Constitution Party Hopes to Take Politics to the Extreme in 2004

Can the Constitution Party take politics to the extreme in 2004?

Raising an Army
Whatever the ultimate fate of Howard Phillips' far-fetched prophecy, the Constitution Party is well positioned in 2004 to fill at least one time-honored role for American third parties. "While most of the concerns raised by third parties have been progressive," notes Micah Sifry, "they have sometimes also been repositories of resentment."

The Know-Nothings, arguably the most influential third party in American history, provided just such a repository, challenging the dominant Democrats and Whigs in the 1850s by riding a wave of xenophobic resentment toward immigrants in general and Roman Catholics in particular.

In the 1940s and '60s, segregationists Strom Thurmond and George Wallace won chunks of the electoral vote for their own third parties. (Wallace's vehicle, the American Independent Party, came under the Constitution Party tent in 1992.)

The Constitution Party is doing its darndest to take advantage of today's fresh forms of right-wing disgruntlement. Immediately following the Supreme Court's decision this June in Lawrence vs. Texas, the landmark case overturning Texas' sodomy statute, the party dispatched a press release emphasizing that it was "the first national political party to denounce" the ruling.

But that wasn't all. "[T]he Constitution Party has also called for Congress to draw up articles of impeachment against Justices Kennedy, O'Conner [sic], Breyer, Souter, Ginsberg, and Stevens, the six justices who refused to uphold the Texas law." (With no sense of irony, the press release went on to advertise the Constitution Party's "strong advocacy of less government.")

Not only is the Constitution Party robustly anti-gay and anti-immigrant, it is equally anti-Bush. The claque in Clackamas was chockablock with denunciations of the president's "unconstitutional" wars, his theft of civil liberties through the Patriot Act, and his failure to ban RU-486, the so-called "morning-after pill." ("Isn't it great to have a pro-life president?" Phillips sneered.)


Meanwhile, at the back of the conference room, Live Free or Die Campaign Supplies was doing a brisk business with buttons proclaiming Bush an "International Terrorist" (see right), and with similar buttons calling out Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft ("Domestic Terrorist") and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (ditto).

By the end of the weekend, vendor Tim Farness had completely sold out of buttons bearing the hated images of Bush, Powell and Ridge.

Souvenirs aside, the clear highlight of the weekend remained Phillips' Saturday sermon, which ended with an anecdote that encapsulated the curious combination of Bibles and belligerence that characterizes the Constitution Party.

Leaning familiarly forward on the podium, Phillips told his congregation one of those too-good-to-be-true stories that preachers love to tell. His grandchildren were headed somewhere on a plane, it seems, and a flight attendant complimented one of the kids on their exemplary behavior.

"That's how we're taught," Phillips' grandson replied.

"We?" asked the flight attendant.

"Yes, there are six of us."

"Your poor mother," the flight attendant sighed.

"Yes," agreed the polite young Phillips. "She wishes she could have 12, but she's only got six."

"What, is she trying to raise a whole football team?" the flight attendant joked.

"No," answered the devout young man. "We're raising an army."

Grandpa Phillips was almost too choked up to deliver the punch line. But he managed, like any good preacher, to reign in his emotions and turn the anecdote into a handy analogy. The Constitution Party is doing the very same thing, you see.

"We are raising up an army," Phillips proclaimed, "and we shall take back this nation!"