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Despite their parties' differences, representatives of third parties agree on one issue: the national polls predicting that only 50 per cent of eligible voters will employ their franchise this year shows that the two major parties do not represent the needs of the American people. Although few of them will go as far as the American Party's Massachusetts chairman, Edward Russell, who claims there is no difference whatsoever between the Republicans and Democrats--he says that Norman Thomas stopped running on the socialist party ticket after 20 years because he realized the major parties were going to make the country socialist anyway--they all say the two parties have lost touch with the voters, have lost their integrity and imagination, or have simply lost their minds.
And none of them expect their presidential candidates to win. From the Communists to the Libertarians to the U.S. Labor Party, opposition party members claim they run presidential candidates only as a way of publicizing their existence. All of them complain of their treatment by the press, saying that while they are not news because they have so few members, there is a Catch-22 involved: unless they get some publicity, they never will get the membership they need to be widely recognized.
It isn't easy to be an opposition party in this country--just getting on the ballot for elections requires petitioning the individual states, with signatures from prohibitively high numbers of registered voters. In Massachusetts, the regulations are stricter than most. Would-be candidates need signatures from 3 per cent of the number that voted in the last election, which this year meant over 39,000, compared to the 1000 they need in New Hampshire. Given that fact that some signatures will always be invalid for one reason or another--the most common one being that voters think they are registered and aren't--opposition parties have to collect many more than that, and even then may not get on the ballot.
The best example of that problem this year is the Communist Party, which is running Gus Hall and Jarvis Tyner on the ballot in 20 states, but not in Massachusetts. Although they collected upwards of 50,000 in the petition drive last spring that had signature-seekers posted on every corner in the Square, Massachusetts refused to allow them on the ballot. Peter Halfkenney, a member of the Massachusetts C.P. district committee, says he has little choice but to attribute the state's actions against the Communists to red-baiting--there is still a law on the state books, after all, that makes it illegal to be a member of the Communist Party, much less run for office. Signature collectors were harrassed and beaten up on street corners, he says, and having the state reject their petitions made it even harder to take. The Communists had checked the petitions themselves for invalid signatures as best they could, and Halfkenny suggests the state went out of its way to invalidate their right to run their candidates.
Because every opposition party has to fight to get on that ballot, many of them are particularly incensed by the campaign of Eugene J. McCarthy, which tended to work through the courts rather than through signature collection. David E. Long, national committee member of the Libertarian Party--not on the Massachusetts presidential ballot this year--angrily describes the court decision in Arkansas putting McCarthy on the ballot there, and a later decision by the same court not to hear the Libertarians on the same issue. Long attributes McCarthy's success to his stature as a national figure and leftover glory from his 1968 campaign.
Another problem small parties have in common is their inability to collect the initial contributions needed to qualify for federal funds. Although McCarthy supporters claim his success in garnering votes may aid opposition parties seeking matching grants in 1980, their hopes don't extend to this election. The socialist parties obviously aren't likely to attract big business, and even the more conservative parties have trouble since, as Paul Seidman, New York coordinator for the McCarthy campaign, says, larger contributors see campaign gifts as investments, and don't see opposition parties as likely to give them much return on their money.
But in spite of everything, each of the opposition parties views itself as the wave of the future. All of them claim to bet getting involved seriously in electoral politics for the first or second time this year, and say that just the fact that their candidates' names appear on ballots proves their potential strength. This time, we don't expect a lot of voter recognition, they say, but wait until next time round. For most of them, it's likely to be a long, long wait.
American Party: Members of this party pride themselves on their conservatism, and rightly so, since there probably hasn't been such a reactionary program put together in years. Now on the ballot in almost 30 states, the American Party does not expect to do as well this year as it did four years ago, when its presidential candidate John Schmitz had Wallace's full support. Tom Anderson, this year's candidate, is running on a platform based on the idea that government should limit its functions to protecting life and private property, withdrawing from all social programs, business regulation, reducation, consumer protection--the list goes on and on. It also opposes nationally oriented trade unions and the Equal Rights Amendment. It equates abortion with euthanasia, and claims that the recent effor to immunize the nation against swine flu was in fact a disguised attempt to kill the elderly.
In foreign policy, the American Party demands that the U.S. build up its offensive capacity in order to force Communism to its knees, and for an end to U.S. membership in all international organizations that infringe on the country's sovereignty.
American Independent Party: Like the American Party, which split off from the AIP several years ago, this party has compiled a platform that would do any rock-hard reactionary's heart good to see. With Lester Maddox as its presidential candidate, the AIP has a slightly easier time getting media coverage than have the other minority parties. But some of Maddox's initial support has melted away, as the Reagan supporters who left the Republican party in disgust began to feel that AIP was a little too far gone, even for them.
The Independent Party's platform is rather similar to the American Party's, although it includes some more specific demands, such as full control over the Panama Canal. The AIP is anti-big government, anti-gun control, anti-social welfare programs, anti-ERA, abortion, etc. You can figure out what their position will be by taking the most conservative line possible, and then moving 15 yards to the right.
Maddox is on the presidential ballot in over 20 states, although, like the state-counts of all the minority parties, this number is likely to fluctuate with last-minute court decisions about the legitimacy of his claim to the ballot.
Communist Party: Gus Hall is running for president on a platform that is not designed to attract mainstream businessmen, but then, that is not a group the Communist Party has ever sought to enlist. Hall, who ran for election in 1972, was originally a mine worker in Minnesota, and one of his most notable campaign slogans is, "You wouldn't elect your boss as shop steward. Why elect his stooge to public office?"
The party's platform, formulated over two years ago, includes a call for cutting the military budget by 80 per cent and using the money for housing and education; cutting the work week by law to 30 hours with 40 hours pay; ending cold war policies; giving Puerto Rico its independence; outlawing racism and strengthening civil rights laws; insuring jobs and education for youth; establishing equality for women in every aspect of life--the C.P. opposes the ERA, on the grounds that it could affect affirmative action programs; increasing social security payments to senior citizens; passing a comprehensive National Health Act; and abolishing all anti-democratic and repressive laws, ending CIA and FBI powers, and defeating Senate Bill One, a notoriously repressive act.
Although the C.P. is not on the presidential ballot in Massachusetts, Hall will run in 20 other states.
Labor Party: The major contribution of the Labor Party to this election is a constant reiteration of its belief that the current international monetary system backed by the U.S. dollar is about to fall, and is propped up only by the machinations of a Rockefeller-Kennedy-Democratic cabal. The party's main platform is a call for a moratorium on international debts, so that third world countries can build up their economies and serve as markets for U.S. goods. Domestic policies are predicated on a demand that the U.S. build up its technological production capacity, thus increasing the number of jobs available and avoiding what their Massachusetts candidate for senate calls "genocidal third-world labor-intensive" activities.
Since Jimmy Carter is party of the Kennedy-etc. conspiracy, the party claims, the only hope--since Lyndon LaRouche, the Labor Party's presidential candidate no longer expects to win--is that President Ford will be guided by midwestern businessmen, who understand the need for an international debt moratorium and for an emphasis on technology.
It is unclear what the Labor Party calls for in terms of social policies, since everything is geared toward the international monetary system.
Libertarian Party: Based on a philosophy most eloquently presented by John Stuart Mill, this party is so opposed to government intervention that is platform sometimes verges on the anarchistic. Anything is alright between consenting adults, so to speak, from abortion to free enterprise, including union contracts and hiring 12-year olds. Unlike the American Party, the Libertarians demand a strict enforcement of civil rights and liberties, since its philosophy calls for equal opportunity--but not reverse discrimination or quota systems, which is why it calls for passage of the ERA but an end to affirmative action programs. While the Libertarians and their candidate for president, George McBride, call for more alternative educational institutions and a gradual phasing out of government in education, they also call--unlike their mentor, Mill--for an end to compulsory education.
It isn't difficult to figure out what their philosophy will be on any issue: Just figure out the position that calls for the least government interference, and the most non-coersive individual freedom, and that's going to be it. The party is on the presidential ballot in 32 states, more than any other, but not including Massachusetts.
McCarthy: Unlike the other opposition parties running national campaigns this year, the McCarthy campaign is based solely on McCarthy himself, with no effort to put members up for local election. With McCarthy as a figurehead, the organizers have gained increasing support, mainly from disaffected Democrats and independents. Perhaps because he is a national figure--unlike, say, Tom Anderson of the American party--McCarthy has had less trouble getting press coverage than other minor party candidates, and may get as much as 5 per cent of the vote. He won't get elected, and probably won't even get any votes in the electoral college, but Democratic party spokesmen have said they are afraid the 5 per cent margin could be enough to defeat Carter in states where the main race is very close.
McCarthy's campaign is built around his image as a fighter, a politician who has never compromised on his ideals. Much of the campaign literature focuses on his statements in 1968, suggesting he stood for liberal goals way back then, and is more serious about them than Carter. His platform includes calls for a shared work program; nuclear disarmament; limited and conditional wage-price controls, and selective credit controls; and end to overconsumption of energy; protection of civil liberties, detente, in terms of nuclear arms limitation rather than shuttle diplomacy; increased control of corporations.
McCarthy is on the ballot in 19 states, since New York--the 20th--decided last week his petition to be on the ballot there was invalid. He is running with a different vice presidential candidate in each state, largely because he had not fixed on any one candidate when the time to submit names for the ballot came around this summer. Should he be elected president, he says, he will let the electoral college decide on the vice president.
Socialist Workers Party: Like the Communists, the Socialist Workers Party gears its programs towards the working people, women and minority group members, but their platform is slightly more moderate than the C.P.'s, with less emphasis on reconciliation with countries following socialist policies. The platform their candidate Peter Camejo is running on is called "A Bill of Rights for working people," and emphasizes domestic policies. These include increased employment through a public works program and a shared-work system similar to that proposed by the Communists; support for the ERA; protection against inflation through cost-of-living escalators; free education and medical care, and increased services for senior citizens; increased control by minority groups over community services like educational and medical facilities; and public control over political, social and economic policies--a demand not unreasonable for the SWP to make, given the recent revelation that their organization has been infiltrated by the CIA for the last 20 or more years.
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