SUMMARY: In an exclusive interview with PlanetOut News, the Natural Law Party's vice presidential candidate addresses gay and lesbian issues.
The Natural Law Party is probably the biggest American political party you have never heard of. In 1996, the party ran 400 candidates on ballots in 48 states -- including Dr. John Hagelin, the Harvard-trained theoretical physicist who has been the party's presidential nominee in every election since its founding in 1992. Dr. Hagelin started the Natural Law Party with the aim of "bring[ing] the light of science into politics" -- finding the self-evident truths in issues that have been clouded by partisan politics. The party's primary issue is reducing the influence of special interest groups in Washngiton by reforming the campaign finance system.
Dr. Hagelin made the news in August of this year as he and reactionary conservative Pat Buchanan vied for the Reform Party nomination -- and the $12.5 million in federal money that went with it. Buchanan eventually prevailed in court, and Hagelin's hope of creating a unified third party that would combine the strengths of the Natural Law and Reform Parties failed. But he is still campaigning -- without the benefit of a large budget -- with running mate Nat Goldhaber, a San Francisco-area technology entrepreneur. Goldhaber sat down with PlanetOut News to talk about why the Natural Law ticket should appeal to gay and lesbian voters.
PlanetOut: Is the whole controversy between Hagelin and Buchanan over the Reform Party money finished?
Nat Goldhaber: It's finished, and furthermore, I think the Reform Party is finished. I think we won't see it again. Buchanan will have a lot less than 5 percent in the votes. I'd be surprised if he had 1 percent. He's factionalized the Reform Party to the extent that I'd doubt that it could come back again.
PlanetOut: How would you characterize the two factions. Is the crux of it social ideology?
Goldhaber: Yes. The Reform Party was a two or three issue party. It was anti-NAFTA with a little bit of xenophobia, in the sense of being afraid of the influence of foreign nations. It was about a balanced budget at the federal level, which was a good move, and Perot really brought that to the agenda. It was also about campaign finance reform, which was not at the forefront of Perot's agenda at the time, but it rose to the top of the Reform Party's agenda post-Perot. Because Perot got a sufficient number of votes in 1996, there was $12.5 million for the Reform Party. And I think Buchanan very cynically decided that he wanted to get his hands on the money, and that's the only reason he went after the Reform Party.
PlanetOut: You and John Hagelin are now just running under the banner of the Natural Law Party, which most people haven't heard of. What is its philosophy?
Goldhaber: I think that the principal issue we have as a party is campaign finance reform. And then all other issues are sort of subordinate to that. That is, if you don't have that in advance, everything else is impossible. The problem is that special interests dominate the movements of our legislature and to some extent the actions of our executive. And you can simply see time and time again that those special interests that give the most to reelection campaigns are those that get their way in the votes in congress. Because of that our legislative branch has become highly unresponsive to its constituency, and is now responsive to the special interest constituency. And the United States has begun to look more like an oligarchy than it does like a democracy.
While it's true that in this country we have pretty good economic times (and that's unlikely to change under Bush or Gore) there are still so many constituencies that have no advocacy in Washington at all. I believe the gay community is one of them. The Democratic Party has not been good to the gay community as a whole. The Defense of Marriage Act is the perfect example of that, and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is another perfect example. Somewhere in Clinton there was a desire to do something good for the gay community, but he screwed it up. So I believe that the gay community and other minority communities have no representation.
PlanetOut: So are gay rights linked to campaign finance reform?
Goldhaber: No, I think gay issues are separate to some extent. I think they are more of a human rights issue, and I think you have to have people who are really dedicated to human rights in power in order to see the agenda move forward.
PlanetOut: Congress is considering expanding federal hate crimes protections to gay and lesbian people. Do you support that move?
Goldhaber: Absolutely. I think we need to make an emphatic statement to those who would perpetrate hate crimes that they are intolerable on more levels than the crime itself. Equality is such an important issue to the American people -- it is so integral to the structure of our government -- that in those instances in which equality and civil rights are denied, there is a secondary crime being perpetrated. And it should be prosecuted accordingly.
PlanetOut: How about protection from employment discrimination?
Goldhaber: Absolutely. I support the principle. I have to tell you that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act I have not read personally.
PlanetOut: Where do you and Dr. Hagelin come down on same-sex unions or marriages?
Goldhaber: I think that the way the United States is constructed means that that probably remains a state issue. It's a tough one. The better question would be whether there could be legislation that would grant domestic partnership the same benefits as marriage. And that is probably something that we will grow into as a nation, and it is something that I would push for individually.
PlanetOut: But if that's done on a state level, that doesn't guarantee the federal tax and immigration benefits. Is there a way to address that discrepancy?
Goldhaber: I don't know how that would pan out in terms of policy. But to the extent that that was influenceble by executive order, that is certainly something I would do. But licensing is really done at the state level. For example, it varies from state to state how you get a medical license. And marriage strikes me as falling into that category as well. So I'm not absolutely clear that there ought to be a federal usurping of that issue. But whether I believe that or not, I emphatically believe in the outcome: If people want to get married they should be able to do that -- period. And it ought to be recognized everywhere -- including tax and immigration law. [Ed. note: The Natural Law Party's platform says that "in principle, government should not attempt to legislate morality or to intervene in the private moral decisions of the citizenry. ... Therefore, on principle, the Natural Law Party will not draft legislation to discriminate against, nor to actively support! same-sex marriage."]
PlanetOut: And would you extend that to family rights such as adoption?
PlanetOut: Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, doesn't think the government should be involved in things like AIDS research.
Goldhaber: Oh, that's nonsense. It's "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It seems to me there is an absolute obligation for government to be at the forefront of funding things that are important to the health, safety, and welfare of the American people. It is heartless and unthinkable to imagine a government that doesn't do whatever can be done to fund AIDS research. One of the tragic ironies is that it's not to the drug companies' advantage to cure AIDS, but to make people to take expensive drugs for a very long period of time. I'm not sure that they're that cynical. But they could be. The fortunate thing is that there's AIDS research going on that's funding people in academia who most certainly want to find a cure. That said, I'm also a small government guy. I just believe that there are areas where government has a role.
PlanetOut: How would American government be redefined under a Natural Law presidency?
Goldhaber: It is my belief that the most important thing that government can do today is to re-inspire the American population to become engaged in the political process. We now find the pundits predicting that less than 50 percent of eligible voters will vote in the coming election. I don't know what statistics are like in the gay community, but in other minority communities, there is underrepresentation [at the polls]. And I think that's a disaster because it violates the precepts that the founders of our country believed in. So reinvigorating people in the political process is paramount. And you do that through the bully pulpit; you give good speeches; you talk about issues that are important to people; and you don't avoid difficult issues. Argument is not a terrible thing as long as when that argument is over, there is tacit consent to moving in the direction of the majority without violating the rights of the minority. If you had to ask me what would be the ch! ar! acter difference of government, that would be it.
PlanetOut: So what kinds of different policies would you implement?
Goldhaber: Well, when you're a Republican or a Democrat, you have to buy into a set of policies that seem inexorably bound together. But in fact they're not in any way connected -- except insofar as the special interest groups that control both sides insist on it. So now all of a sudden if you believe in fiscal responsibility you have to believe that same-sex marriage is terrible, and abortion is terrible. That's just ridiculous. You can be fiscally conservative and still believe absolutely in the rights of all people to pursue their lives the way they ought to be pursued. So what I've found so liberating about being a third party candidate is the ability to look at each issue on its own merits and think sensibly about which way it ought to go.
I believe that if you wanted to broadly characterize the way we would be different, it would be that we would not be bound to any particular set of ideologies, but rather look at each issue on its own merits. Hagelin is a physicist, and he believes that you can take a scientific approach to problems, look at them dispassionately -- not necessarily unpassionately -- and make decisions about which way to go. I don't' want to suggest that it's dry and devoid of emotion. It's just that you can look at issues of governance and do it in a way that is not clouded by politicized notions.