The Reform Party, feelin' guru-vy

Washington Post, Saturday, September 2, 2000
By Dana Milbank

As a large-eared former presidential candidate might say, the crazy aunt is out of the attic.

This week, at the Alexandria Hilton just off Interstate 395, the party of Ross Perot became the party of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Perot was not in attendance himself and neither was the Maharishi, a Hindu guru from India who created Transcendental Meditation and the accompanying skill of "yogic flying." But the remnants of Perot's Reform Party who have opposed Pat Buchanan's hostile takeover joined a "coalition" with the Natural Law Party, founded eight years ago by followers of the Maharishi. Their three-day convention ends today.

It's not an obvious match: The party of inner peace and tranquillity has united with the party of red-faced shouting and fierce litigation. Jim Mangia, leader of the anti-Buchanan Reform faction, says the sound of the two parties merging will go something like this: "Ohmmmmmmmm--point of order!"

The Natural Law Party, being based on meditative calm, calls in its platform for "conflict-free politics . . . the Natural Law Party advocates an end to negative campaigning and partisan politics."

By contrast, the anti-Buchanan Perotistas split with the Buchanan wing of their party at their own convention in Long Beach a few weeks ago in a melee reminiscent of a fistfight in the Taiwanese legislature. They're now fighting Buchanan in the courts, at the Federal Election Commission and in most every state to determine which faction is the real Reform Party. Despite last month's Reform Party split, the Reform people here are in a marrying mood and think the two parties (the non-Buchanan Reform Party and the Natural Law Party) will soon be one. Some state Natural Law parties have already changed their names to Reform, Mangia says. "At next year's convention you may see a full-fledged merger."

But they'll have to iron out a few differences in philosophy. Like the role of yogic flying, which involves "hopping," "hovering" and finally taking to the sky. The process is said to lift the practitioner's body off the ground by an inch and possibly move it forward a couple of feet. It may also bestow powers of invisibility and immortality.

"I don't know anything about yogic flying, but I had a sled, an American Flyer, when I was a kid," says Russ Verney, once Perot's right-hand man and now in attendance at the Natural Law Convention as part of the Reform delegation. "I have nothing against people thinking peaceful thoughts," Verney says.

Lenora Fulani, the far-left activist who joined with Buchanan then turned against him, says she has not learned to levitate. "I don't even know what meditating is," she says, "but I support everybody's right to do that." And who knows? Fulani is open to learning the ways of the Maharishi. "I'm looking," she says. "Politics is stressful."

You've come to the right place, Ms. Fulani: The Natural Law Party platform states the following useful information about Transcendental Meditation, or TM: "Research has found that EEG brain wave coherence increases dramatically during TM-Sidhi Yogic Flying. . . . Forty-two scientific studies have shown that such coherence-creating groups (constituting as little as the square root of 1 percent of the population) promote highly significant decreases in violent crime and other negative tendencies and increases in positive social and economic trends."

The platform offers meditation as an answer to virtually every policy question, including education, crime, health and drug abuse. Foreign policy? "The Natural Law Party would support the establishment of groups practicing the Transcendental Meditation . . . in key areas of the world. These programs have been uniquely effective in dissolving social stress and preventing the outbreak of armed hostility and war."

Revitalizing inner cities? "The establishment of coherence-creating groups practicing the Transcendental Meditation" would lead to "significant reduction in negative tendencies, such as crime, violence, sickness and accidents, and a strengthening of positive social and economic trends." The party also calls for the United States to create a group of 7,000 meditation experts "engaged in creating coherence throughout society."

Doug Friedline, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's campaign manager and an old Perot guy, just signed on to manage the Natural Law presidential campaign without reading the platform. As such, he was surprised when he heard somebody ask the candidate, John Hagelin, if he could fly. "He said no," Friedline says, reassured.

The Natural Law folks are trying to move their agenda beyond the mystical. As such, their convention was so conventional as to be dull, with long speeches on preventive medicine, alternative fuels and school innovation. There was an oompah band playing patriotic marches, a stage with stars and plants, and delegates arranged by state.

"We're just finally trying to have a political party that's got a lot of issues," says Robert Roth, the party's spokesman.

Roth insists the Natural Law Party isn't linked to the Maharishi's Natural Law parties in various foreign countries, though party members have participated in international conferences and the U.S. party shares some platform planks with the Maharishi's international party. The Maharishi issued a directive in 1992 to form parties around the world.

Still, Roth says the party isn't concealing its roots. During a Q&A with delegates, Hagelin explained that he started meditating at age 17, when he was in a motorcycle crash and an orthopedist recommended it. He later found that meditating cleared his head to study physics. A physicist, he has taught at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.

And the original Natural Lawyers say the party can't shed its philosophy. "This party can't deliver what it promises without that," says Valerie Janlois, a TM instructor from northern California. She ran as a Natural Law candidate for Congress in 1992, gaining 33 votes. She admits to being "angry about not being able to convince people about this very simple mental technique." But she doesn't look angry. She looks perfectly serene. Jane Meade, another party original and a fan of meditation, says: "I don't think it can ever get lost. It's the main thing."

Hagelin, in his acceptance speech, didn't mention meditation directly, but he did note that "the unified field percolates infant universes at the rate of 10 to the 143rd per cubic centimeter per second." Cosmic.

Perhaps this is just what the pugilistic Reformers need. In their speeches to the Natural Law convention, Mangia compared Buchanan's candidacy to Hitler's rise in Germany (take a deep breath and exhale slowly, Jim) and Fulani declared that "Pat Buchanan is a criminal element" (think happy thoughts and repeat your mantra, Lenora).

Will these political warriors find inner peace and harmony in Natural Law? As the Hagelin 2000 slogan says, "Anything's Possible."

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