Buchanan-Fulani: New Team?
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.
At the end of 1994, the Newmanites dissolved their New Alliance Party and began a long tango with Perot's Reform organization, first effectively dominating the breakaway Patriot Party and then merging it, more or less, with the Reform mainstream [see Micah L. Sifry, "From Perot to Fulani," May 30, 1994]. Fulani ran for lieutenant governor of New York in 1998 on the ticket headed by businessman Tom Golisano, and the Newmanites made themselves a major force in Golisano's Independence Party. The ticket also included multimillionaire developer Hirschfeld, then running for state comptroller (he also gave $22,000 to Fulani's campaign). All the while, the Newmanites built and maintained their "social therapy" practice, today operating in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta.
What could possibly attract the militant conservative Buchanan--Nixon speechwriter, Reagan communications director and on-the-right CNN host--to such an oddball crowd? On the most superficial level there is a two-word answer: ballot access. Over the past fifteen years, Fulani and the Newmanites have become the undisputed kings of third-party ballot lines, mastering the intricate and varied laws of all fifty states and repeatedly challenging punitive restrictions in court with the help of their core of perhaps 100 key supporters. This matters to Buchanan because the Reform Party is currently on the ballot in only twenty-one states; according to party rules any candidate hoping to qualify for the presidential nomination (and the $12.6 million in general-election financing that the nomination brings) must be on the way to winning ballot lines in the other twenty-nine states. It is a job cut out for the Newman-Fulani organization. In addition, Buchanan's principal padrone within the Reform Party leadership, 1996 vice presidential candidate Pat Choate, has forged a working relationship with the Fulani team--even opening his address to this year's Reform Party convention with fulsome praise of a Fred Newman play he had attended at the group's Castillo Cultural Center in New York.