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Chapter Twelve: At Last, Some Personal Contact

 

It was unnerving to send out plainly worded emails on important topics of the day to 1,500 to 2,000 media people and not receive a single response except from those who wanted to be taken off the list. What were these people thinking? Did they delete my messages without looking at them? I needed more contact with these people to have real communication. I desperately needed feedback. Even the email response which said in large bright-red lettering, “THIS IS SPAM!”, was better than nothing at all.

There were a few exceptions: notably, Andrew Griffin of the Daily Town Talk newspaper in Alexandria, Louisiana, who wrote a column about my book; and Brian Madigan, producer of an afternoon program called “Viewpoint University” on radio station KSOO-AM in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Ten years earlier he had lived in the uptown area of Minneapolis. Twice I was invited to be a guest on the show as a presidential candidate and once as an ex-candidate - prematurely, as it turned out. The interviewers, Rick Knobe and Randy McDaniel, who seemed intrigued by my advocacy of a shorter workweek, remarked that it was good to be talking with an ordinary person, not just a candidate who delivered the standard canned remarks.

This was a pleasant contrast with my experience in late October when the manager of a radio station in northeastern Pennsylvania responded to my email in support of “Take Back Your Time Day”: “Never email me again. I am (a) registered Republican and do not believe any of this garbage. It is all communist fertilizer.” Despite having a treasurer in that state, Pennsylvania might not have been a hotbed of support for my campaign. Shortly after I emailed an announcement of the Des Moines event to reporters, a column about me appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review web site. “Meet Bill McGaughey, Dreamer,” was the title of this article written by Bill Steigerwald.

The article began: “Some goof with too much money and time to waste is seeking the Democrats’ nomination for president in 2004. Not Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards, John Kerry ..... Try Bill McGaughey of Minneapolis. Never heard of him? Too bad. According to his nifty packet of campaign literature, which somehow found its way to Pittsburgh, he’s overqualified. He’s a 1964 graduate of Yale. He’s written six books on trade and labor topics. He’s a former inner-city landlord ... McGaughey’s photo looks OK. No antennae are visible. If you’d like to join his presidential crusade, he’ll be marching in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, today.”

Mercifully, Steigerwald’s article then backed off from attacking me to point out several of the even more outrageous candidates who were entered in the race: “It’s really not fair to single out citizen McGaughey for ridicule,” he wrote. “Hundreds of even more hopeless, harmless dreamers and weirdos will officially declare themselves independent or write-in candidates for 2004, just as they did in 2000. Many will make McGaughey look as normal as Al Gore. Clifford Catton, a New Yorker, made the White House (race) in 2000 after discovering ‘U.S. Postal employees had been stealing my mail since 1981.’ Mike Strauss, an MIT grad who, making a smart career move, ran in Y2K ‘because I can, it looks good on my resume and it causes no harm.’ And Jack Grimes, the self-crowned leader and director of the United Fascist union, has already officially announced for 2004. The Pennsylvania resident hopes to restore a New World Order based upon the governmental style of imperial Rome.”

For months, Steigerwald’s column was the top item listed by search engines on the Internet when someone typed my name. This was fair game: I was not an elected official. I was not a Hollywood celebrity. My vote-getting prowess was evidenced by the fact that I won 31% of the Independence Party vote for U.S. Senate in 2002, a total of 8,482 votes (which was a vast improvement over what I had received as a mayoral candidate.) And now I was running for President?! My claim to serious attention was that I had something to say on issues of importance to voters. I had published books on employment and on trade which, despite modest sales, had influence among persons interested in these subjects.

First and foremost, I was a supporter of federal legislation to shorten the workweek who had coauthored a book on this topic with former U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, chairman of the 1959 Senate Select Committee on Unemployment. An earlier such book had a foreword by Congressman John Conyers, author of a bill to shorten the workweek in 1979 and the early ‘80s. My 1992 book on international trade helped shaped the fight against NAFTA.

It was, however, another book, “Five Epochs of Civilization”, which might have been most relevant to my campaign. This turn-of-the-millennium book advanced the theory that there had been four “civilizations” to date in world history, with a fifth on the way. While our political values remain planted in the print culture associated with the third civilization, the society itself has moved into a fourth civilization focused on entertainment. Among the concepts presented in this book was the idea that successful political leaders in each epoch had talents in synch with the culture of their age. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill had highly developed writing skills. In the fourth epoch, where good writing was not so valued, successful politicians needed the skills of an entertainer. Ronald Reagan had this, of course. So did Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What about me? I’m more a writer than a man who puts on a good performance before the cameras. Even so, I could adapt my campaign to the requirements of campaigning in the entertainment age. This would involve a recognition that issues may be less important than personalities. The best attitude would be to “go with the flow” rather than complain. Instead of working myself up into a huff about the fact that the media did not pay proper attention to my “issues”, I would try to work the issues into a pleasant or amusing routine. I would try to make myself more appealing, entertainment-wise, and think how my campaign might fit in better with what the media are trying to do these days.

That is why it was such an astonishing piece of good luck when, on the very first day of the campaign, Alexandra Pelosi expressed interest in accompanying me to Iowa. My political efforts would be directed toward creating colorful events which Pelosi would tape for HBO. Cable-television audiences would be the public to whom I directed my appeal. It would be the entertainment sector rather than news sector of the television industry which would drive me forward as a candidate. Entertaining coverage of the campaign would put wind in my sails. But Pelosi suddenly canceled. I was left dead in the water.

Bill Steigerwald’s statement that “no antennae (were) visible” gave me an idea for my next entertainment-inspired move. If media people expected candidates like me to have “antennae” on their heads as if to pick up messages from outer space, I would give them what they wanted. By coincidence, I discovered that, when a person typed the words “predict the future” in the leading search engines, my book’s web site, www.worldhistorysite.com, came up Number 2 on the list. (It has since taken the top spot.) That is because “Five Epochs of Civilization” suggests a strategy for predicting the future course of our own civilization based on looking at past ones. The “prediction” page of the web site contained a discussion of analogies between past and present civilizations that could point to future developments in our own culture.

Doing what any good impresario would do, I hyped myself as a candidate with recognized powers of prediction. Recipients of this email might imagine that the “antennae” on my head were fairly glowing with prophetic pulsations. The “subject” field of my email to more than a thousand political reporters was phrased as a question: “Clairvoyant President?”

The text read: “What would you think of electing a President with the ability to predict the future? One of the lesser-known Democratic candidates has recognized talents in this area. He is Bill McGaughey, a scholar of wide-ranging interests which include finding significant patterns in world history. You can find a web site describing one of McGaughey’s books under the category of “paranormal phenomena/ prophecies and predictions” on the Internet. If you type the words ‘predict the future’ in the Yahoo or Google search engine, the page from WorldHistorySite.com which explains how world history can be used to predict the future comes up #2 on the list. Yes, whatever you think of his campaign platform, this candidate does get the big picture.” Some recipients of this message seemed to lack a sense of humor. I started getting more responses from people to take them off my email list. (Maybe our culture has not fully transitioned to entertainment.)

Almost as an afterthought, I sent copies of my Independence Party book to two well-known Minnesotans, Garrison Keillor and former Governor Jesse Ventura. What a surprise and a treat it was one day to receive a personal hand-written letter from Keillor, multi-talented host of public radio’s “Prairie Home Companion”, acknowledging recipient of my book and enclosing an inscribed copy of his own newly published book, “Love Me”. The inscription read: “To William McGaughey, who would make a better senator than the guy who got elected.”

Keillor had well-publicized misgivings about Republican Senator, Norm Coleman, the ultimate winner of the 2002 Senate race in which I had been involved. The incumbent Senator, Paul Wellstone, had lost his life in a plane crash a week before the general election. Keillor wrote in an enclosed letter to me that he was a Democrat rather than a third-party supporter. Even so, I knew that he had an eye for exotic political developments, having published a book about Jesse Ventura in 1999. This book, titled “Me”, was a fictionalized action story of Ventura’s life history, making him out to be a cartoon-like character. Keillor applied the same treatment to himself in “Love Me”.

I thought, If I were lucky, my own salvation as a presidential candidate lay in Keillor’s converting me into an action figure who did battle against political giants or other quixotic deeds. Garrison Keillor is America’s foremost story teller - the Mark Twain of our generation. He would be the one, I hoped, to turn my otherwise pathetic campaign into something to amuse radio audiences. I quickly read, “Love Me”, and wrote a letter to Keillor saying that I had read and enjoyed his book and I was now running for President as a Democrat. I imagined that Keillor, having invited me to have coffee with him, would ask diplomatically whether I would mind if he distorted my character somewhat to fit me into the Lake Wobegon scene?

The invitation never came. I was, of course, trying to capitalize on Keillor’s graciousness in receiving my book by hopeful expectations that he would propel me upwards in the entertainment culture. Realistically, however, I knew that desperados who hype themselves to run for President are not the types of people who inhabit Lake Wobegon. Also, the racial theme could be a problem. Even a man of Keillor’s stature would not be immune to criticism if he treated a “white racist” with anything other than utter contempt. It was hard to reconcile my politically incorrect candidacy with Keillor’s routine of appealing to sophisticated audiences with dialogues that exhibited a light touch.

Jesse Ventura was the other person, then, who might elevate my candidacy into the realm of big-time politics. After retiring as Minnesota’s Governor, Ventura had landed a job with MSNBC as host of a new show called “Jesse Ventura’s America”. It was produced at the public-television studio in St. Paul. This national show began broadcasting in early October. I expressed interest in being an audience member and was accepted along with a friend, Charlie Disney, for the October 24th session.

In the studio building, we rode up the elevator with a well-dressed Texan who said he was a guest on the show. “Jesse Ventura’s America” that week featured rock star Ted Nugent for the first half hour and our elevator companion, Barr McClellan, for the second half hour. McClellan had recently published a book, “Blood, Money & Power“, which claimed that Lyndon Johnson was involved in the Kennedy assassination. He himself had been a partner in the Texas law firm which handled Lyndon Johnson’s legal work and, in that capacity, had been given information to suggest that the Kennedy assassination had been coordinated out of that office. He was also the father of President Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan.

After the taping, my friend and I talked in the studio both with McClellan and with Jesse Ventura. I was carrying a copy of my Independence Party book in case the previous copy had not reached Ventura personally. The former governor quickly remarked that he already had a copy of this book. He said he had not yet begun to read it because of other obligations but would do so soon. Meanwhile, I signed up to be a member of the show’s “talking section” (audience members seated immediately in front of Ventura who might engage in personal interaction) in a future taping session but was never called. “Jesse Ventura’s America” suspended operations during the Christmas holiday and then was canceled. Instead, Ventura took a teaching assignment at Harvard.

However, my attendance at this show and the chance encounter with Barr McClellan turned me on to alternative explanations of the Kennedy assassination. I watched all the History Channel shows preceding the November 22nd anniversary and found critics of the Warren Commission report quite convincing. Besides Barr McClellan, insider testimony came from Lee Harvey Oswald’s mistress, Lyndon Johnson’s mistress, a bystander on the “grassy knoll”, emergency-room doctors at the Parkland Hospital, and many others. The evidence was too overwhelming that Oswald was not the killer or had not done it alone.

Yet, the news media contemptuously dismissed all such suggestions. The Star Tribune handled the matter by deferring to an “expert” who supposedly had examined all the evidence and accepted the “lone gunman” theory. The article then went on to speculate why Americans were so prone to believe “conspiracy theories”. I was totally disgusted. There had been not one response to any of the numerous pieces of conflicting evidence but, instead, a judgment based on authority. Even a man of evident high standing in the community, Barr McClellan, had stepped forward to offer personal testimony to the contrary. If he was ignored, resistance to the truth about the Kennedy assassination must be impenetrable. Whose statement would it take to convince these Brahman journalists, God’s?

I should mention two other experiences during this time. The Roman Catholic archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Harry J. Flynn, had issued a “Pastoral Letter on Race” which received much attention in the press. Archbishop Flynn had been assigned to service in Lafayette, Louisiana, before he came to Minnesota. In the Pastoral Letter, he observed that white racism in Minnesota was as bad as what he had seen in Louisiana despite Minnesotans’ greater tendency to hide their thoughts. (This is sometimes called “Minnesota nice.”) The archbishop explained his views before a predominantly black audience in north Minneapolis which included several Protestant clergy. There was broad and vocal approval of his anti-racist initiative.

During the question-and-answer period, I stood up to challenge remarks expressed at this forum. The gist of my statement was that one-sided discussions of race such as this merely drove white sentiments further underground. Though one minister called me “insane” for saying such a thing, I hung around to talk with people after the event and managed to part on reasonably friendly terms with most participants including the Archbishop. I typed up my remarks, paraphrased and condensed, along with a narrative description of the event, and mailed copies to the Archbishop and numerous other people. There was a follow-up discussion with his representative. While I doubt that my dissenting statement persuaded anyone, it did allow me to exercise my personal commitment to speaking out. Silence ensued.

As previously mentioned, there was a debate among the Democratic candidates for President on Monday, November 24th in Des Moines, Iowa. I wrote executives of MSNBC (who were cosponsoring the debate jointly with the Democratic National Committee) asking that I be included. Failing that, I wanted the debate moderator, Tom Brokaw, to mention at the outset that there were other Democratic candidates running for President besides the ones participating in the debate.

My letter brought no response. I telephoned a contact person for MSNBC to repeat the request. Someone would get back to me, I was told. This happened twice. No one called me back either time. It was evident to me that MSNBC, a partnership between two of the nation’s largest corporations, had assumed the role of deciding who were acceptable candidates for President of the United States and who were not. Neither was there a need to be polite about it any more. They and their friends ran the country.

I decided to drive down to Des Moines to carry on my campaign outside the convention center if need be. So I made another sign whose message read: “Ask the Right Questions!” My handout sheet contained a list of questions which I thought Tom Brokaw should ask. It was a cold afternoon in Des Moines that day. I faithfully paraded with my sign on the sidewalk in front of the Polk County Convention Center along with other political gadflies and supporters of the various major candidates among whom John Kerry seemed to have the edge.

Two or three newspaper reporters interviewed me along with a man from a Des Moines television station. There was also a man gathering materials for a cable-access show. There was a reporter for a college newspaper in northern Iowa who said he’d call me in a few days. A woman from Democracycaravan.org recorded my statement about being excluded from the debate. She suggested that I might watch this event with Kerry supporters and staff in a sports bar kitty corner to the convention center. By the back entrance stood a man dressed as Uncle Sam who supported President Bush’s reelection. I enjoyed being part of the scene. As a candidate, this was the closest I came to participating in a presidential debate.

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