The oddest political story of the past week -- "Lenora Fulani endorses Patrick Buchanan" -- fit quite neatly into that venerable old news category known as man-bites-dog. But it was better than a mere news story, because this Reform Party love fest was so far out, so high-concept that it sounds like the synopsis for a sitcom: She's a black leftist, he's a white rightist, and now they're taking on the Establishment -- together. Fabulous!
This story line has a promising subplot, too. Dr. Fulani, as she prefers to be called, is a psychologist and one of the foremost practitioners of a controversial discipline known as "social therapy." Pat Buchanan, with his blustering manner and tendency toward bigoted wisecracks, is clearly deeply in need of counseling.
Every week, the show could open in Lenora's office, with Pat stretched out on the couch, muttering about his uptight boyhood and his nostalgia for Joe McCarthy and General Franco. Working through his hang-ups about gays, Jews, immigrants and other minorities is truly liberating for him, while his black female therapist strips away his benighted prejudices to reveal the core of humanity within him. It's sort of a '90s update of "All in the Family." Beautiful!
Yeah, the "Lenora and Pat Show" has just the right combination of humor and pathos to make wonderful American entertainment. Best of all, it's pure fantasy.
The truth about Fulani and her faction within the Reform Party is actually far more interesting than the version served up by the national media last week. The sharp-tongued therapist and her sheeplike followers have come a long way from their weird origins on Manhattan's Upper West Side, but some things haven't changed. They are as opportunistic and unprincipled as ever, and they have no real connection with "the left."
However disorganized, disunited and difficult-to-define the American left may be, virtually all of its constituencies have had at least one thing in common during the past two decades: an unfortunate encounter with the Fulani faction, which has traveled under a variety of names and disguises since it first appeared in New York during the 1970s.
Liberal and left-wing Democratic clubs, gay rights groups, black community organizations and many others have been infiltrated, disrupted and denounced by the "social therapists," who have then moved on to their next project.
Before Fulani's outfit merged themselves into the Reform Party several years ago, they were known as the New Alliance Party, but their murky origins stretch all the way back to the early '70s. That was when a philosophy teacher at City College named Fred Newman, who at age 64 is still believed to control the group, began to formulate his own theory of politically-tinged psychotherapy.
Among his small group of acolytes, Newman developed a guru status that apparently permitted him to build what is now a substantial network of therapy centers and related cultural and political institutions. Therapy patients were encouraged, and some say coerced, into giving time and money to whatever political formation Newman and his fellow "therapists" were operating at the time.
Lenora Fulani joined up in the late '70s and was soon elevated to a leadership position. Given the quasi-Marxist and feminist pretensions of Newman and his colleagues, a black female like Fulani provided the perfect public face. But the secret inner leadership of the organization remained wholly under Newman's control, with many of its members taking their mandated "therapy" directly from him. Because they have changed their organizational moniker so many times, those who follow their antics refer to them as "the Newmanites."
From the beginning, the nominally left-wing Newmanites had an antagonistic relationship with their comrades in other groups. For a tumultuous period in the early '70s, Newman brought his followers into the even more cult-like National Caucus of Labor Committees, where Lyndon LaRouche was engaged in his own peculiar exercises in therapy and thought control.
At the time, LaRouche's NCLC was notorious for attacking left groups not only with propaganda but physical violence. After a few months, Newman grew tired of taking orders from LaRouche and withdrew to create his own organization again. And ever since, in New York and elsewhere, the Newmanites have clashed with various leftists and liberals, usually over charges that they had attempted to take over some organization or campaign for their own purposes.
During the late '70s and early '80s, they pursued a strategy of simultaneously joining and attacking Democratic clubs in New York City. They were subsequently expelled from a short-lived New York leftist effort called the Unity Party. Then for a time they sought a coalition with the Nation of Islam, defending Louis Farrakhan against charges of homophobia and anti-Semitism (with Newman giving one speech in which he denounced Jews as "the storm troopers of decadent capitalism").
After the 1988 presidential campaign, the Newmanites had a tense relationship with Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, which they first infiltrated and then mimicked by setting up a front called the "Rainbow Lobby." The resulting confusion led Jackson to publicly dissociate himself from them on more than one occasion, while they repudiated him as a "sellout."
And then in 1992, when they perceived a potential for new mischief in the Reform Party, they disbanded the New Alliance Party altogether and allied themselves with conservative billionaire Ross Perot.
Throughout these permutations, Fulani has always articulated a leftish perspective on such topics as gay rights, affirmative action and economic justice. Her high-minded rhetoric, combined with a corps of dedicated activists, lawyers and writers drawn from the "social therapy" clientele, has afforded her group significant leverage within the Reform Party, particularly in New York, where Perot's supporters are known as the Independence Party.
In a fledgling party that attracts thousands of inexperienced newcomers, the organizing muscle and political skill of the Newmanites provides them with influence disproportionate to their actual size. Moderate and conservative activists in the Reform Party have, not surprisingly, viewed the rise of this internal faction with undisguised dismay. Buchanan's embrace of Fulani won't endear him to them. And it is probably safe to predict that before the campaign is over, or soon afterward, the Newmanites will be denouncing Buchanan as a fascist, a racist and an enemy of independent politics.
Despite the media spin, nobody who has observed the Newmanites during their long and tortured history was shocked when they joined forces with the hero of the ultra-right. Repeatedly rejected by every element of the left, they finally took their tactics and therapy to another venue. Their quest for power has taken them from LaRouche to Farrakhan to Buchanan -- a long, strange trip into the wilderness, with no left turns anywhere along the way.