Friday, February 06, 2004

Run Roy, run…or not
Now here’s a rumor to warm my beady little heart:
Ousted Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore is focused on trying to get his job back but will not rule out a third-party run for the presidency that could threaten President Bush's re-election chances.

Moore, you will recall, was the star of last summer’s adventure of the unconstitutional, big-ass Ten Commandments monument. It was clear by the end of that comic-opera that the only thing bigger than the monument was Roy’s ego. Fortunately, for his constituency, the Ten Commandments are far more important than the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride isn’t a problem in their book.
[L]ast Saturday Moore was a featured speaker at the Christian Coalition's "Family and Freedom" rally in Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported he was "treated like a rock star, signing autographs and getting thunderous standing ovations."

One week prior to that event, Moore spoke at a dinner in Lancaster, Pa., sponsored by the Constitution Party, which has the third-largest number of registered voters in the U.S. The party's presidential candidate, Howard Phillips, was on 41 state ballots in 2000, Fund noted.

Richard Winger, an authority on independent candidates, told Fund he believes Moore could rally enough support to sustain a presidential candidacy.

"If he can get on talk shows and stir up conservative voters he could easily get significantly more than the usual third-party vote totals," said Winger, editor of Ballot Access News.

Winger points out the Constitution Party has 320,000 registered voters nationwide and guaranteed ballot access in large states such as California and Pennsylvania.

The Constitution Party apparently finds the idea attractive and has issued a press release expressing their support for ex-Judge Moore. The Party is the creation of Howard Phillips. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Phillips and his party:
A one-time aide to Richard Nixon who resigned in protest of that president's "liberal" policies, Phillips pulled together a coalition of extremist third parties before the 1992 elections, forming the U.S. Taxpayers Party (the name was changed to Constitution Party in 1999).

The coalition nature of their origin gives the Constitution Party platform something of the flavor a smorgasbord of the most frightening far right position. From Christian Reconstructionism they take a belief that the US should be a republic of Christians only with strict enforcements of Levitical law. From the Posse Comitatus they take certain elements of constitutional theory, denying all twentieth century amendments, like women’s suffrage and income tax. From the NRA they allow no restrictions on personal weapons. From the pro-life crowd they reject abortion even in the case of incest and/or rape. For the xenophobes they want to close the borders to any immigration. Even though they claim to be pro-America, they draw support neo-Confederates. And, of course, from the John Birch Society they insist on withdrawing from the one world UN.
At first, the goal was to use the party as a vehicle for Pat Buchanan, should the conservative commentator decide to bolt the GOP in a run for the White House. Buchanan reportedly toyed with the idea, most seriously in 2000, but the nabob of American nativism ultimately chose to seize control of the Reform Party, which could offer him millions in matching campaign funds generated by Ross Perot's showing in 1996.

Unable to lure a marquee candidate, Phillips has ended up carrying his party's banner in each of the last three elections. Every time around, the party has won ballot access in an increasing number of states — up to a solid 41 in 2000. Even so, Phillips has never collected more than 0.2% of the presidential vote.

As 2004 approaches, the 62-year-old Phillips, who gets around with the aid of a cane, seems determined to sit out the campaign.
"I think it's likely we'll have a greater opportunity in 2004 than ever before," he declares.

Why such confidence? Simple: for the first time in the party's history, as Phillips reminds his true believers, there will be "no Ross Perot, no Pat Buchanan, no Alan Keyes, no Gary Bauer" to siphon away the votes of fundamentalist right-wingers.

The time just might be nigh, Phillips says, for the most extreme organized political party in America to "wield our terrible swift sword."

Although third party voting has been increasing for over a decade, factionalism on the far right has prevented them from putting up a united front. Phillips thinks this might be the year for the Constitution Party.

In a way, that might be a good thing. Healthy fringe parties can provide a needed pressure valve. By giving voice to alienated minorities, those minorities remain independent of the mainstream parties. Fringe parties like the Constitution Party do not always have the same purpose as mainstream parties. The latter are essentially organizations that support candidates for election by raising money, procuring endorsements, and organizing manpower. Fringe parties often exist to give voice to alienated minorities and bear witness to the iniquities of the system.

It’s difficult, but not impossible, for fringe parties to transform themselves into mainstream parties (the US system is more thoroughly stacked against it than are other western democracies). The Republicans were the last party to make the transition. They did it by bringing together a coalition of fringe groups (abolitionists, anti-masons, and other single issue groups), disaffected members of the majority party, and by taking over the remnants of a failed opposition party (the Whigs). Since them, most third parties on the verge of the mainstream have been absorbed into one or the other of the two semi-official parties.

For over thirty years the Republican Party has been pandering to the far right. In part this has been possible because they have felt secure on their moderate wing (they have kept that wing secure by very successfully painting the Democratic Party as too dangerously far left to be a real alternative for moderates uncomfortable about some of their bedfellows). I’m reversing some popular wisdom with this narrative. The normal version of elections is that the extremes stay with the parties because they have no other reasonable choice. The parties court their extremes during primaries then rush to be first to occupy the center in the general election (Nixon made this story popular). I’m not denying this, I’m saying that parallel race in the reverse direction takes place at the same time.

As Republican Party has courted the far right, they have become more and more a creature of the far right. It was probably inevitable that all of those denizens of the right joining the party would eventually influence the nature of the party. You are what you eat. (David Neiwert explains the way extremist ideas are legitimized and transmitted to the center in his “Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism” series.)

With the Bush administration, they may finally have gone too far. The administration is already starting to feel a mild hemorrhage at the center from some of their activities. If someone like Moore and the Constitutional Party began to pull votes from the right, the Republicans might finally be at a no-win crossroads. If they lunge further right to keep the loonies, they might risk a serious defection at the center. If they repudiate the right, the right might not sit it out quietly. Since at least Robertson’s run in 1988, the far right has been aware enough of it’s influence to make threats of bolting. A second choice organized slightly better than usual might be all some of them need.

The best of all possible worlds would be for a far right insurrection to cost Bush the election, destroy the credibility of the extremists like DeLay, and shock the Party into returning to some of its centrist heritage. I won’t even spell out the way this could play out if it backfired. Suffice it to say, I’m too cautious a gambler to actually hope for a Moore CP run as our savior, but I am going to keep my eyes on them

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