Everything You Need to Know About Third Parties (and Aren`t Going To Be Told)


By John O`Sullivan

One of the oddities of this campaign season
is the lenient treatment accorded by the media
to John Hagelin who led last week`s walkout of
anti-Buchanan delegates from the Reform Party`s
Convention in Long Beach and who is now the
presidential candidate of the party`s Perot
rump.

Mr. Hagelin is usually described in
respectful terms as "a physicist" and
his connections with the Maharishi movement are
mentioned but hardly explored. A New York
Times
report even wondered ruefully just why
someone with an advanced degree in science would
descend to the vulgar rough and tumble of
electoral politics. Yet – as Evelyn Waugh
remarked when Tom Driberg, the promiscuous
homosexual and Soviet agent of influence,
described himself as a "journalist and
churchwarden" in his Labour election
address – to describe Mr. Hagelin merely as a
physicist gives "a very imperfect
idea" of his full resume.

As an adept of the Maharishi`s school of
transcendental meditation, a member of its
Natural Law party (and, incidentally, its
candidate for the presidency to boot), Mr.
Hagelin is one of the very few physicists who
believes he can fly. Fly, that is, without
artificial assistance, like an airplane. These
claims are advanced with a becoming modesty by
the Maharishi`s followers who tend to be
charming and well-mannered. But they are
advanced nonetheless – along with such related
claims as being able to reduce crime and
violence by mass meditation.

When I visited the Maharishi`s British
headquarters some years ago, I was told by one
amiable indoor airman: "Well, it`s a bit of
an exaggeration to call it flying. We can`t stay
up for very long or move forward and backward at
will as yet.  Actually, among ourselves we
call it `hopping.`"

It is hard to be brutally inquisitive in the
face of such self-deprecation. And some members
of the press may well have looked the other way
out of sheer embarrassment. Still, the
willingness of the New York Times to draw
a discreet veil over Mr. Hagelin`s little
eccentricities may not be wholly unconnected
with the fact that his main rival in the Reform
Party is Pat Buchanan.

After a brief flirtation with Mr. Buchanan
earlier in the year, the mainstream media seems
to have decided that he is either sinister or a
joke and so, in either event, an unworthy
presence in politics. Indeed, now that the two
main parties have chosen candidates broadly
acceptable to the media elite, this dismissive
hostility seems to have spread to all third
parties. And since neither Buchanan nor Ralph
Nader of the Green Party have yet hit double
digits in opinion polls, they are held to count
for little or nothing. They should therefore
withdraw from the race and let the Republicans
and the Democrats slug it out. Again, the New
York Times
has been especially lofty,
instructing Mr. Nader not to take left-liberal
votes from Vice-president Gore (who apparently
has a prior right to them) and thus let Governor
Bush slip to victory.

While Buchanan and Nader have yet to score
well in polls, however, it is not true that
their candidacies are foolish, trivial, futile
or meaningless. Both men represent the deep
unease that many Americans feel about
globalization – a globalization now advocated by
both major parties and treated in polite society
as an apolitical fait accompli.

Of course, they represent this unease in
different (though overlapping) ways. You might
say that Nader dislikes globalization because it
limits the regulatory power of governments
whereas Buchanan opposes it because it overrides
the sovereignty of nations. Thus, Nader is
concerned that allowing re-imports from
countries that tolerate pollution will
ultimately undermine U.S. environmental
regulations; Buchanan fears that an
International Criminal Court would prosecute GIs
as war criminals; and both men oppose U.S.
corporations closing down factories in the U.S.
in order to open them in low-wage Latin America
and Asia or increasing the number of H1-B visas
that allow Silicon Valley to import cheap
software programmers when there is a surplus of
unemployed Americans in the industry.

These various anxieties may be mistaken. (I
think at least some of them are.) But they are
shared by many people who currently intend to
vote Republican or Democrat. And more of these
voters may rally to the Green or Reform parties
as the campaign develops. The press has some
inkling of this. Journalists see Ralph Nader as
the electoral representative of the economically
discontented-labor unions, environmentalists,
welfare workers, etc. – who rioted against the
WTO in Seattle and the IMF in Washington. They
like Nader anyway – he is a sort of secular
saint to many in the media – and they look upon
the rioters as counterparts of themselves in the
sixties. So they take the trouble to find out
more about them. And even when they disagree
with their anti-globalization theme, they see a
praiseworthy "idealism" at work. Their
conclusion tends to be that
"globalization" needs to accommodate
their concerns over labor rights and
environmental regulation.

Political journalists, with very few
exceptions such as John Judis on the Left and
Sam Francis on the Right, have no such insights
into "Pat`s people." Insofar as they
consider them at all, they see them as nostalgic
throwbacks to a simpler America, doomed to fade
away as the New Economy either turns them into
"wired workers" or quietly eases them
into retirement. And because the Buchanan
brigades are plainly being left behind by
political evolution, journalists show little
interest in what makes them tick or whether they
might represent larger social trends.

This mixture of snobbery and laziness has led
the American media to ignore what is a striking
political development across the entire advanced
world. Buchananite coalitions of the culturally
discontented – nationalists, language defenders,
anti-immigration groups – have formed third
parties in Australia, Denmark, Italy, Canada,
France, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium and
elsewhere and won from 6 per cent to 30 per cent
of the national vote. They have split the Right
in the process and helped the social democratic
Left to get or keep power. And the signs are
that such parties are still building their
support as issues like mass immigration rise in
salience, especially in Europe.

America has so far experienced only a very
mild version of these convulsions. And while the
U.S. electorate is sedated by the long American
boom, the media can probably justify its
decision to put Nader and Buchanan on the same
level as flying physicists.

But serious social discontents rarely just
disappear. Globalization will continue to spawn
major social and economic changes for some time
yet. It is even possible that Buchanan, Nader or
some ally of both will put together an
anti-globalization "synthesis" that
appeals to voters on both Left and Right. If so,
when the economy stumbles, Nader and Buchanan
may begin to fly – while John Hagelin (and the
pundits) are still hopping around below.

John O`Sullivan, a former aide to Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher, was Editor of
National Review 1988-1997. He lives in
Washington D.C.

August 17, 2000