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The Goode Fight
GOP efforts to suppress the Constitution Party have a postwar German parallel.
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Lately I’ve been gathering information that has made me dislike the GOP more than ever. The Constitution Party (CP), which is a small-government, avowedly pro-Christian, and immigration restrictionist party that came into existence in 1992, is being kept off the ballot in the presidential election in many states thanks to costly Republican efforts. Republican operatives have lavished tens of millions of dollars challenging petitions that the CP and its candidates have submitted in various states. Indeed, Republicans have engaged in all sorts of nasty tricks to prevent a challenge to their candidates from the organized right.

What has typically happened, as occurred in my state of Pennsylvania, is that GOP lawyers have mounted complicated challenges to every name that appears on CP ballot petitions. The required number of names has been raised as high as 20,000 to scare away threats to our eternalized two-party American-style constitutional democracy. Under an able leader from Lancaster, Jim Clymer (who is also the national party’s vice-presidential candidate), the Pennsylvania CP raised over 35,000 signatures, in defiance of our media- and GOP-approved way of life. But since GOP lawyers are challenging most of the names on the submitted petitions, it’s unlikely the CP will be on the ballot this fall in Pennsylvania. Through persistent hard work and fundraising, however, the CP has gotten on the ballot in 21 other states, most recently Virginia.

Although Clymer, a distinguished local lawyer, has tried to deal with the challenges to the best of his ability, the cost of staying in the fight has become for his cash-strapped state party truly astronomical. When asked to raise another $100,000 to go on battling GOP obstructionists, Jim threw in the towel. Because of GOP muscle, which is every bit as despicably applied as that of the Democrats’ public-sector unions, the CP will see its prospective votes in Pennsylvania this November diminish to a mere trickle.

I am fully aware of the arguments that local GOP flacks are pulling out on behalf of their party’s Stalinist tactics. It is apparently necessary for all non-leftists to get behind Romney, so that we can oust from office the Evil One, who is denounced daily in the neocon-GOP media. Any other party on the right, Republicans are made to believe, is in league with Bam and should be viewed as an instrument designed to get a leftist president reelected. But (alas) the socially traditional and foreign-war-averse right has absolutely no place to go in this election, unless it can vote for a suitable third party. Neither Romney nor Obama stands for this option. If the GOP presidential candidate represents any right, it is only because media noisemakers tell us he does.

There is nothing Romney has said that would suggest he’s significantly different from Obama on social issues, and there’s plenty to suggest he’d be a lot worse in dealing with our “antidemocratic” enemies worldwide. Do we really want to see the neocons put back in charge of American foreign policy, with a candidate who is offering at best an extension of W’s presidency? These are the points that CP presidential candidate Virgil Goode and his running mate Jim Clymer have been making. And though Goode as a congressman from Virginia voted for the Patriot Act and W’s other war measures, he seems to have developed more gravitas in the intervening time. To Goode’s credit, I haven’t noticed John Bolton or Robert Kagan turning up in his retinue, which can’t be said for Romney.

There are two other relevant observations: One, in 2000 the Democrats allowed Ralph Nader to run as a third-party presidential candidate, although from the outset it seemed this earnest challenger would take more votes from the Democrats’ socialist left than from the GOP’s anti-immigrationist right. (Nader in 2000 combined economic socialism with vaguely rightist populist sounds.) We now know this third party candidate cost Gore the race by taking enough votes from Floridians to throw their state to W.

But that’s how the Dems, not the GOP, acted back then. I’ve no doubt the GOP, faced by the same problem, would have ruthlessly and happily crushed a third-party challenge. Unlike the Dems, who have kooky intellectuals to keep under control, Republicans believe what they’re told. If they’re repeatedly informed that Romney is a right-winger because he believes in “American exceptionalism” and will put the U.S. armed forces at the disposal of Benjamin Netanyahu, why shouldn’t Republicans believe this? After all, who’s to say it’s not true, except for a Muslim Democrat?

Two, the Republicans look as if they’re taking their program for eliminating parliamentary opposition on the right from the German Christian Democrats after World War II. Set up as a centrist party by the occupational powers, one intended to appeal to the non-Nazi right without becoming itself a right-wing party, the Christian Democrats and their Christian Social allies in Bavaria worked tirelessly to outlaw their opposition. And the oppositions rarely if ever included real right-wing revolutionaries. The party in power mounted court cases as threats to German democracy against such implausible targets as Bavarian regionalists and on one occasion the old Catholic Center Party, of which the German chancellor had once been a leading member but which Chancellor Adenauer wanted to collapse into the postwar Christian Democrats.

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These eliminationist tactics were successful up to a point. They helped provide the Christian Democrats with a safe constituency in the center (which was really the Catholic majority of the eliminated Center Party), but there was a high cost that came with this provisional success. The German left, which has been in power since the 1970s, although sometimes with Christian Democratic window dressing, has continued and accelerated the practice of eliminating through the courts any pesky opposition on the right. In Germany “right-wing extremism” starts with those who question the latest media-approved multicultural agenda, and those parties that represent such resistance soon find themselves dragged through courts and under investigation. This all began under the opportunistic leadership of the postwar Christian Democrats, who seem to have foreshadowed our present-day GOP.

What Republicans have done to the CP will not unite the right. It is a preparatory action to moving our politics further to the left, which is exactly what happened in Germany. But there are short- and middle-term benefits from this game. The center obtains a somewhat bigger share of the electoral pie by making the right disappear as a party factor. But that doesn’t change the overall situation, in which the center does the work of the left by getting rid of the right. On the other hand, that may be all the GOP really wants, a bit more time to make careers and to hand out patronage to its drudges.

Paul Gottfried is the author, most recently, of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Republicans 
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  1. So is there any solution to this constitutional problem? If you ban parties based on substance, then you risk the situation described here, in Germany today. If you don’t, then you risk the Weimar situation, where anti-parliamentary parties, the Nazis and the Communists, could paralyze the government. The current constitution follows Carl Schmitt, Legality and Legitimacy, in allowing parties to be banned; I think it was directly influenced by that book or at least by his writings on that subject. How should the constitution be changed, if at all?

  2. To address Aaron–no, right-wing parties like the Constitution Party are not banned in the US. They may have a hard time getting recognized–several states have a significant barrier to party recognition–but no bans.

    The Democrats have, in the past, used various strategies to frustrate Ralph Nader–neither party seems to look kindly to third parties attacking them from the extremes.

  3. Nick K. says:

    I think I may just become a dues-paying member of The Constitution Party today.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Sir, while up to now, I never had reason to question the factual basis of your comments, this time your description is not consistent with actual facts in Germany.

    We had, in Germany, a coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats from ’67 ’til 69, then Liberals and Social Democrats up to 82, then Christian Democrats and Liberals up to ’99, then Social Democrats with various Partners until ’05, and Christion Democrats and Liberals ever since. This is not the windowdressing you describe.

    Obviously, coming from a country, where the party of the rich has two right wings, one might mistake the Christian Democrats for leftists – but this is the first time I see such an interpretation in your writing.

    The only political parties ever forbidden were some right-wing splinter groups and the original Communists.
    There was an effort to forbid the National Democrats which failed, as evidence was presented that half of their members were secret police investigating the other half (I exaggerate, but only slightly)

    We had the green party founded in the seventies and eighties which was correctly granted access to the ballot – none of those fascinating shenanigans one hears from over the ocean – we now have the Pirate Party which is successfully competing, having only itself to fear, we have in Bavaria, rather to the right, the Freie Wähler who for 50 years only competed on a local level, but now try to get into parliament and there are no stupid games about ballot access even if the ruling (right wing) Christian Socialists are not above some muscle play … thus: you do not describe the situation in Germany.

  5. Jack Ross says:

    In 2004 the Democrats did do everything in their power to keep Nader off the ballot in an absolutely ruthless and arbitrary manner. If the effort to keep Goode off the ballot is in some ways comparable, the Constitution Party was already precipitously declining, and whether or not he’s actually a Republican plant Goode’s candidacy has always borne some disturbing similarities to Bob Barr four years ago.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Virgil has got my vote and those of quite a few people I know. We hope to cost Romney the Old Dominion this November.

    If nothing else, for decent people who are sick of empire Virgil Goode has the most promising name of any presidential candidate in decades.

  7. I was talking about Germany, not the US; Gottfried was talking about both. I wasn’t clear about that, sorry.

    The obvious difference between the two is that Germany, with its Continental system of parliament, has to worry about anti-parliamentary parties; the US, with its two party, winner-take-all system, does not. In the US this is just a question of the usual political tricks; in Germany it’s a fundamental constitutional question, which I think is unsolvable.

  8. As someone wwho lost family members to Nazi tyranny and who has written widely on Carl Schmitt, I am profoundly offended by the comparison drawn between the Nazis and the Constitution Party. There is no reasonable comparison to be made between a pack of mass muderers and old-fashioned American constitutionalists. As for the Germans, they’ll never get liberal constitutional government right until they stop using their antifascist ideology to turn their country into a leftist PC dictatorship. And the trouble is their nominally center-right party is every bit as much responsible for this situation as the more hysterically antifascist left. Schmitt was right to urge Hindenburg to ban the Nazi Party, before it wrecked Germany. What has been done in Germany to the opposition to the party oligrachy and in the US to the CP is something entirely different from the attempt to keep Hitler from power. It is a bullying tactic engaged in by nembers of the ruling class in what pretends to be a model democracy.

  9. Downsize DC says: • Website

    The GOP has been doing this to the Libertarian Party since the LP’s inception. Nader was a tougher one to challenge because of his celebrity status, but the Democrats have generally treated the Greens the same way.

  10. “The German left, which has been in power since the 1970s, although sometimes with Christian Democratic window dressing”

    Seems exaggerated to me – Helmut Kohl may have been disastrous in some ways (he bears a lot of responsibility for the current Euro mess), but I just don’t see how he could be called left-wing in any meaningful sense. It’s true that Angela Merkel has in recent years tried to “modernize” the CDU (similar in some ways to David Cameron and the Tories in Britain) and as a result the CDU today is hardly Christian Democrat, conservative or right-wing in any meaningful sense. But it’s hardly consistently left-wing either, at least not how I understand the term.
    I’d also have to say the part about banning oppostion parties is exaggerated (though it’s true that official discourse about topics like immigration is getting increasingly politically correct in the US/British style). After all, even the NPD (which is a genuine Nazi party and even has links to violent Nazi gangs) hasn’t been outlawed yet (though there’s much talk among politicians about this).

  11. Thanks to Dr. Gottfried and TAC for covering this story. The issue in Pennsylvania is that if the petitions are challenged and the challenge is successful, the third party has to pay court costs. It was this potentiality that caused the CP to withdraw their petitions.

    The system is absurd. That two parties have essentially automatic ballot status and that other parties have to work for it (some states significantly harder than others) should strike every fair minded person as wrong. Defenders of this system can’t even get their stories straight. If our winner-take-all system lends itself to a two party system, which it does, then what do the two centrist parties have to fear?

  12. I’m aware that you’ve written widely on Carl Schmitt. I first heard of him from an article you wrote at VDARE.com, probably back in the 1990s, for which I thank you. By first introducing me to his work, you’ve actually influenced my political thinking pretty strongly.

    I didn’t mean to compare the Constitution Party to the German Nazis and Communists. That would have been ridiculous. The only comparison – actually, it was a contrast – I made between Germany and the US was in their constitutions. Continental-style parliamentary mass democracies like Germany have a real constitutional dilemma. I’m taking it as given that the current suppression of German parties on the right is a bad thing: otherwise no dilemma would be apparent.

    In the US, in contrast, this is no constitutional dilemma at all, and there wouldn’t be even if instead of the Constitution Party, it were the CPUSA or the American Nazi Party. I’m talking about the German and US constitutions (primarily about the former), not about specific parties.

    Schmitt’s proposed solution in Legality and Legitimacy seemed surprisingly naive. As I remember from reading it years ago, the solution was to concentrate sovereign power in the office of the Reichspraesident and trust that he’ll use it wisely and fairly – but not sparingly! – and not abuse it. Basically, that he’ll pose referendums in fairness and good faith. That might have been the least bad option when Schmitt was writing in late 1932, but it doesn’t seem like a satisfactory general solution. If you give the state the power to ban political parties, there’s an obvious risk that that power itself will be captured by parties. On the other hand, the “open playing field” can lead to disaster. So there’s a dilemma, which I don’t think Schmitt seriously acknowledged.

  13. The United States also has a Constitutional dilemma, in that we are in thrall to two political parties that are functional equivalents to each other, but who keep the populace engaged in their games by disputing issues which are of no true significance to them. It is the third party movements, on right and left, and the Ron Paul phenomenon in the Republican Party, which threaten to break the duopoly.

    But those who framed our Constitution did not contemplate a two party system of government. They reviled, as does the Bible, “party spirit”. Originally, the two “parties” were those who approved the adoption of the new Constitution and those who opposed it and wished to minimize the use of the powers granted under it. Congress would be the political body, with two houses, one representing the competing interest of the member States, and the other representing the competing interests of the nation’s disparate population. The Courts were placed beyond the realm of politics by making the appointment of judges subject to the concurrence of two independent departments – the President and the Senate. But how would the President be selected. He could not be the appointee of the houses of Congress. Having a four year term, he would be eternally beholden to them and would reflect the inconstancy of the political winds with which they blow. But neither could he be directly elected by the people, for from such popular mandates are dictators created. So the solution was the Electoral College. Each state would select a set of electors, by a means of the state’s choosing, men who held no other public office, who would meet in their State capitol to cast their votes for two men to serve as President of the United States. The tallies of the electors in the individual states would be carried to the nation’s Capitol, and there opened and counted. If any name achieved a majority of number of electors casting ballots, that person would be elected President. Whoever was second, if he did not also receive a majority, would be elected Vice-President, to preside over the Senate and step into the office of President if it became vacant.

    But the best laid plans of men soon went astray. What was intended to be a process by which men above politics would choose one man, also about politics, to be our President, and another, following closely behind, to be Vice-President, was soon corrupted, so that by 1800 the two “parties” had organized to gain the selection of electors, and through them, of the President. But they made one miscalculation. By organizing their electors, throughout the states, to cast their ballots for the same two men, they succeeded in creating a tie for first place when the results were totaled, thereby leaving it to the houses of Congress to break the tie and select both Constitutional officers. Thereafter the Twelfth Amendment was adopted to formalize the process of having electors cast separate ballots for President and Vice-President, but by then the process of choosing electors, and through them the President and Vice-President had been subjected to the same partisan process by which Members of Congress were chosen. Presidents, instead of the executors of the Congressional will, were turned into the leaders of their parties, and through them, their members in Congress. This was, and remains, a breach of the separation of powers designed by the Constitution’s framers, and the result, for at least the past thirty years, is that the United States has King at least as powerful as that of any monarch in the least enlightened of constitutional monarchies.

    How might we restore the founders’ Constitutional intent. No further amendment of the Constitution is required. The states retain the power originally granted to them to remove the selection of Presidential electors from the political process. They could be chosen, as they were by many states at our nation’s beginnings, by the state legislatures, but as these bodies area also bound by the Democrat-Republican duopoly, that would not be sufficient. Better would be to have electors chosen by popular election, but in their own names, and not as surrogates for any Presidential candidate. The people would have the opportunity to choose electors whom they know and trust for the achievements outside the world of politics and government, but whose judgment they might trust to find and elect those persons, themselves unbeholden to any in the world of partisan politics, to serve as President and Vice-President, not to lead the country as a monarch, dictator or potentate, but as true executives, whose only purpose is to pursue and implement, at home and abroad, the policies set by Congress. To to do this, we must give up the illusion, long since discredited, that Presidents must be political creatures, always recreating themselves to respond to the vox populi, a vox which they and their parties are themselves continually re-creating.

  14. Brutus says: • Website

    The GOP pulled that kind of junk at the caucuses against Ron Paul people, only it was more blatant. They are totally worthless. A good article by Gottfried and I hope that people wake up and smell the stench coming from both of the major parties.

  15. scott says:

    When the CDU and SPD briefly ruled together in the 60s, they considered switching to a 2 party system. The SPD decided against it.

    A right-wing populist party in the mold of Strache’s FPO would do ok in Germany with the right leadership…but there’s a lot of reasons for the powers that be to prevent that. The CDU/CSU benefits from owning the right-wing vote…with only the ostracized white-supremacist NDP (only 1-2% of the vote) to their right. The liberal and leftist parties are content to keep the right wing contained within the CDU.

    Since the Cold War is long gone….the nature of parliamentary politics suggests the CDU will splinter and a right-wing minor party will emerge. The EU and NATO are such big issues that I’m surprised it hasn’t already happened.

    There was more justification for Adenauer suppressing/annexing nationalist parties in 1950s Germany then for suppressing law-abiding organizations like the Green or Constitution parties in the contemporary USA. Adenauer was also very hard on the Communists who went from being a significant political force to being banned within a few years. Pressure from NATO was undoubtedly a factor.

  16. Nathan says:

    Why no mention of the Libertarian Party? Gary Johnson’s position on abortion isn’t great (ban it at viability) but arguably no worse than BHO and where exactly does MR stand? (What day is it?) His record in New Mexico was outstanding and he’s not remotely neocon. And unlike Ryan, he actually proposes a budget that cuts things now, including getting rid of agencies NOW.

    And he will be on the ballot in a number of states.

    Mr. Goode sounds okay but by their actions you know them. If he voted for all those ghastly Bush things like the misnamed Patriot act (similar to Ryan voting for Plan D) you judge people on actions not words. When the country needed people like Goode and Ryan to stand tall during the Bush years, did they? No. So why now should we listen to them? Actions folks, and actions alone are all that matter.

  17. Nathan, The Libertarian Party has been around for a long time. I voted Libertarian clear back in the 70’s.
    If they were ever going to catch on, it would have been then because it was then that they were most popular.
    I believe that they haven’t caught fire with the American people because of the residual capital of our Christian heritage, prevents such a thing from happening.
    To put it another way: The American people, because of our heritage, instinctively know that its wrong to try to wed constitutional principles with hedonism. You may not agree, but, every time I push someone on this issue, eventually, it comes down to this reason although not everyone queried articulates it such.
    Your experiences may be different.

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