Bran in every bowl! Nudes on every stamp! It’s kooks-for-president time again

Walter Stewart March 22 1976

Bran in every bowl! Nudes on every stamp! It’s kooks-for-president time again

Walter Stewart March 22 1976

Bran in every bowl! Nudes on every stamp! It’s kooks-for-president time again

Walter Stewart

“The state of the union may be summed up in one word: constipation. What this country needs is a little bran. I will recommend reorganizing the food and drug administration, putting in our best nutritionalist doctors, so they can get the flour mills to put back in our bread or flour the bran it takes to keep us healthy, also outlaw all synthetic preservatives and dyes used to sell junk food.”

This ringing declaration sets forth the presidential campaign platform of Ernest (Utopia in 76) Whitford, a San Pedro, California, Republican who is locked in a struggle for power with slightly betterknown contenders named Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and George Wallace. Whitford doesn’t have a chance, despite the eminent good sense of his stand—a program at once more nutritious than the flimflammery of a Wallace or Carter and less dangerous than the belligerent thoughtlessness of a Reagan—but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is in good company.

Any native-born citizen of the United States who is 35 or older may run for President: consequently, the files of the federal election commission on K Street in Washington are bulging with the forms, files and correspondence of more than 100 wouldbe Presidents, marshaled under a broad array of imposing banners.

There is Accountability Burns, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who wants to make December 24 and February 28 into national holidays, because he was born on Christmas day and feels cheated. There is Ira T. Waggoner of Champaign, Illinois, who notes, “It’s been some time since we had an iron hand in Washington and I have just that.” There is Sam “Mr. Clean” Silverstein, of New York City, who says he will promise nothing— “This way you’ll know I’m an honest person.” He has some action proposals, though, even if they aren’t promises: he wants to put all congressmen on a straight commission basis, instead of salary, to

print nudes on postage stamps to keep the post office out of debt, to make smokers exhale into shoe boxes, and to combat violence by “decreasing the velocity of bullets by 98%.” Old Sam is full of ideas: in a press release on “tuna fishing and mugging” he suggests that, when attacked, the muggee should “try not to make any ethnic slurs... soft whistling or humming are okay while you are being stripped of your valuables.” Paul T. Lanyhow—address unknown— is running under the banner of the ram, “the sheep who fights back,” on behalf of all the dispossessed and disenchanted of the nation. He believes that America suffers from “terminal apathy,” and proposes to slap the nation awake. “If I can’t shake your head to clear the cobwebs and say, ‘Thanks. I needed that,’ then I don’t want your damned vote.” A lady from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, promises to run in “this election and all others until elected,” and another, from Brenham, Texas, is running for the third timeon the Lord’s instructionsCampaign contributions are hard to come by for these lesser-known candidates. Robert J. Roosevelt, a Washington, DC, native who says he is related to Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, as well as to William McKinley and Ulysses Grant, wants his supporters to “contribute generously at once,” because “due to terrorism and threats ... it has been necessary to cancel fund-raising dinners.”

In politics, the lines between the sane, the eccentric and the outright nutty have always been blurry. William Lyon Mackenzie King consulted mediums and believed he attained the Liberal leadership in 1919 with the help of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then deceased, and God. No prime minister has held office as long as King, who used some of the proceeds to haul bits of rubble up to the cow pastures of Kingsmere, in the Gatineau Hills, and prompted author Edward McCourt to ask, “What are we to make of a man who in cold blood erects on his estate the portico of a dis-

mantled downtown Ottawa bank?” And what are we to make of William Alexander Smith, who changed his name to Amor de Cosmos (“lover of the universe”), announced that “I would not object to a little revolution now and again in British Columbia,” and was rewarded with the premiership of that province in 1872? Or how about Sam Hughes, Canada’s defense minister during World War I? He insisted that he deserved not one but two Victoria crosses, tried to persuade a bayonet instructor to teach the lacrosse bodycheck, dismissed the aeroplane as “an invention of the devil,” and forced the Canadian army to adopt the Ross rifle, a splendid target weapon with the slight drawback that it wasn’t worth a damn in battle.

Strange strains are just as common in U.S. politics. Teddy Roosevelt, who is credited with coining the phrase “lunatic fringe,” was a health nut, and a bully about it. (He was also a bully about Canada: he claimed we behaved with “bumptious truculence” during the Alaskan boundary dispute, and offered to lick us. “Let the fight come if it must,” he wrote. “I don’t care whether our sea coast cities are bombarded or not: we would take Canada.” We were skinned alive in the settlement.)

William Jennings Bryan, a notable orator and fruitcake, ran for President three times, and nearly made it once, in 1896, when he campaigned for the free and unlimited coinage of silver, to put money into the hands of the workingman. A religious fanatic, he refused, as Secretary of State, to appoint a Unitarian as ambassador to China, on the grounds that only a Christian should be sent among the heathens. Unitarians didn’t count. In his last presidential try, in 1924, his platform consisted of an attack on the teaching of the theory of evolution. Woodrow Wilson won in 1912, and in 1919 suffered a breakdown from which he never fully recovered. Then there was Richard Nixon.

The obvious moral is that political daffiness and certifiable insanity are hard to tell apart: let him who is without twitches cast the first straitjacket. If we start applying sanity tests to political credos, we may be on the way to decimating Congress and the House of Commons and overflowing every loony bin east of the Fraser and north of the Rio Grande.

For myself. I’ll cast no stones during the 1976 presidential race: I’m saving my energy to pull for Ernest Whitford, the foe of junk food, if I can get him to adopt the campaign slogan, “A bran new face for President.”