The plan was deceptively simple and had the advantage of
    cloaking the seizure of absolute power in legality. — William L.
    Shirer, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”

There is much that is misunderstood about the split in the Reform
Party that occurred at its presidential nominating convention in Long
Beach, Calif., this weekend. The media, not surprisingly, tuned in when
it realized that there was $12.6 million involved. Would the money go to
the presumptive nominee, Pat Buchanan, a harsh social conservative, but
a respectable journalistic fellow-traveler nonetheless? Or would it go
to the anti-Buchanan John Hagelin, the insurgent entry into Reform’s
obscure (as far as the press was concerned) candidate selection process?

By mid-afternoon of the opening day of the convention, the split was
evident. There were two rooms, two podiums, two backdrops, two chairmen,
two credentials committees, two sets of delegates, two sets of primary
results, and two C-SPAN crews. The media broke the story down to its
brass tacks: There was an ideological rift in the party and each side
claimed the nomination and the money.

A few quick calls to the Federal Election Commission allowed
reporters to bone up on the financial and legal details. Interviews with
the leader of the party’s anti-Buchanan forces, James Mangia, educated
the press on how Buchanan had submitted 500,000 allegedly ineligible
voters to the primary process and then refused to comply with the
party’s demand for verification of their eligibility. The Buchanan camp
stonewalled both the party’s investigation and the media’s shockingly
kid-glove questions. (The notable exception to this was Paula Zahn’s
grilling of Buchanan on her Fox News show, “The Edge.”)

But the press — which bemoans that the political conventions produce
no real drama — has so far missed the historical dimension of the
Reform Party split.

Though written about Adolf Hitler’s triumph over the democratic
process in March 1933, the observation by journalist and author William
L. Shirer quoted above could easily have been about the Buchanan putsch
inside the Reform Party. While the Nazis had won the 1933 national
election, Hitler’s 16-vote majority in the Reichstag was short of the
two-thirds supermajority he needed to have the German Parliament pass an
“enabling act” to alter the
constitution to allow Hitler’s cabinet to take over exclusive
legislative power.

How to handle the need for the supermajority? Hitler had 81 communist
members of the Reichstag arrested before the vote. Reichstag President
Hermann Goering refused “admittance to a few Social Democrats.” The rest
of the votes were plucked through intimidation, deal making and
elaborate homage to Hitler’s governmental predecessors. The Enabling Act
was passed on March 23, and, as Shirer wrote, “Thus was parliamentary
democracy finally interred in Germany.”

When I endorsed Pat Buchanan’s candidacy in the Reform Party primary
in November last year, it was met with a hail of public skepticism and
criticism. My vision was for a left/right coalition — one that would
take Buchanan and his base outside of their social conservative moorings
and into direct contact with progressive populism. The left and the
liberal media
dismissed this as bizarre, strange bedfellowism and opportunism. The
left and the liberals pounced on Buchanan as a fascist, utterly blind to
my effort to create a non-lethal political environment in which
Buchanan’s working class followers could be joined to a movement for
democracy rather than political reaction.

Speaking as a leftist, I consider this a grave mistake by the
traditional left on two counts. First, many of Buchanan’s positions —
on trade, on globalism, on campaign finance reform and on U.S. military
interventionism — are positions wholly embraced by the left, which now
actively critiques globalist policies while telling Americans to vote
for the Democratic Party,
which supports them. Insofar as Buchanan, having become an independent,
can exploit that contradiction and draw a base away from the two
parties, the left has a responsibility to either try to reshape Buchanan
or to defeat his bid to take over the Reform Party. It did neither.

But as important, the neo-reactionary politic of Pat Buchanan lives
— not in his program — but in his Hitlerian trampling of democracy
inside the Reform Party, much of which played out at the convention

When Buchanan refused to comply with party authorities’ demands for
verification of his submissions to the voter list (there was strong
evidence he submitted a database of 500,000 Republican donors who are
not eligible under party rules), it was an act designed not only to
cover up his fraud, but an assertion that he would recognize no
authority but his own. When he assembled a room full of delegates
credentialed because they agreed to support Buchanan and not because
they met the objective constitutional requirements to be delegates, he
was asserting that his will would prevail over democracy.

Why was he so intent upon controlling the convention? Because he
could not guarantee the outcome of the primary, even with the submission
of fraudulent ballots. (It now appears that once Buchanan’s list is
removed, Hagelin will be the winner of the popular primary.) Seeking the
two-thirds majority needed to legally override the primary results,
Buchanan took no prisoners in his quest for delegates, toppling
pre-existing state parties along the way. As
soon as he had complete control of his convention floor, Buchanan
mobilized the body to vote to rescind the primary. It was, to quote
Shirer, “deceptively simple and had the advantage of cloaking the
seizure of absolute power in legality.” These were Buchanan’s Hitlerian
devices. And the traditional left, for all of its protestations about
Buchanan’s presence in Reform, was nowhere to be found.

The liberal press has underestimated the ferocity of the Buchanan
juggernaut, playing up the novelty of having an “unbrokered convention,”
while trivializing the whole affair. The anti-Buchanan side, wrongly
ascribed to being “Perot forces” is given weight only insofar as it
might construct a credible claim on the money. But the Mangia-led Reform
Party coalition is far more diverse and far more significant than that.

The Perot forces are probably the weakest element of that coalition
now. Mangia, a long time friend and associate of mine and one of the
country’s leading gay leftists, is an independent in the party who was
elected chairman of our side of the Reform split. It was only a matter
of a few months ago that he was still working closely with Gerry Moan,
the chairman of Buchanan’s Reform and, like Mangia, a long time
independent. Moan was tearful during his convention’s viscerally hateful
recall of Mangia, who had become a symbol — and rightfully so — of the
effort to tie Buchanan’s hands in his drive for the nomination.

This “civil war” dimension of the split — brother against brother —
went largely unreported. When the legally elected New York delegation
was expelled from the Buchanan convention, no small number of Buchanan
rank-and-filers who had welcomed me into his campaign and who were upset
about my resignation — came rushing out to try to make amends. They
were simply following orders of the floor captains in the orange hats
and hadn’t realized their votes had led to our expulsion.

Mangia, Hagelin and his supporters, allies of Jesse Ventura and
deposed Chairman Jack Gargan (the first victim of the Buchanan
Anschluss), Russ Verney and his supporters (the actual instigators of
the anti-Gargan coup), and my allies in New York, Washington,
California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, D.C., Massachusetts, New
Jersey and elsewhere are now the power elements in what has become the
insurgent wing of the Reform Party. Ross
Perot is gone. However uneasy that alliance might be, it has stood up to
the Nazification of the Reform Party, and in that it is a heroic

Is Buchanan’s Reform a serious threat? That’s difficult to answer.
Even if he wins the money, his political appeal is so narrow as to be
virtually meaningless. But Adolf Hitler was on the fringe for year after
year himself. His takeover of the German Workers Party in 1925, a force
so marginal as to make the Reform Party look virtually mainstream, was
all about gaining position in what became an increasingly unstable and
destitute Germany. If the American economy remains strong — even if
lopsided — Buchanan’s nationalistic call for sovereignty will remain at
the margins. But a downturn could change all of that. Buchanan’s Reform
would have a much wider audience.

My focus, ultimately, is less on the threat a neo-fascist movement
poses, than on the opportunity the independent pro-democracy forces in
and out of Reform have. Now there are two lefts in America: One that
decries fascism. One that stands up to it.

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