The American media is throwing an epileptic fit over an obscure former economics professor named Lyndon LaRouche, almost surpassing LaRouche's own political frenzy and paranoia. This makes for hissing and screaming all around. But underneath the confusion lurk interesting questions about where the ideology of someone as bizarre as LaRouche fits into the spectrum of American politics, and why he has become such a bane to the Democratic Party.
As a political force in the United States, LaRouche is not very formidable. His following is a few thousand, his annual revenues $2-$3 million per year. He ran for President in 1976 and 1984, getting 40,000 and 78,000 votes respectively, fewer than the American Communist Party. Despite the exotic material his followers hand out free at airports, such as posters saying, "Kissinger: The Politics of Faggotry," not many people seem aware.
Until now. Two LaRouche followers beat the odds by winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and secretary of state in Illinois. An outraged Adlai E. Stevenson III, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is now tearing up lawbooks for technicalities to overturn the election of the two "neo-Nazis," as he calls them.
Informed that LaRouche intends to field as many as 146 candidates, most of them for the House of Representatives, the Democratic Establishment has panicked and is sending out warning packets to all its state chapters. This has been accompanied by the usual news stories on the rise of hate groups in America, and on elaborate explanations for how LaRouche won in Illinois: people didn't like the ethnic-sounding names of the mainstream Democrats; the two LaRouche candidates seemed clean-cut; there was low voter turnout, and so on.
Why this frenzy and rationalization? Because LaRouche poses deep, perhaps insoluble problems for the liberal ideology that governs the Democratic Party. It's not just that his agenda--nuclear power and Star Wars, quarantining AIDS victims and identifying State Department traitors--has a strange but real appeal for a certain redneck contingent in the Democratic Party. It is that, as an anti-democrat using the democratic process to advance his goals, he raises questions about where democracies should draw the line for their own survival.
Democracy has been used in the past to further the goals of a deadly adversary. Hitler, for example, climbed an electoral ladder in Germany before suspending the liberties that made his ascent possible. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua gave lip service to democratic ideals they now have all but extinguished. LaRouche does not even pay rhetorical tribute to democracy. And yet his people get elected.
Liberals don't know what to do because their ideology is based on allegiance to procedures. Unlike most hate groups, Larouche fights not with bullets, but with lawsuits and elections. He uses the system which has now rewarded him.
There is definitely something problematic about Stevenson's recent behavior. These people won a fair election. To then try to discover technicalities for ousting them--just because their politics do not please--seems like a repudiation of liberal principles, of the democratic process itself. If liberalism believes the procedures are absolute, it should be willing to tolerate the outcomes, even if it means giving power to a LaRouche.
It is a scary prospect. No wonder liberals are desperately trying to foist LaRouche onto the right. As someone who calls himself conservative, I find this a bit exasperating. Every time some bizarre freak comes along, liberals immediately dub him "right wing." Hitler insisted on calling himself a national socialist, which probably charmed the Soviets during the tenure of the Hitler-Stalin pact, but after the break with the U.S.S.R., Hitler suddenly metamorphosed into a right-wing extremist.
More recently, Western conservatives supported the Shah of Iran and deplored the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was lauded by liberal spokesmen as an authentic leader of a popular revolution. But shortly after Khomeini assumed power and began his massacres, he was termed a conservative and a reactionary.
Now conservatives are being saddled with LaRouche. But he is no conservative. Yes, he supports strategic defense, but only because he supports anything nuclear--a technophile. Certainly he accuses Walter F. Mondale of being a Soviet agent, but he makes the same charge against William F. Buckley Jr.
Just because LaRouche wants to track down drug pushers and homosexuals does not make him a conservative or a Republican. Fidel Castro and Mikhail S. Gorbachev persecute homosexuals--should they be considered Republicans?
Some of LaRouche's positions are in line with liberalism and the Democratic Party. A former Marxist who called himself the "American Lenin," he now has a virtually socialist domestic agenda that calls for, among other things, nationalization of the steel industry. He has bitterly attacked the National Review, a sine qua non for American conservatism.
The fact is that LaRouche's ideology is not compatible with either the Republican or the Democratic Party. LaRouche has termed himself a "neo-Platonic democratic republican," a nonsense phrase that is nonetheless appropriate.
The man is a paranoid, and paranoids operate not on logic but on fear and emotion. They reach positions independent of data. They feel free to hold contradictory conclusions. They are truly anti-ideological, in the sense that ideologies signify a coherence of thought.
That is why it is futile to challenge LaRouche for supporting evidence or try to refute him. How does he know that the Queen of England and the Trilateral Commission are part of a plot to take over the world? Ask, and you get a knowing smile. In the world of the conspiracy theorist, the rest of us are innocents.
Why is this man running as a Democrat? My speculation is that, as a former Marxist and contemporary paranoid, he follows the tactics of his perceived adversary--what he calls a "super elite" of assorted KGB agents, the Rockefeller family, dope dealers and terrorists. He believes his enemies have infiltrated the Democratic Party and are subverting it from within. Rather than counterattack from the Republican Party, LaRouche may attempt his own subversion.
Why does he win? Partly because he's so anti-ideological. Many Americans are weary of partisan politics. They like a renegade to challenge the system.
Also, LaRouche seems impressive in his TV ads; impeccable suits and spectacles give him an academic look. He stands before maps, explaining geopolitics in terms of abstruse data--places with funny names, remote statistics, treaties nobody ever heard of. To the naive observer, it seems this man is onto something.
We shouldn't take it all too seriously. There is a certain advantage in having kooks like LaRouche surface once in a while. By widening debate and by providing engaging theater, they make politics less narrow and humdrum. Though they may win once in a while, they are unlikely to win great victories, and if they do, then we can start worrying and, if necessary, take action to stop them. Meanwhile, we can trust in the good sense of the people and the resilience of democracy.