A New Philadelphia Convention: Reform Party

On a weekend in September 1787, America’s Founding Fathers traveled from all the states to convene in Philadelphia, PA, for no less a monumental purpose than saving the United States. The fledgling young nation was on the brink of doom, as its first form of government – based on the Articles of Confederation – was about to collapse.
Inspired by the authors of a series of writings that became known collectively as the Federalist Papers – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay – as well as by the peerless Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, the Founders wrote the Constitution of the United States, which to this day remains the country’s constant rampart.
{51325}Almost 235 years later to that very weekend, another group of concerned citizens traveled from all over the United States to attend another convention in Philadelphia. I was among them. We are members of Reform Party, and we chose the historic city of Philadelphia in which to hold our national convention.
It would not only be immodest but also downright delusional to compare ourselves to the Founding Fathers, although our purpose is no less noble. Utterly dissatisfied with an incompetent-at-best, corrupt-at-worst major party duopoly, we have chosen an alternate path. Some among the Conventioneers are original Reform Party founders – who were there in the mid-1990s when the party was established based on the principles and presidential candidacy of Ross Perot. I became interested in the party far later, in 2008, when it became clear to me that the Republicans were no longer a party deserving my support, and the Democrats were at least as bad, if not worse.
The Party’s motto, which I helped to write, is “Honest Leadership, Real Solutions.” Those are the two governing Reform Party principles. First, not simply paying lip service to honesty, and not even merely embracing it. Insisting upon it, with zero tolerance for deception and duplicity, in other words, for politics as usual. Second, offering solutions for every problem, not simply whining about what is wrong. Taxes, the debt and deficit, the economy, jobs, immigration, health care, energy: we have solutions for all of these problems. Right or wrong, at least we do not criticize the status quo without suggesting a better way.
I moderated the Reform Party Presidential Debate, held among the Party’s three remaining candidates at the time of the Convention: Andre Barnett, Ed Chlapowski, and Ken Cross. The debate, which will soon be made available on YouTube by the Reform Party itself, and will be featured on TNH’s website as well, was held on August 11 and lasted approximately two hours, comprised of various questions about domestic and foreign policy.
On the following day, the Convention Delegates voted for president, implementing the Approval Vote system. That voting format means that a delegate may vote for as many candidates as he or she wishes. The only way such a system could result in a tie would be if every single voter voted for all candidates or for no candidates at all – an extremely unlikely scenario. The advantage of the system is that it allows voters to express their true intentions, without having to vote defensively, for fear of handing victory to the greater of two evils.
Barnett won a closely-contested battle over Ken Cross, and there were a few of us who suggested that the candidates form a coalition ticket. The next few minutes were dramatic: Cross at first declined to be considered for vice-president, insisting that “Mr. Barnett deserves a better choice [meaning, a candidate of Barnett’s own choosing].” Barnett then threw a different name in to the mix, as the delegates continued to discuss the merits of a Barnett-Cross ticket, instead. As that was going on, Barnett and Cross emerged and declared that they had formed a coalition after all. A few minutes later, the duo made their presidential and vice-presidential acceptance speeches, both of which were filmed by C-SPAN and are contained within that network’s video archives, available through its website.
At this late stage, the Reform Party ticket is not likely to have an impact in this year’s presidential race. In reality, many of this column’s readers would not even know the names Andre Barnett and Ken Cross at all, were it not for this week’s installment, for good reason – there is practically no advertising or media coverage. Only political diehards would know, by scouring the Internet.
The Party is very low on funds, in the initial stages of a long-term rebuilding effort, and barely on a handful of state ballots. That means the majority of voters across the country will not even see the names of the Reform Party candidates on the ballot in November, let alone know who they are and what they believe.
Why, then, even discuss any of this? If they’re not going to make a difference, what’s the point? There would be no point, indeed, if one were to begin with the premise that the only benefit to running for office is to win. But if that were the premise throughout our nation’s history, then women and persons of color would not have the right to vote today.
The Republican Party got its start as a little-known third party that had one major goal: to abolish slavery throughout the United States. It is not that the two major parties of the day – the Democrats and the Whigs – were necessarily pro-slavery, any more than today’s progressives are pro-abortion. Rather, they were anti-government intervention; they did not believe that the federal government had a right to abolish slavery, and so, that institution persisted well through much of the 19th century. But the Republicans had a radical idea: abolish slavery, period. Soon enough, more people embraced the idea. After losing a few elections, the Republican Party emerged as a force to be reckoned with, nominating Abraham Lincoln for president in 1860. Lincoln won the election, of course, and proceeded to abolish slavery, unite the divided nation, and guarantee that race could not be a factor in denying anyone the right to vote.
The guarantee of women’s right to vote came even later – less than 100 years ago, in fact. Though a lot of movements paved the way, it was the Bull Moose Party in 1912, a third party created by Theodore Roosevelt – who was its presidential candidate that year, challenging his Republican successor, incumbent Republican William Taft, as well as Democrat Woodrow Wilson – that firmly placed the cause in the national spotlight for good. Roosevelt managed to split the anti-Wilson vote between Taft and himself, thus enabling Wilson to win the election. But Wilson saw the handwriting on the wall and supported the movement. By the end of his presidency, women’s right to vote had been guaranteed nationwide, coast to coast.
A more recent example of the benefits of nonmajor party nominees, even when they don’t win the election, is the candidacy of Ross Perot in 1992. Perot came out of nowhere to jumpstart a national conversation about how much money we overspend as a country. In fact, in the time it takes to read this column (say, five minutes), the United States will have spent an extra $10 million that it does not have. That’s $2 million every minute of every day, month, and year. Perot did make a difference, though, because he captured 19% of the vote that year, prompting the politically savvy winner, Bill Clinton, to embrace deficit reduction as part of his administration – which resulted in the elimination of the annual deficit and the emergence of an actual surplus.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama reverted to deficit spending – each insisting that he had no other choice but to do so. Perhaps another Perot is what we need so that both major parties can wake up.
Back to the Reform Party. It was founded based on Perot’s 1992 candidacy and nominated him in 1996. Though he didn’t quite make the same impact in his second presidential run, Perot nonetheless made a dent in the election. A great deal of political infighting followed, and now the Party is slowly emerging from that rubble, ready to emerge stronger than ever. It will take time – not weeks or months, but years. Maybe even decades. Worthwhile battles often take a long time to conclude.
Meanwhile, that doesn’t mean there are no good politicians left who are Democrats, Republicans, independents, or members of other parties. One of the best things about the Reform Party is that it is not overly political. If there’s a better candidate out there from another party, I’ll be the first to acknowledge it. Which is why with 11 weeks to go before Election Day, I have still not decided for whom to vote for president – or for various other offices.
The Philadelphia Convention of 2012 was similar to the one in 1787 in that it was designed to improve the country’s overall well-being. More movements like it are needed. The more we Americans stand up to a status quo with which we are dissatisfied, the more likely one of two things will happen: either the movements can unite behind a strong and permanent third party, or at least the two major parties will hear the concerns and begin to field better candidates.
More information about the Reform Party is available at www.reformparty.org