Thursday, June 14, 2007

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My soft spot for the Stassenites

Over at Slate, John Dickerson has story that crops up every four years -- the indefatigable, perennial and completely obscure presidential candidate:

While covering the Republican and Democratic debates last week, I thought I might have a shot at eating a late breakfast at the Merrimack candidate-free. John Cox, the Republican superlongshot, has an office above the restaurant, but I knew he was away, trying to wangle his way into the Republican debate. So, I knew I wouldn't run into him. I thought I was in the clear. I sprinted toward the door, then slowed down briefly to pull the handle. "Are you a reporter?" asked a man standing on the sidewalk. He was typing on a laptop he'd perched on one of the newspaper machines. Busted.

His name was Robert Haines, and he was running for the GOP nomination. He'd been shaking hands on the corner since early in the morning. "I usually get the first spot," he said, pointing to his maroon Mazda 626. In the window was a small laminated sign that read, "Robert Haines for President." He explained his parking strategy. "In the first spot people can see the side of your car from the road. These other candidates wouldn't know something like this, but I know the ins and outs. I know what it takes. I've been running here since 1992." Haines once lived in Denver but moved to New Hampshire with his family so that he could get pole position....

Haines didn't "want to get into" what he does when he's not running for president but stressed that he has a master's degree in applied solar energy and other educational qualifications that made him an expert on energy issues. A social and fiscal conservative, he opposes amnesty and—surprise—favors a strong national defense. He objects to all presidents named George Bush. He even ran against the current president in the 2004 Republican primaries, when most of us in the media thought Bush ran unopposed. "I came in fifth in the 2004 New Hampshire primary," he said, taking off his sunglasses to wipe them. (He got 579 votes. I looked it up.) "These other candidates didn't have the guts to run. You follow me?" He finished a lot of sentences with this question.

I find something unbelievably charming about the Harold Stassens of the world, but I honestly don't know why. In theory, these kind of people should repel me. If you think about it, what's endearing about a guy whose ego is so out of proportion to reality that he thinks he should be president?

I think what I find endearing is that, deep down, these guys know their odds and yet they persist anyway, election cycle after election cycle. That requires a mixture of optimism, faith in one's abilities, and partial self-delusion that is quintissentially American.

posted by Dan on 06.14.07 at 08:37 AM


The comparsion with Stassen is not really apt, because in 1948 Stassen was a very serious candidate indeed. It was only his repeated subsequent candidacies that made him look ridiculous. The point with these other guys is that they *never* had a chance.

posted by: David T on 06.14.07 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

I'm with Mr. Drezner.

Since Pat Paulson died I've had to vote Libertarian.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 06.14.07 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Sadly, Stassen behaved like a serious candidate in the run-up to 1952, playing straight-man for the China lobby's attack on Philip Jessup.

posted by: Carrington Ward on 06.14.07 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

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