Buchanan, Fulani, Perot, & the Reform Party

The Repressive Side of Right Wing Populism

What can possibly explain the Reform Party and the discussions about recruiting Pat Buchanan, that include possible support from H. Ross Perot, and Lenora Fulani?

We think the rhetoric of right wing populism is attractive to some forces on the left who side with business nationalists and isolationists because of joint opposition to global “free trade” treaties that undeniably benefit international corporate elites at the expense of working people.

Liberals and progressives are being asked to ignore the historic prejudice behind right wing populism. Consider the statement of John Talbott, the Reform Party spokesperson in New Hampshire:

“If you close your eyes, it is difficult to hear much of a difference between Ralph Nader on the left and Pat Buchanan on the right when they talk about corruption in government, the excesses of corporate welfare, the devastating effect of free international trade on the American worker and a desire to clean big money and special-interests out of Washington. There’s a reason for this; 91 percent of the American people consider themselves middle class or working class. The time is now for a new political party that is neither right nor left, neither conservative nor liberal, but created and built to represent the hard-working average American in reforming our government.””If we all pull together, put our prejudices behind us, and ignore traditional labeling such as liberal or conservative, we can join together to fight the battle of our lives against the collaboration of big business and big government, break the two-party monopoly, and return control of our government to the true owners of this country – the American people.”

The call to put prejudice behind us is ironic indeed in this statement which really is asking people to close their eyes to the prejudice of Pat Buchanan with his history of racism, sexism, homophobia and antisemitism.

Liberals and progressives who join in coalitions with right wing populists see the anti-corporate and anti-government arguments. What they don’t see (or choose to ignore) is the flip side of what is called the “producerist” narrative of right wing populism. The producerist narrative sees a hard-working productive middle class and working class being squeezed from above and below by social parasites. Historically, this has led to scapegoating and conspiracy theories of power.

The overall outcome of the producerist model of populism is a broad social and political movement sometimes called “Middle American Nationalism” or “The Radical Center” or “Middle American Radicals.” Whatever the label, this is a form of repressive populism with a producerist narrative.

The list of scapegoats seen as among the alleged elite parasites includes international bankers, Freemasons, Jews, globalists, liberal secular humanists, and government bureaucrats. The parasites below are stereotyped as lazy or sinful, draining the economic resources of the productive middle, or poisoning the culture with their sinful sexuality.

The so-called “lazy parasites” in the producerist narrative of right wing populism are frequently Blacks and other people of color, immigrants, and welfare recipients.

The so-called “sinful parasites” in the producerist narrative of right wing populism are frequently gays and lesbians, abortion providers, and feminists.

And the issue goes far beyond Buchanan and the Reform Party. As the size of the repressive populist sectors grow, politicians and activists within electoral reform movements try to recruit the populists toward participation within electoral political frameworks. As they seek votes, some politicians begin to use populist rhetoric and pander to the scapegoating. At the same time the Far Right seeks to pull right wing populists further toward bigoted ideological positions and aggressive insurgency or violence.

Some argue that globalization of the world’s economies on behalf of powerful corporate interests is the only issue that matters. But what about racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism? It is a political fact of life that many liberals and progressives find themselves on the same side of the struggle against corporatist globalization along with business nationalists and the followers of Pat Buchanan. But working on the same side of an issue is not the same as creating a coalition where we give assistance to the enemies of our friends.

Which of our allies on the left are we willing to toss overboard to keep the leaky lifeboat of populist anti-elitist politics afloat?