah?... tell that to the New York Independence Party!)
The best speech of the first two evenings of the bolshevikii gathering was, by far, that given by Gatewood Galbraith, the Reform candidate for Congress from the 6th Congressional District in Kentucky and a former candidate for Governor of that Commonwealth. I have exchanged e-mails with Mr. Galbraith on occasion in the course of my researches for "The Green Papers" and, while I may or may not agree with him on an issue-by-issue basis, I have found him to be an engaging person who clearly believes in his principles as much as he clearly articulates them. His speech was delivered much the way I had pictured it would have been based on his writing style and he clearly and forcefully outlined what he himself believed the Reform Party stood for and should stand for. I found myself wondering if someone like Mr. Galbraith would not have made a much better presidential candidate than either Mr. Buchanan or Mr. Hagelin and if such a candidate could have prevented this whole bolshevikii/menshevikii circus from unfolding as it has so far!
There were excerpts shown (on a big screen which was round- as that was the shape of the eagle "medallion" which served as the logo of the Reform Party- but which, to me, seemed more like the backdrop to a science fiction film of long ago [except that it be in color]: I half-expected the Emperor Ming to stride up to the podium!) from Jo Streit's film Flirting With Power, which was about the formation and rise of the Reform Party from the grass roots up- beginning, of course, with Ross Perot's United We Stand America in 1992. What was most odd was that, whenever Ross Perot himself appeared on the screen there was virtually no outburst of applause or cheering: this was in sharp contrast to the reaction of the delegates at the most recent GOP Convention to, say, Ronald Reagan's appearance on-screen during that gathering's tribute to the three living Republican ex-Presidents. I mean, here was the founder of the Party and his image was not even acknowledged... but, of course, I then realized that Perot was irrelevant to this Buchananite crowd.
But the menshevikii evening session (to which many of the de-credentialed by- as well as the ignored in- the bolshevikii gathering now repaired) was just as odd. If the credentials battles in the Convention Center had reminded me of my short career on the MHS Student Council, the venue in the Performing Arts Center reminded me of the MHS Auditorium in which that Student Council had actually met! Most of the Executive Committee (those who had voted to disqualify Pat Buchanan from participation as a candidate in the mail-in plebiscite) was present and John Hagelin, the champion of the arrayed menshevikii, told all who were assembled that he was "glad to have you here"- assuring them that "looking around and seeing what's left- I see the Reform Party!" Former Chairman Russ Verney- a man who now certainly shares the feelings of Mikhail Gorbachev, who survived the anti-reformist coup of August 1991 only to suddenly find himself, and his imploding empire, strangely irrelevant- spoke before the menshevikii and darkly referred to death threats against National Secretary Jim Mangia, who was the one who had seconded the resolution to disqualify Buchanan 10 days before, as well as others on the Party's Executive Committee.
The following evening (Friday 11 August) was to provide the best proof that the Reform Party- whether bolshevikii OR menshevikii- is largely a "ship of fools". Before the mail-in ballot was even announced, the bolshevikii Convention voted to override its results and substitute itself as the nominating body (which is acceptable under Reform Party rules, but it seems odd that such a body would override what- on its face [putting aside the issue of tainted votes]- is an expression of the wishes of rank-and-file Party members BEFORE even knowing what the result actually is!). And so it was left to the Hagelin-supporting menshevikii to announce the result of the mail-in ballot: Buchanan 64% to Hagelin's 36%... not too long thereafter, Gerald Moan gleefully announced this result to the assembled bolshevikii. "Oh, JIM-my! Who you going to nominate now, Jimmy?!", the Chairman chortled in his joy- referring to his rival Mr. Mangia. Of course, the menshevikii have claimed that the bulk of Buchanan's percentage is fraudulent- in addition, the menshevikii Convention agreed to abide by the disqualification of Buchanan by the Executive Committee.
The result, in both Conventions, was positively laughable! The bolshevikii had voted to overturn a valid election (made valid by its having followed- at least on the surface [again, putting the issue of tainted votes aside]- the letter of the rules of the Party) BEFORE they knew the result, then turned around and cheered the very result they had abandoned when it was later announced to them! Later that evening, the bolshevikii gathering formally nominated Pat Buchanan for President. Meanwhile, the menshevikii voted to accept the result of a mail-in ballot they claimed was fraudulent: of course, they announced Buchanan's landslide, then voted to accept the Executive Committee's resolution that Buchanan be disqualified- meaning that John Hagelin now had 100% of the vote of the mail-in ballot for a "qualified" candidate, meaning that Hagelin was now formally nominated for President by the menshevikii ! Thus, the bolshevikii went through the familiar Roll Call of the States for Nomination for President that would have been totally unnecessary had they accepted the results of the mail-in plebiscite as they interpret it, while the menshevikii ended up nominating an insurgent without needing such a Roll Call of the States at all!! The rules of the Reform Party itself made this ludicrous situation- a mockery of Democracy and parliamentary procedure all in one- possible!!!
I stand by my assessment of the dysfunction in the Reform Party as seen at the end of the piece I wrote about that earlier Saturday the 12th this calendar year: