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Weekly Opinion by Lindsey Eck

15 August 2000 DEFORMED PARTY

Next time, throw a rave instead

In the quadrennial Olympiad of American politics, the Reform Party has set a downhill speed record. Why, as the millennium began, the party was still reveling in the slam-dunk victory of Jesse Ventura as Governor of Minnesota on the Reform card, courting Lowell Weicker of Connecticut as a thinking-voters’ Presidential candidate, and hoping to shed its image as a creature of founder Ross Perot. Eventually, as Weicker failed to commit and as Reform’s vacuum of Presidential prospects became all too apparent, the party, it seemed, amounted to little more than the federal election funds it stood to receive. Call it $12.6 Million in Search of a Character.

Enter, from extreme stage right, the venerable Pat Buchanan, with a message of intolerance and isolationism that appeals to some 1% of the populace, but a seasoned national organization, to lay claim to the federal bullion despite having little in common with the Reform movement. Ventura, unable to back a credible candidate and finding nothing in common with Buchanan, quits the party.

Well, Pirandello would be proud of the absurd spectacle the Reform Party staged in last week’s nominating convention. At the end of a week of hijinks, it isn’t entirely clear whether Buchanan was duly nominated, considering a challenge from rival Reform leadership claiming the Buchanan ballots were somehow stuffed in violation of the party’s arcane mail-in system. Call it Mutual Assured Destruction. Sure, Pat may get the $12.6M before the election, or it may be tied up in pointless litigation. But, either way, the voters are certain to decide that a bunch of clowns (and I use the term advisedly) who have proven repeatedly they can’t conduct a national meeting shouldn’t be trusted to run the Executive Branch, either.

Granted that Buchanan is a fiery demagogue of scary predilections from denunciations of gay rights to sympathy for Serb “holy places” — let’s take a quick look at the Reform alternative, John Hagelin. A physics professor, and I could certainly go for a Ph.D. in our top office except that his institution is Maharishi International University in Iowa, a former hangout of the Beach Boys, and transcendental meditation is on Mr. Hagelin’s agenda. Now, I’m all for meditation, practice it myself, in fact, but I wouldn’t suggest the TM organization as a model for aspiring government officials such as, say, the President of the United States. I can see the headline now. HAGELIN: SCRAP MISSILE DEFENSE, FUND ASTRAL PROJECTION SYSTEM. Give me a stuffy old Harvard brain trust any day.

On ABC News Nightline, Hagelin spent most of the time arguing over legalities and offered only the following regarding the issues: “a broad-based platform of common sense reforms and preventative health care and renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, educational innovations, crime prevention policies, a sensible foreign policy that appeals to the vast majority of Americans. Whatever …” Yeah, whatever. But Hagelin already has his own party, the Natural Law Party, making one wonder why he needs the Reform nod. Oh, yeah, it’s about Presidents. Dead ones.

“Natural law” may sound like some extreme libertarian property-rights movement but the flavor of what Hagelin supports perhaps can be gleaned from his university’s Web page on Natural Law Seminars: “And since pure consciousness is also the Unified Field of all the Laws of Nature, this means students discover the principles of Natural Law that are common to all disciplines. They recognize how creating a poem involves the same creative process as creating a galaxy.” — Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

The Maharishi has found the Unified Field sought like the philosopher’s stone by physicists (like Hagelin) and it is us. I wonder if Hagelin’s version of Unified Field Theory is something he defends at international conferences, or in peer-reviewed journals. But then, scientific accuracy is hardly crucial in a U.S. Chief Executive; Quayle thought Mars had flowing water, and Reagan used astrology to plan his itinerary. I hope Hagelin is aware, though, that creating a poem (or naming a Poet Laureate) costs one heck of a lot less than creating a galaxy (or the latest version of Star Wars).

Over at the Natural Law Party’s slow-loading Web site, Hagelin offers the following vision for America: “As a quantum physicist, I offer a profound and fresh new foundation for governmental administration — one based upon the most modern and comprehensive scientific understanding of how Nature functions.” Great stuff, that. Does that mean Hagelin would allow evolution to be taught in schools? Or, perhaps, reincarnation? Where does he stand on national missile defense? (Judging from his faction’s Convention behavior, he might practice Mutual Assured Destruction.)

Hagelin goes on: “Unified quantum field theories have revealed the ultimate unity underlying all of life, and provide deep and practical insights into how to skillfully administer and harmonize society's diverse tendencies — with the same organizing intelligence displayed throughout Nature.” Sorry, but this doesn’t sound like the rational viewpoint of a scholarly physicist so much as the deliberately crackpot application of pseudoscience to political philosophy in the famous Sokal hoax.

Bearing in mind that Sokal, also a physicist, was deliberately writing complete dreck as a parody, compare Sokal’s verbiage to the Hagelin gems above:

… The discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities. These themes can be traced, despite some differences of emphasis, in Aronowitz's analysis of the cultural fabric that produced quantum mechanics; in Ross’ discussion of oppositional discourses in post-quantum science; in Irigaray’s and Hayles’ exegeses of gender encoding in fluid mechanics; and in Harding’s comprehensive critique of the gender ideology underlying the natural sciences in general and physics in particular.

Here my aim is to carry these deep analyses one step farther, by taking account of recent developments in quantum gravity: the emerging branch of physics in which Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general relativity are at once synthesized and superseded. In quantum gravity, as we shall see, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of prior science — among them, existence itself — become problematized and relativized. This conceptual revolution, I will argue, has profound implications for the content of a future postmodern and liberatory science.

[footnotes omitted]

Sadly, the main difference between the two quotes is that Sokal has a much better vocabulary, not that Hagelin’s supposedly serious platform makes any more sense. Let’s look at this another way. If Hagelin were applying for a $12.6 million research grant, would any sane committee give it to him based on such a vague proposal?

As odious as Buchanan may be, at least we have a good idea what policies he would adopt were he to govern. Hagelin’s platform leaves us clueless except he’s managed to hybridize New Age smarma with pseudoscience, giving rise to a vague patter that is almost content free, but packages the Maharishi physicist as smart. The battle between Buchanan and Hagelin forces may make for entertaining reality t.v. as compared with the major parties’ scripted conventions, but neither faction has engendered confidence in the party’s ability to govern or its access to enough leadership to put together a functioning Cabinet. Whatever faction gets hold of the federal booty this time around, it’s likely the party’s booty will get kicked off its federal support stool (owing to a likely less than 5% showing this fall).

Thus the Long Beach comic opera may turn out to be tragic for yet another Third (or Fourth) party in America. Which is a shame, because the voters express their dissatisfaction with the Democrats and Republicans over and over again. Yet the challengers seem intent on pushing their own counterproductive fringe ideas (such as a maniacal emphasis by the Greens on industrial hemp, cool, but just not a major organizing issue and perceived as a hypocritical step toward legalizing pot by many centrist voters). Worse, they lack the basic discipline required to be successful at governing this immense and complex nation. If the voters are sick of GOP attempts to overturn election results via impeachment and investigation, how will they react to Reform secessionists’ attempt to overturn primary results via investigation and litigation?

Perhaps for the next Reform Convention, if any, the party should hand out Ecstasy tablets to its delegates. Recent media reports have suggested the drug infuses its users with a spirit of peace and love for one another. Turn the whole thing into a rave, one-upping the GOP’s attempt at Soul Train in Philadelphia. They could hand out little red-white-and-blue pacifiers with BUCHANAN 2000 — or HAGELIN 2000 — or maybe just SUCK ME, GOP/DEMS. It would be much more dignified than the take-my-ball-and-go-home approach favored by the defectors in Long Beach last week. And, if they do turn it into a rave, I recommend “trance” rather than “dance” deejays. More conducive to Transcendental Meditation.

Meanwhile, out of all the Conventions being held over the past few weeks, the most organized and provocative seems to be the Shadow Conventions, where (despite being as much a part of the mainstream media blitz as the real conventions) Huffington and company seem to have achieved their goal of offering a forum for actual reformis proposals. Reform without a party.

I think we can write the obituary for the Reform Party, even if Buchanan gets his funds in time for the fall election and even if he polls above 5%. Anyone who has been paying attention to the tragicomedy in Long Beach has certainly written the party off as a hopeless, disorganized mess, the kind of thing that makes Democrats look good by comparison. If any good comes from their downhill run, perhaps it will serve as a lesson in how not to run a minor party.

Reform was in its heyday after winning the Minnesota governor’s race with Ventura. In Germany the Greens built support through local and parliamentary races. Why doesn’t Green or Reform take on some crackpot member of Congress like, say, my Congressman Ron Paul? Now there’s a seat you could oppose and at least gain publicity value, even if the attempt failed. Instead we have the spectacle of greed causing a party to split into factions, with inevitable disgust in the public and the press.

The party formerly known as United We Stand, America stands hopelessly divided. Perot’s offspring, chosen heir and prodigal Son of Dixie, fight over the inheritance. Audience enjoys a moment of comic relief between Philadelphia Story and L.A. Story. End of story.

It’s just that simple.


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