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Michele Swenson

Michele Swenson

Posted: October 19, 2010 03:10 PM

In our broken political system, candidates are propelled by 30-second sound bites funded by large sums of money from undisclosed corporate and special interests. Over 30 years there has been a concerted political right effort to subvert U.S. democracy and redistribute wealth to corporate and religious right allies. Democrats have been complicit in their too frequent allegiance to the corporate bottom line and willingness to short-circuit democratic process. U.S. politics has devolved into a diversion from, instead of engagement with, the issues - rather than a choice of the best of the best, our candidate choices too often range to the least. The only "choice" perceived by many is a vote for "the other" - whoever is not in power.

In light of party leaders' assertions of "raising up an army to take back the nation," it is an understatement to say that the American Constitution Party is merely a "vehicle" for Tom Tancredo's run for office, as he has supported many of their goals.

Howard Phillips' American Constitution Party was founded as the United States Taxpayers Party in 1992 as a platform for Christian Reconstructionist beliefs, to establish theocracy and rewrite civil law based on "biblical premises." Phillips' strategy was designed to rally "tax-payers against tax-users" ("taxpayers are tired of being enslaved to tax users"), and ultimately to demand elimination of federal "socialism" represented by federal taxes used to implement "anti-biblical policies." The "us-against-them" appeal of the taxation issue lies with its characterization as a moral mis-allocation of tax funds toward historically marginalized groups, away from Christian right/corporate interests. Rightists like Phillips target public education, health care, legal services for the poor, and all public programs, including Medicare and Social Security.

Phillips holds that "the message of Christian charity is fundamentally at odds with the concept of welfare rights." Ultraconservatives' "defund the left" campaign has resulted in a redirection of tax dollars to corporate and evangelical religious groups, and a shift of corporate donations from charitable giving toward the proliferation of conservative think tanks and interest groups.

A primary goal of the American Constitution Party is the election of a right-to-life president who will declare Roe vs. Wade unconstitutional as "a violation of states' rights." The advocacy of constitutional rights for fertilized eggs coincides with denial of women's 14th Amendment rights -- denounced by some as "reading feminism into the Constitution." Phillips himself has promoted the ideal of "one family, one vote," his euphemism for revoking women's right to vote. The AC Party calls for overturning every Constitutional amendment passed since 1913 - including the right of women to vote and the institution of the federal income tax, as well as halting all immigration, outlawing abortion in every case, withdrawing from the United Nations and legalizing all assault weapons.

Phillips and others have anticipated their road to Christian national hegemony would ultimately be precipitated by economic or social chaos. Indeed, Phillips predicted that U.S. economic distress will eventually trigger a right-wing Christian revolution and takeover of government, drawing parallels to Hitler's rise preceded by economic hard times. Said Phillips, "The death of the Weimar Republic, the opportunity for the National Socialists to come up in the '20s, was the result of the fact that the people were hurt economically."

Frederick Clarkson (Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, 1997) described Phillips' U.S. Taxpayers Party-turned-American Constitution Party as a bridge between religious right purists and traditional racists, uniting the Christian Reconstructionist movement and Operation Rescue with elements of David Duke's former Populist Party and the American Party of George Wallace.

The call for church-based anti-government white male supremacist militias was central to the 1994 Wisconsin state convention of the U.S. Taxpayers Party. "Reverend" Matt Trewhella, leader of Defenders of the Defenders, who provide aid to those who murder abortion providers, called for criminalization of homosexuality. He boasted that he had taught his infant son his trigger finger and urged all to purchase SKS rifles for each of their children for Christmas. At the time he was on the national board of the U.S. Taxpayer party, which by 1996 was a qualified party in 39 states.

Just as protesters on the eve of the Iraq war in 2003 were painted as "ungodly" and "unpatriotic," Tom Tancredo branded anti-war rallies "anti-America rallies." Tancredo has been blatantly racist, tracing most problems to "the immigration-driven crisis in traffic, sprawl, schools and jobs." He implied that those who elected President Obama were non-English speaking, even as he called for sending President Obama back to Kenya and called him the greatest threat to the United States.

Tancredo, who headed the regional office of the federal Department of Education during the Reagan administration, was an early signer of the Separation of School and State Alliance's pledge in the '90s calling for the elimination of the public school system. Tancredo has supported the privatization of Social Security, and lamented that Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade have "emasculated" us.

In a 1994 speech before the right-wing militia organization, Guardians of American Liberty, Tancredo declared: "[The conflict in our culture] is so very deep, and so very significant that it'll be played out really in one of two ways...either at the ballot box or in the streets. That is how basic the division is."

Tancredo's run is an effect of the broken two-party political system, prompting a wide variety of people to look at alternatives like third parties. The heavily corporate-funded Tea Party is just the most recent incarnation of the right-wing machine, as Republicans fall off the ideological edge. Too often, Democrats triangulate to the right, failing to provide a counterpoint to Republican efforts to overcome democracy by any means and to exploit problems precipitated on their watch in order to frighten the electorate.

Paul Craig Roberts, formerly of the Reagan administration, notes in Rule by the Rich that Democrats lost much of their traditional industrial/union base with the offshoring of jobs and so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA. Nor can they be an opposition party, as long as both Democrats and Republicans are dependent on corporate interest groups, the financial lobby and the military/security complex for campaign funding. Since the five Republican Supreme Court justices have granted corporations unlimited right to buy U.S. elections, Democrats and Republicans have been reduced to "pawns for plutocracy," as the middle class disintegrates and ever more wealth is shifted upward.

The only redemption for either major party at this point will be prompt action to level the political playing field in all elections by enacting public financing of campaigns, e.g., the Fair Elections Now Act, and a constitutional amendment reversing the notion of corporate "personhood." These are the first questions all candidates should be asked to address this election season.