Saturday, December 20, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 10 - the Reform Party

The Reform Party became a prominent Third Party in the 1990s as the base for Presidential candidate Ross Perot. Since the turn of the century, however, they have declined significantly as a result of inter-party squabbles and lack of cohesive vision.

It should be noted that there is also an American Reform Party - a splinter party which split from the Reform Party of the United States because they believed Ross Perot rigged the nominating process in 1996.

Members: 42,376 registered (as of November 2006)


The Reform Party (or Reform Party USA) was founded by Perot in 1995 to be a base for his second Presidential campaign. Perot said Americans were disillusioned with the state of politics as being corrupt and unable to deal with vital issues, and wanted a new party.

For the 1996 Election, the Reform Party ticket appeared on all fifty state ballots. Perot ended up receiving over 8 million votes - down considerably from his first candidacy in 1992 - which was approximately 8% of the electorate.

In 1998 the Reform Party saw its first - and arguably only - major victory by electing former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura as Governor of Minnesota.

Due to federal matching funds law - and Perot's 8% in 1996 - the Reform Party ticket was able to secure $12.5 million for the 2000 presidential campaign. The party's nomination was subsequently sought by two well supported candidates, the editorialist Pat Buchanan and three-time Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin.

The race for Reform Party nomination resulted in a bitter division for the party, which ended up holding two simultaneous conventions in 2000. Several state affiliate parties split off, but Buchanan ended up winning the nomination. However, he secured less than 450,000 votes (.4%) in the General Election.

As a result of the poor performance, the Reform Party lost its matching funds, ballot status in nearly every state, and considerable credibility as a major Third Party.

Between these financial and organizational problems and consistent infighting, the Party opted to nominate Ralph Nader as its 2004 Presidential nominee - despite the fact that Nader never sought their endorsement.

In 2006 the Party started to build again, running several Congressional races across the country - earning as much as 11% in Colorado's 4th Congressional District.

In 2008 the Reform Party nominated Ted Weill of Mississippi as their Presidential nominee. However, the party did not announce the nomination until October, so Weill only appeared on the ballot in his home state - earning just 470 votes.

On the Issues:

The Reform Party has always held to a series of issues regarding taxes and trade. While they do not have a real platform on their website, they do have a Mission Statement and a "Core Mission".

Since the days of Ross Perot, the Reform Party has always stood for a few key positions:

  • A Balanced Budget Amendment
  • Campaign finance reform that includes banning PACs
  • Enforcing immigration laws
  • Opposition to Free Trade deals (particularly NAFTA and CAFTA) and withdrawal from the WTO
  • Term limits for Members of Congress
  • Abolition of the Electoral College

The Reform Party does welcome members of all positions on Social Issues, which has led to a large number of moderates joining the party. Because of Pat Buchanan's staunch social conservativism, his candidacy led to much of the bitterness within the party.

Final Thoughts:

The Reform Party certainly had its moment in history. However, it was from the start a party built around the ideology of one specific man - Ross Perot. A serious political party in the United States cannot revolve around the specific policy beliefs of one candidate - especially one that has been out of the scene for over a decade.

Beyond that basic concept, however, the Reform Party has too many structural and organizational problems. The constant inter-party rifts have distracted them from accomplishing any victories like Ventura's. As these tensions continue, we can expect the Reform Party to spiral into obscurity.

Coming Tomorrow - our Conclusion

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 9 - American Nazis

Like many extremist political movements in the United States, the American Nazi movement has several splinters and factions within itself. Among these groups are the American Nazi Party, the National Socialist Movement, and the National Socialist American Labor Party.

It should be no surprise that these parties are extremely racist, anti-Semitic, and quite delusional. You can fully expect to be offended by some of their positions and histories. But do expect to learn a lot of things you would not otherwise imagine.

The American Nazi Party

Technically, the American Nazi Party is a political-education organization based on the ideals of National Socialism. It was formed by George Lincoln Rockwell in the late 1950s and led the group until his assassination by a disgruntled member in 1967.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s the American Nazi Party earned notoriety for rallies and demonstrations against the civil rights movement and what they perceived as Jewish control of the government and media. Such demonstrations accumulated until 1979 when five black protesters were shot by a crowd of Nazis and Klansmen in Greensboro, NC.

In recent years the American Nazi Party - like many White Supremacist organizations - have distanced themselves from overt racism, instead supporting segregation as a means of racial tranquility. While they now support the idea of racial equality, they remain very anti-Semitic and Eurocentric - believing that White America needs to be defended.

The party's chairman, Rocky Suhayda endorsed Barack Obama's candidacy for President arguing "any time that a prominent person embraces their racial heritage in a positive manner, it's good for all racially minded folks."

National Socialist Movement

The National Socialist Movement was founded by Robert Brannen - a supporter of the American Nazi Party under Rockwell - in 1974. They claim to be "America's Nazi Party", "the largest Nazi Party operating in the United States", and "the political party for every patriotic American."

Their platform is summed up in the "25 Points of American National Socialism." Among their proposals:

  • All non-White immigration must be prevented
  • Nationalizing all corporations
  • A flat income tax
  • Prohibiting abortion and euthanasia, except in cases of rape, incest, race-mixing, or mental retardation
  • That no non-American newspapers should appear without the express permission of the State, and no non-Whites should participate or influence American newspapers

They also throw in some normal positions:

  • Ensure the environmental integrity of the nation is preserved by setting aside land for national wildlife reserves, cleaning our water, and regulating pollution
  • Creation of a livable wage
  • Supporting physical education

The National Socialist American Labor Party

The NSALP is probably the closest of these three organizations to being a political party. They have a platform, state affiliates, hold conventions (or a "Party Congress") and supposedly run candidates.

They claim not to be a hate group, "White Power militia type entity", or neo-Nazis, but rather a political party based on the theories of National Socialism.

Among their recent advocacy campaigns, they have attempted to call Barack Obama's nationality into question, as well as a letter-writing campaign to Defense Secretary Bob Gates to not ban racially-minded individuals from the military, arguing that Zionists have done far more damage to the United States than they have.

Among their platform positions, they call for:

  • Ending U.S. reliance on foreign credit
  • Massive public works programs
  • Protecting family farms
  • Environmental protection through alternative energy
  • Protecting social security
  • Making college more affordable
  • Compulsory military service
  • Ending abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or risking the mother's health
  • Ending relations with Israel

Final Thoughts

These Nazi organizations are more of a liability in terms of public safety (particularly to minorities) than they are towards American politics. The simple reason is that National Socialism is probably by far the most unpopular political movement in the United States.

We do not expect any American Nazi party to gain any significant influence or have any meaningful impact on American governance. But National Socialism is a real movement in the United States nonetheless, and it only seems right to include them in our discussion of America's third parties.

Coming Saturday - the Reform Party

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Filling the Senate Vacancies

With Barack Obama's rise to the White House, several key Senate seats are open across the country as the President-Elect chooses his cabinet.

In Delaware, the Governor has already found a replacement for Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, the Senior Senator. It is Biden's own Chief of Staff, Ted Kaufman. The 69-year-old politico is expected, however, to be nothing more than a place holder for the seat.

By Delaware law, the Governor's appointed replacement can only serve until a Special Election in 2010. By that time, the future VP's son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden will have returned from service in Iraq.

In New York, the seat currently held by Sen. Hillary Clinton is up for grabs as the junior Senator is expected to be confirmed as the next Secretary of State. Although the decision is ultimately Governor Paterson's, everyone knows who the #1 Contender is - Caroline Kennedy.

The only other politician on the short list at this point is NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo - son of the former Governor Mario Cuomo. He has not said whether or not he is interested.

In Colorado, Sen. Ken Salazar's seat is suddenly up for grabs as the Democratic politician prepares for confirmation as Secretary of the Interior. There are several names on the short list including the Senator's brother, Rep. John Salazar, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Earl Perlmutter, State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, and Denver Superintendent Michael Bennet.

In Illinois, Barack Obama's seat has been the most controversial following allegations that Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was considered a front runner until revelations arose that he was "Candidate 5" in the scandal.

However, new revelations that Jackson was a government informant for the Blagojevich investigation are likely to put him back in the race. It is still unclear whether or not there will be a Special Election to decide Obama's successor.

What Is Significant About These Vacancies

There are two important facts to note about the current vacancies and the short lists. First is that Obama was specifically choosing Senators from states with Democratic Governors and (typically) where the Governor makes an appointment. This ensures that no new Republican opposition will come up in the Senate during the incoming President's first two years.

The second significant fact is that many politicians on the short list are from famous political families. Beau Biden might very well take his father's seat in Delaware. Caroline Kennedy (the daughter of JFK) is expected to take her uncle's seat in New York, which is currently held by the next Secretary of State and wife of a former President. John Salazar might be appointed to his brother's Senate seat in Colorado, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson - a famous civil rights leader and former Democratic Presidential candidate - may see his son become the sixth black Senator in American history.

Charles Mahtesian of Politico points out how the Democrats are embracing dynasty politics in an article today.

All told, it's entirely possible that the Senate will be comprised of nearly a dozen congressional offspring by the end of Obama's first term as president.

"It's a very interesting American phenomenon, even though there is a line in the Constitution that says no title of nobility may be granted by the United States," says Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution and the author of America's Political Dynasties. "Given where we started, it's interesting that this has developed."

While the electoral success rate of name recognition may be the obvious reason for this trend, Bob Edgar - president of Common Cause and a former Pennsylvania Congressman - says "There are three issues behind this trend. Money is issue number one, money is issue number two and money is issue number three."

After the scrutiny that current President Bush received for taking the role of his father, and the rejection of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign this year, the dynasty trend may be thin ice the Democrats walk on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Which Americans Support / Oppose the Bailout?

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the majority of Americans opposed the recent automaker bailout proposal. 55% of those polled opposed the plan while 42% supported it. The latest version of the automaker bailout - which would provide $14 billion of relief - is much more popular than the original $34 billion request.

Poll analysts say the reason the majority opposes the bailout is the perception that the Big 3 are responsible for their own dilemma, rather than the failing economy. 75% of Americans blame Detroit over the financial crisis.

Perhaps more significantly, 60% of those polled said it would "make no difference" or "would be good for the economy" if the American automakers filed for bankruptcy.

Where Is There Support?

The poll also charted the partisan differences in opinion regarding the bailout. 52% of Democrats support the bailout - up 10% from Detroit's original proposal. While 72% of them blame the business strategy the automakers took for their problems, 42% said that the economy would be hurt if the Big 3 failed.

The poll also found regional differences. While the South and West were generally opposed to the bailout, Americans in the Northeast and Midwest - where the manufacturing operations are more heavily based - were split evenly on the idea.

In fact, Midwest Democrats support the bailout by 56%, and Northeast Democrats support it with 61%.

Where Is There Opposition?

Independents continue to oppose the plan at previous margins with about 57% while 41% support it. But GOP opposition has grown stronger. 69% of Republicans now say they oppose the bailout - up 12% from the original proposal by Detroit executives. More than half of these conservatives "strongly oppose" the plan.

Meanwhile, Americans in the South and West oppose the bailout by roughly 60%.

Most surprisingly, union households only supported the bailout 44% to 42% - although those union workers and families were typically "very supportive" when they were supportive.

Can It Still Pass In Congress?

While the anxiety politicians might feel about Detroit collapsing is likely to grow, it would be a great mistake for Senators to now switch their vote. Any explanation would be softly heard by their constituents. Meanwhile, many Democrats recently elected in conservative districts - particularly in the South and West - will be unlikely to show any support in the New Year.

It is more likely that President Bush will try to make loans to the Big 3 with the $700 billion already allocated to the financial industry to loosen credit. When the new proposal comes to Congress, Republicans will likely demand that the cash-strapped automakers declare bankruptcy before the government can give them loans originally intended for the financial market.

Time will only tell - but time is running out. GM claims they will be completely out of resources by the end of the month. But perhaps bankruptcy will start to change opinion polls.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 8 - the Boston Tea Party

No, we're not grossly confused about the Boston Tea Party of the history textbooks - the pre-Revolution act of civil disobedience in the Boston harbor - the Boston Tea Party we're examining today is a real American political party.

Founded in 2006 by displeased Libertarian Party members, the Boston Tea Party is a party of libertarian ideology. They split from the mother party over disagreements about the party platform - namely the deletion of a large number of specific policy points - at the Oregon convention in 2006.

The Party's slogan - as read on their website - is "Time to Party Like it's 1773!"

Members: 746

Members Holding Office: At least 2 (both local and non-partisan)


Following the annual Libertarian Party convention in Portland in 2006, several members, led by Thomas Knapp, left to found the Boston Tea Party.

By October of 2008, the party had grown to about 500 members with 12 state affiliates. At their national convention they nominated Charles Jay (picture below) as their first Presidential candidate. Jay went on to receive 2,346 votes nationally, appearing on three state ballots and earning approved write-in status in ten other states. They also won two local elections for the November 4 election.

The party saw dramatic growth after the Libertarian Party nominated former Republican Congressman Bob Barr as their Presidential candidate. Many Libertarians felt Barr was an inappropriate selection due to his past conservative stance on social issues.

The Boston Tea Party has practiced "cross-nominating" for elections, in which the party endorses candidates from other parties (often the Libertarian Party) when it does not have one of its own members running for the seat.

On the Issues:

Overall, the Boston Tea Party is almost indistinguishable from the Libertarian Party in terms of ideology. Their platform is very simple, but is supplemented with an annual program and several party resolutions.

According to the platform, "The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose."

Among their more unique policy positions, they advocate an audit of the Federal Reserve and immediate withdrawal of forces from almost all military bases overseas. They are also especially concerned about the country transforming into a police state.

Final Thoughts

The Boston Tea Party has managed to be somewhat successful in the past two years, but is unlikely to make any more of an impact in the future. It is more likely that the Libertarian Party will try to correct the splinter and bring this faction back into their organization.

Whether the Libertarian Party succeeds in doing so, nonetheless, will probably be irrelevant to how little impact the Boston Tea Party can be expected to make. Overall, it seems they will be little more than a footnote on the Libertarian movement.

Coming Thursday - American Nazis.