When Pat Buchanan showed up to tout his new book on Tim Russert’s CNBC show, Russert asked about his recent lunch date with Lenora Fulani, former presidential candidate of the New Alliance Party. Russert described her as “a black-nationalist Marxist.” Buchanan narrowed his eyes. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Lenora Fulani,” he began.
Buchanan’s comic timing accomplished the deadpan demolition of a redbaiting reporter whose knowledge of Fulani was limited. But Buchanan’s emerging joint venture with Fulani and her guru, Fred Newman, could have a major impact on the 2000 presidential race. And Marxism has nothing to do with it. Should Buchanan make the leap into third-party politics, the Fulani faction, a psychotherapy-and-politics sect now a power center in the Reform Party, would provide a foundation for his nomination bid. But Fulani–whose past allegiances have boxed the compass from Jew-baiting Louis Farrakhan to Abe Hirschfeld, the Jewish New York real estate developer and former New York Post owner now on trial for hiring a hit man to kill his former business partner–may gain more than Buchanan from the deal. Already, Fulani has found media credibility as the ostensible left-winger in the Reform movement. Recently Fulani has framed Buchanan as “a mighty powerful spokesperson for issues of political reform” whose appeal is “beyond ideology–beyond issues of left, center and right.”
There are pragmatic reasons for this strange new alliance. Buchanan would like Fulani’s support; her Reform Party faction was strong enough to secure her 45 percent of the delegate vote in the party’s recent election for vice chair. But it isn’t just a case of mutual opportunism. The Buchanan-Fulani partnership exposes a dangerously corrupt corner of a third party founded on the promise of cleaning up US politics. It also reveals some of the ideological contours of Buchanan’s campaign, which should alarm those progressives who may have been wondering whether Buchanan, despite his right-wing social agenda, could emerge as an attractive populist challenger to corporate globalization.
The name Lenora Fulani has only the faintest resonance today. But in 1988 and 1992, Fulani gained minor celebrity running for President on the New Alliance Party line. Her re-emergence at Pat Buchanan’s lunch table calls for a quick refresher course on one of the longest-touring snake-oil shows in American politics.
What is now the Fulani faction within the Reform Party began life in the early seventies on New York’s Upper West Side as one of the many political sects active in the final days of the New Left. Fred Newman, a philosophy PhD, came up with the idea of bridging quasi-Marxist politics and encounter psychotherapy. Newman and a small cluster of his followers established an experimental therapy practice based on the idea of curing psychic ills through political engagement–engagement directed by Newman that involved recruiting clients and their checkbooks for the Newmanites’ own electoral campaigns and other enterprises, and intimidating and harassing critics.
Newman has an unusual gift for seducing hot-button political leaders hungry for disciplined supporters. In the seventies the Newmanites briefly allied themselves with Marxist-turned-neofascist Lyndon LaRouche, then shifted to the more fertile ground of electoral politics, as well as to alliances with Farrakhan and nationalists of various persuasions. By the eighties Newman’s small but intensely motivated cadre–including, eventually, Fulani–had attached themselves and their morphing New Alliance Party to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and various elected officials, most of whom eventually denounced the Newmanites as opportunistic manipulators. The NAP fielded three national campaigns for President, with Fulani as the candidate in 1988 and 1992, when she qualified for more than $2 million in federal matching funds. In 1992 the party simultaneously provided foot soldiers for Larry Agran, mayor of Irvine, California, running in the Democratic presidential primary.