|by Frederick Clarkson|| [Welcome]
PADNET NOTE: This article appeared in the September 16, 1996 issue of the Chicago-based In These Times magazine. Because recent wire service reports are that Bob Smith plans to seek the USTP nominaiton for president at its convention in early September, and Pennsylvania's Peg Luksik is a prominent member of the US Taxpayer's Party, we are pleased to reprint this with the author's permission.
Out On The Fringes
© 1996 Frederick Clarkson --
By the third day of their national convention, the delegates of the U.S. Taxpayers Party (USTP) were in rare form. They were pumped up from two days of fiery far-right oratory and more than a little arcane conspiracy theory about the Federal Reserve Bank and the United Nations. The party had rented an elegant venue and intended to make the most of it. When a speaker rose to denounce the subjugation of U.S. foreign policy to the dictates of the "New World Order," he was momentarily drowned out by shouts of "No U.N.! No U.N.!" For the rapidly growing USTP, there were more than 400 delegates present this year,compared with only 139 at the party's founding convention in 1992, it was the moment of a lifetime.
If one factor could dampen the spirits of the USTP delegates, it was the absence of Pat Buchanan, whom they had expected to lead a mass walkout of delegates from the Republican National Convention across town. But the hero of pro-life populist conservatism had fallen on his pitchfork for Bob Dole and the Republican Party, and the disappointment was palpable. Practically overnight, Buchanan had gone from Braveheart to Knaveheart among the true believers. Buchanan and other top leaders of the Christian Right (notably James Dobson of Focus on the Family) had publicly flirted with the USTP, weighing the possibility of running on a third-party ticket in order to gain leverage within the GOP. But now the young party was on its own.
The Vienna, Va.-based USTP was founded four years ago by longtime conservative activist Howard Phillips as an outgrowth of the non-profit political group U.S. Taxpayers Association. Dismayed by what he saw as the failure of the Reagan revolution, Phillips hoped to capitalize on the dissatisfactions of other conservatives and revive the old dream of a political party of the far right.
Hope for a third party springs eternal among conservatives, who often find themselves as frustrated in their alliance with the Republicans as leftists do in theirs with the Democrats. Historically, the most effective rallying cries for this frustration have been racism and regionalism: Strom Thurmond(then a right-wing Democrat) and his States' Rights Party (the "Dixiecrats") won more than a million votes on an anti-civil rights platform in 1948, and in 1968 "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" won George Wallace's American Independent Party (AIP) almost 10 million votes, or about 15 percent of the national total.
The last serious attempt to create a right-wing third party on the national level came in 1976. A group of conservative leaders who had supported Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford in the GOP primaries including direct-mail entrepreneur Richard Viguerie, the Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich and National Review publisher William Rusher, as well as Phillips sought to detach the right wing of the Republican Party and join it to George Wallace's AIP. But the deal fell through, and, instead of a third party, the conservative leaders' efforts produced key institutions of the New Right like the Moral Majority and the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which ultimately were instrumental in helping Reagan win the nomination in 1980.
With Reagan in power, conservatives put their plans for a third party on hold. For a while, it seemed they were finally running the Republican Party, and most of those who had pushed the AIP merger in '76 became ardent Reagan supporters.
But the Reagan revolution came mainly in the early years of Reagan's first term. By Reagan's second term, and especially during the Bush years, many conservatives became profoundly disenchanted with the Republicans. The Bush administration's enthusiastic participation in international bodies alarmed many nationalists on the right, who regarded the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as a threat to U.S. sovereignty and the U.N.'s leadership role in the Gulf War as a threat to U.S. military hegemony. Abortion, the defining issue for many social conservatives, was another major disappointment: After 12 years of Supreme Court appointments by publicly pro-life presidents, many on the right believed that Roe v. Wade should have been overturned. And the steady advance of gay rights and gender equality in the workplace made a mockery of the "pro-family" views of both movement conservatives and the Republicans in power. As anti-abortion leader George Grant declared at the founding convention of the USTP, "Something funny happened to the pro-family, pro-life movement on the way to victory: We were Bushwhacked."
Sentiments like these on the right are the raw materials out of which Phillips hopes to construct his new party. He has drawn supporters from the AIP, the defunct Populist Party of David Duke, the more militant elements of the Christian Right, Operation Rescue and even the militia movement.
Interestingly, the argument that conservatives got a raw deal from Reagan and Bush also inspired Pat Robertson to found the Christian Coalition, which has pursued a seemingly opposite strategy. It has worked within the GOP, running its own candidates for local offices under the Republican banner, and taking over state party organizations. What appear to be opposing factions in the conservative movement, however, might be better viewed as complementary sides of one strategy. If the Christian Coalition is seeking to position itself as more moderate, the braying hysteria of the USTP should make a helpful contrast. And if the coalition and its allies prefer to take a hard line, they are more likely to win concessions from moderate Republicans if they appear to have a viable third-party alternative. In any case, relations between the two sides of the movement seem to be mostly amicable at the grass-roots level.
So what does the USTP stand for? Its platform calls for eliminating most non-military functions of the federal government, from the Food and Drug Administration to the Federal Election Commission to the Internal Revenue Service. In the USTP view, the United States is a "republic," not a democracy, and is "governed by Constitutional law rooted in Biblical law." Specifically, the party demands that the government cease funding organizations and activities that "contribute to the spread of AIDS by endorsing, implicitly and explicitly, perverse, immoral and unhealthy conduct"; that "the Voting Rights Act ...be repealed"; and that "no state [be] obliged ... to enforce any state law governing marriage and the family which conflicts with the law of the Creator." The USTP would also declare a moratorium on immigration, make English the country's official language, and broaden the Immigration and Naturalization Service's powers to screen and deport immigrants. They also call for immediate withdrawal from the U.N.
Unsurprisingly, the nascent right-wing revolutionaries, like civil-libertarians and others on the left, oppose the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, "including general and unwarranted electronic surveillance, national computer banks, and national identification cards." They reject "claims of necessity to combat terrorism' and to protect national security' " as justifications for overriding the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Speakers at the USTP convention elaborated on these themes in various ways. In the opening session, USTP national chairman Ted Adams' denunciation of Gen. Colin Powell was met with whoops and cheering from the delegates. He characterized Powell's support for affirmative action at the GOP convention as saying "it's OK to exclude some people from opportunities because of their race." He continued, "That's bad enough for a national figure to say something like that, but for 20,000 people to give that kind of thinking a standing ovation, what did they do, check their brains at the door?"
Texas USTP chairman Daniel New called for "an enlistment boycott"of the U.S. armed forces "until we know where we are going to stand with this New World Order." New is the father of former U.S. Army soldier Michael New, who was court-martialed for refusing to wear a United Nations blue beret in Bosnia.
In the keynote speech, Herbert Titus, former dean of the law school at Pat Robertson's Regent University, probably struck the convention's high note in militance. Titus called for citizens to mobilize "in the streets" and exhorted government officials at all levels to "resist" Roe v. Wade as "an illegitimate decision." He invoked the Second Amendment and the "doctrine of the lower civil magistrate," a Calvinist precept justifying the overthrow of an unjust government by a more virtuous lower official. Many in the USTP have used the Second Amendment, with its provision for "a well regulated militia," to defend the full range of militia activities.
Though Buchanan was not there to present his views, Phillips did succeed in lining up a number of Buchanan delegates and other prominent Republicans, most notably former Buchanan campaign co-chairman and Gun Owners of America chief Larry Pratt, and Shelly Uscinski, a prominent Christian Coalition activist and an alternate Buchanan delegate from New Hampshire. Other high-profile Republicans who have crossed the lines include former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, who is now the USTP state chairman there; former Idaho GOP state chairman Gene Winchester, who now leads the USTP in that state; Peg Luksik, who ran well in a GOP primary against Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; and Dr. Herbert London, a dean at New York University and longtime Republican and Conservative Party activist. Many of these ex-Republicans have successfully drawn large numbers of votes in past elections. When asked why conservative Republicans such as Ollie North and Pat Buchanan failed to jump to the USTP, Phillips said they are good conservatives and good friends, but "they have pachyderms running in their blood."
The USTP has managed to get on the ballot in about 30 states (they hope to reach 42 by the elections) and is running candidates for all levels of government in most states. Phillips, who has claimed the president's spot on the USTP ticket, expects to draw votes primarily from home schoolers, the anti-abortion movement, gun owners and disgruntled Buchananites. Taking a page from Buchanan, USTP leaders hope that working-class voters will be drawn to the party's economic nationalism and to its view that "our country and its workers" should be seen as "more than bargaining chips for multinational corporations and international banks." However, their opposition to labor unions -- the convention featured a speaker from the National Right to Work Committee -- makes labor defections to the USTP unlikely.
Phillips says that he will not accept any federal money, and has little of his own. He expects to campaign like Buchanan, making heavy use of talk radio.
However, the USTP does have an innovative strategy for getting around the federal campaign finance laws. The party is running different candidates for vice president in various states. Some are local Ross Perots who will be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own campaigns. One of these is Bob Meucci from Mississippi, who described himself at the convention as "the largest manufacturer of custom-made pool cues in the world." In other states, the candidate for veep may not be wealthy but is intended to bring in votes as a favorite son. Joe Zdonczyk, the chairman of the Concerned Citizens Party of Connecticut, will be Phillips' running mate in his home state as well as in Illinois, where he hopes that his Polish surname will win the party some votes in Chicago. In the unlikely event that they win the elections, Herb Titus would be the party's pick for vice president.
While the USTP has no serious prospect of election to any major office this year, Phillips is threatening to throw resources into states where he thinks the party could affect the outcome. In other words, the USTP doesn't mind being a spoiler and contributing to Dole's defeat, as long as it gets the credit for it. In past years, far-right third-party candidates have run mainly to push the GOP further to the right rather than in the hopes of actually winning office themselves. By that standard, the USTP is likely to enjoy considerable success.
Whatever its role in the fall, the USTP seems to have come of are as a dependable electoral vehicle for the Christian Patriot and militia movements, as well as for conservatives tired of the inevitable mainstreaming of their views in the national mega-parties. If third-party movements ever succeed in breaking down the two-party lock on American politics, the USTP is well positioned to occupy the far right in a new multi-party system.
Who's who in the USTP
Howard Phillips: Co-founder of both the Moral Majority and the secretive Council for National Policy. Phillips was a leading defender of the apartheid government of South Africa and still deplores the "Communist African National Congress."
Larry Pratt, conference speaker: Ousted as the Buchanan campaign co-chairman because of his links to white supremacist groups, Pratt is the chief theorist of the militia movement. In a new book, Pratt urges the formation of militias under the authority of county sheriffs "to resist any tyrannical act on the part of the federal government."
R.J. Rushdoony, convention speaker: The founder of the Christian Reconstructionist movement and a close adviser to Howard Phillips. Rushdoony believes democracy is a "heresy" and calls for the outright implementation of a theocracy and "Biblical Law," under which adultery, heresy, blasphemy, apostasy and homosexuality would be capital offenses.
Randall Terry, Northeast regional co-chairman: Founder of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
Matthew Trewhella, delegate from Wisconsin: The leader of the anti-abortion group Missionaries to the Preborn, Trewhella advocates the formation of church-based militias and declares that "plans of resistance are being made" against the "totalitarian dogs" in Congress.
Frederick Clarkson is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, published by Common Courage Press, 1997.