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What's Happening

The Providence Journal
October 20, 2000



By Bob Kerr

You had to be mad to go to the Bristol Room at the Westin hotel in Providence yesterday morning.

Mad as in rippin'.

Mad as in clamping your teeth down on a rubber dog bone to maintain control while watching the presidential debates.

It was a lonely place, the Bristol Room.

There were four people behind the lectern. ...

There were three posters that declared John Hagelin "A Reason to Vote."...

It was a place for people made ill by Gore-Bush and clinging to the idea that someday lightning will strike and somebody will be elected president that is neither Democrat nor Republican.

This year -- with the major party choices for president the worst that anyone now breathing can remember -- there is a feeling of refuge in the low-watt campaigns of alternative parties.

There is the possibility, at least, that in these campaigns the candidates will not put a choke hold on who they really are.

In small, out-of-the-way rooms in hotels and banquet halls, they set up the coffeemaker, put up the posters, hand out the campaign literature, and hope to claim some small share of public attention with ideas that have not been run six times past the spin doctors.

There have always been fringe candidates -- some crazy, some serious, and some far more qualified and much more interesting than those annointed by the Democrats and the Republicans.

This year, there is a desperate need for the kind of relief candidates without handlers can provide.

After three Bush-Gore debates, any candidate who shows signs of scratching his nose or flashing a smile without the help of cue cards claims an instant appeal.

Yesterday, at the Westin, John Hagelin had no polls to worry about....

So he had at it. He is 46 and a Harvard-trained physicist. He is a professor. One of his local supporters suggests he is overqualified to be president, and she might be right.

He is the candidate of the Natural Law Party. He had hoped to be the candidate of the Reform Party, the party that Ross Perot fired into life with his millions.

But when the Reform Party convention this year turned into a brawling political cartoon and the repellent Pat Buchanan emerged as the candidate, Hagelin went Natural Law.

He refers to Gore-Bush as "the evil of two lessers."

Yesterday, to applause that was heartfelt but sparse, he talked about forging a new coalition of independent parties that would offer a home to millions of disaffected voters.

He talked about providing true health care, instead of what he calls "disease care," and of eliminating soft money from the political process.

He talked about winning enough votes so that the major parties would be forced to co-opt his ideas.

He really does seem smarter than Gore or Bush, but that's not exactly a reach. He is certainly more comfortable with himself. Of course, he can afford to be. He doesn't have to worry about something small and genuine slipping out and doing damage.

It would be nice to think that Hagelin represents something that will grow and actually provide an alternative to the kind of dismal choice that confronts us this year.

But there is something to be said for one bright and imaginative man working a small room and not worrying about the numbers.