AS A RULE, every political movement gets the cranks it deserves. Still, nothing the Virginia Democratic party has ever done makes it deserve Nancy Spannaus.
In a new, high-profile radio ad now running in Washington, D.C., Spannaus says:
"I urge President Bush to stand in front of a mirror, very quietly. He should look hard into that mirror, and think about what he's been saying about launching an unprovoked, aggressive war. He should ask himself, 'Isn't what I've been saying actually insane?' President George Bush should think long and hard about that, and so should you. The insanity is coming from a group of Chickenhawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who laid out a plan back in 1990 to set up the United States as a new Roman empire. I support Lyndon LaRouche's demand that Cheney resign now. Don't let the lunatics plunge us into war."
Then Spannaus says she is "the LaRouche Democrat on the ballot for U.S. Senate in Virginia." In other radio ads, Spannaus has said that she is "the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Virginia" and "the only Democrat on the Virginia ballot for U.S. Senate."
Her ads quite clearly suggest that she's the Democratic party's nominee for the race against incumbent Republican senator John Warner--which couldn't be further from the truth.
Spannaus is an acolyte of perpetual presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche. She's been running for office in Virginia since 1989 (her bio says she started seeking office after her husband was sent to the big house with LaRouche), and in her 1990 campaign against Sen. Warner, she won 18 percent--almost 190,000 votes. She ran for governor in 1993 as an Independent, and in various Democratic primaries in 1994, 1996, and 1998.
She announced her current campaign in March 2001 and a month later wrote to the Virginia Democratic party saying that she "would like to become the Democratic Party nominee." The Virginia Democrats rebuffed her and then decided not to field a candidate in the Senate race. Spannaus collected 14,000 signatures and got herself on the ballot--as an Independent.
The Democrats are aghast that Spannaus is trying to capture votes by passing herself off as one of them. In August a state party spokeswoman told one local paper quite pointedly, "There is no LaRouche wing to the Democratic party." Then a few weeks ago the state party chair, Lawrence H. Framme III, sent Spannaus a cease-and-desist letter saying that she was "misleading" voters with her ad campaign. Framme copied the letter to the state Board of Elections.
But the Board of Elections can't help. "She filed as an Independent and she is listed as such on the ballot," says Lorraine Thompson, Election Services manager at the State Board. "The issue of her claiming she's misrepresenting herself is between her and the state party."
The Virginia Democrats are unhappy, but undecided on what to do. "She's not the biggest ping on our radar right now," says Carolyn Fiddler, the party's communications director.The Democrats don't seem to know whether they should sue, or take a Don't Feed the Troll approach.
IF YOU'RE WONDERING why the Democrats are so eager to distance themselves from Spannaus, just visit her website. For starters, she's not very voter-friendly: In a posting on her site she says that if you don't want to "get off your duff and fight alongside LaRouche and me . . . you are nothing but a pathetic sucker." In one leaflet she opens by saying, "I'm here, again, to help you save yourself once more." In another she asks voters, "Are you sane enough to vote for me?" The world, she says, is coming apart, and it can only be stopped by the Spannaus-LaRouche team. "We are the wave of the future--if you are to have one, " she says ominously.
For those not familiar with the LaRouche rap, it goes something like this: An economic collapse is coming that will be bad enough to cover all the lands in a second darkness. The only way to avoid this catastrophe is for all nations to declare bankruptcy, install a "New Bretton Woods" financial plan, and build a Eurasian railroad across the Bering Strait connecting Alaska and Russia. But it's much crazier than it sounds.
Spannaus's stump material is a lot of doom-and-gloom, with a dash of Cassandra complex thrown in for flavor and some anti-Semitism on the side. She claims that the recession we're in now is "the worst depression in your experience." "To put it bluntly," she said in early October, "the depression is on, and the only sane thing to do, is to fight for LaRouche's 'November Program.'" In full I-told-you-so mode, she says "it is a plain fact, that Lyndon LaRouche is the world's most accurate economic forecaster," because he's been predicting a "New Stone Age" for several decades now.
Her Jew-baiting is even uglier. In one of her more pedestrian passages, Spannaus says that Israel "now carries out war crimes unabashedly as a matter of official policy." The Israel Defense Force, she wrote last April, is "carrying out a systematic Nazi-like slaughter campaign, consciously modeled on the Nazis' Warsaw Ghetto assault." And then, passing out of the realm of polite opinion--even by Berkeley standards--she goes on to say that Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu helped plot the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
She and LaRouche blame America's foreign-policy troubles on a small clan--a "cabal," if you will--consisting of "neo-cons" such as Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger, Paul Wolfowitz, the American Enterprise Institute . . . you get the point. And if you don't, in one of his essays, LaRouche blames the impending economic disaster on, of all things, "usury."
IF THERE'S A SINGLE overarching theme in Spannaus's writings, it's the issue of mental competence. "The initial idea of this [ad campaign] . . . ," Spannaus said recently, "was to provide the sanity of LaRouche's road to recovery, against the lunatics pushing war." She says that "every sane person" can see what a disaster John Ashcroft has been as attorney general and that "it should be obvious to every sane person" that a war against Iraq is "unacceptable."
Touting the LaRouche economic plan, she writes, "We'll put the bankrupt financial system itself through Chapter 11 reorganization, and hook up with other sovereign nations for international reconstruction, on projects like the Eurasian Land-Bridge. . . . We'll be on the Road to Recovery. Does that sound sane to you?"
It doesn't sound very sane to the Virginia Democrats. "Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but . . ." says Carolyn Fiddler as her voice trails off. "We are very unhappy. . . . She is most certainly not our nominee."
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.