Flying High

Natural Law Party Gets Off the Ground

Exactly one year ago, a fledgling political party first gained attention in Austin when it ran an ad encouraging people to "Find Out about the Natural Law Party... Yogic Flying To Be Demonstrated." The ad pictured two smiling men sitting in the lotus position hovering in mid--air.

"This is really far-out," says Sandra BonSell, the Texas Natural Law Party (NLP) chair and candidate for U.S. Representative, who was at the demonstration last October. "I wish they hadn't done that. It's flashy."

So, did they actually fly? Do they really levitate? "Well," BonSell responds a bit reluctantly, "it's more like watching them hop."

Are we talking about the latest fitness fad or spiritual movement? No, this is politics in the Nineties. The NLP is on the ballot this November in 48 states. Party members see themselves as common-sense empiricists, backing what their presidential candidate, quantum physicist John Hagelin, calls "the most up-to-date solutions...to elevate government above the realm of...speculation." But the general public might just see them as weird.

Behind the Natural Law movement is the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, pioneer of transcendental meditation, but probably some of the 700 national NLP candidates and a good many of the 1 million petition-signers don't know that. In 1992 the Maharishi inspired the party's birth in Great Britain and, like the international Green Party movement, the Natural Law idea has spread all over the globe. The U.S. party's platform addresses a daunting array of issues, almost all of which boil down the party's cure-all focus -- eliminating unnecessary stress from daily life. Focusing on the physical and mental health of the nation, the NLP proposes a variety of prevention-oriented programs to tackle America's problems in the twenty-first century.

Some voters will be excited about a political party which supports alternative energy and sustainable agriculture, touts education as the "solution to all our national problems," and doesn't accept PAC money. The NLP even supports many existing government programs such as Head Start, Medicare/Medicaid, NAFTA and GATT. But it is the non-political element of their platform which will turn many away from the new group. "The whole purpose of Natural Law is to reintroduce the human element into politics," says Hagelin, "because America's problems are human problems." And the primary solution to these problems, according to the NLP, is better health and higher consciousness as individuals and as a nation. Through transcendental meditation, improved diet and exercise, and "boosting national creativity," it seems, virtually all the nation's problems, from crime to health care, can be solved. The idea that all our troubles would be eliminated if we just lived by the party's basic tenets -- breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and eating right -- sounds idealistic, even naïve. But the NLP candidates confidently back up their proposals with scientific documentation. They say they feel right at home in their third-party role.

Natural Law candidate Ed Fasonella, an educator who lives in Austin, says that his whole purpose in running for U.S. Representative this year is to "infect the public debate with these ideas," and adds that "I will win either way." One of the party's main efforts is toward conflict-free politics. Several candidates have even met with their opponents to sell them on the NLP's ideas. "I don't wish to term it `running against'" says BonSell, "I am running beside."

Hagelin was approached in 1992 while on staff at the Maharishi International University, by what he calls the "meditating businessmen" who founded the U.S. party in Fairfield, Iowa. Like him, most NLP candidates do not come from political backgrounds. At a series of informal meetings across Texas earlier this year, candidates simply raised their hands and volunteered to run. In fact, many still plan to vote Democrat and Republican. However, State Board of Education candidate Catherine Randolph, who admits to being a yellow-dog Democrat, quips, "I certainly intend to vote for myself."

Most of them are not even campaigning for their offices, but are running simply to give the NLP a presence on the November ballot. Candidates are no less supportive of Natural Law ideas because of their lackadaisical campaign efforts, however. Steve Klayman, a chiropractor who is running for Lloyd Doggett's senate seat, paints the party's message as a "breath of fresh air in a field of death." NLP candidates hope to effect the political climate in the way that third-party movements such as Women's Suffrage and Perot's Reform Party have throughout this century. "If it seems weird [now], 20 years ago talking about stress seemed weird. And [20 years ago] it was cool to smoke," points out Klayman.

It would certainly be a mistake to write off the Natural Law Party simply because their ideas are kooky or new. The party clearly intends to be taken seriously and is already planning for the 2000 campaign. In fact some of this year's races may have unexpected outcomes. "I may not be such an underdog as initially perceived," asserts BonSell, who has no Republican challenger in her race against Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos. Hagelin confirmed that in a handful of races across the nation, NLP candidates are expected to win office. The party's website, www.natural-law.org, receives 10,000 hits per day and Hagelin estimates that the NLP may receive 2.5 million votes nationwide this November. He expects that those numbers will cause Republicans and Democrats to "scramble to get on the prevention bandwagon." No doubt Hagelin and his fellow candidates are busy meditating on victory right now. n

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