Coffee and Populism

STARBUCK, KATHY

National Reports COFFEE AN D POPULISM BY KATHY STARBUCK Amherst, N.H. It is early. Too early if you value your sense of proportion or your stamina. But a dozen Presidential hopefuls have...

...Her remarks to the Amherst gathering were well-placed and frequently and pointedly interrupted by Harris...
...People say, let's have party unity...
...He is the new populist...
...In a 35-minute conversation, he used the same four words as a run-together contraction "rich-people-big-corporations" 16 times...
...But it is issues, not unity, that count...
...The couple nonchalantly but insistently created a believable picture of themselves as a solid team working as equals to capture the people's office of President...
...It started in September when he and his wife, LaDonna, sent invitations to a small group of people they knew here and asked them to attend a coffee to talk about the primary...
...initiate immediate controls on monopolistic industries and rollbacks on the prices of some, such as oil and gas...
...During the coffee I attended he emphasized in a little speech: "Don't you forget it...
...That coffee resulted in a call for more coffees...
...The most massive political change in my lifetime has just occurred and that is what makes it possible for me to be a candidate," he says, referring to the recent reform of the campaign finance law for Presidential elections...
...He came from a state that borders mine...
...He thought of himself as a citizen, willing to be President and willing to go back to being a citizen...
...I think the only unity that makes any sense is unity around issues...
...But is it more than a gimmick born of necessity by a man without money or a large national reputation who wants to be President...
...And it is refreshing to stumble over a candidate who is not surrounded by aides, political groupies and exhausted media experts...
...He feels he appeals to the many who have become disillusioned with politics-as-usual...
...Eight years in the Senate (he retired voluntarily in 1972), 23 years in politics and a stint teaching government at American University in Washington, D.C., have not left him naive about the political process...
...He says the country is going to hell and that a major depression is probably just around the corner...
...Harris says the people can't get LaDonna as First Lady without voting for him...
...But he was saying then many of the same things he says today: "My wife LaDonna and I have always had to work for a living and I feel that people who work for a living are entitled to have somebody speak for them in America and not let rich-people-big-corporations run everything...
...New Hampshirites, of course, are accustomed to the ritual the candidates perform-flattering and frequent contacts with local party leaders...
...Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona had dominated the news the previous weekend by becoming the first Democrat to officially declare his intention to enter the state primary...
...He believes the new restrictions on the amount of money any candidate can spend in a primary, and the provisions for matching Federal funds, are "tailor-made for the kind of people-oriented campaign I'm conducting...
...These measures would not only make for greater economic justice, he says, but sounder economic policy as well...
...Each coffee is run the same way: low-key socializing, small talk interspersed with issue talk, requests to fill out a card indicating support and, possibly, a willingness to hold a coffee and invite other friends to meet Fred Harris...
...He insists his is the only way to return the Presidency to the people...
...Not one politician, and no news representatives except me...
...Kathy Starbuck is political editor of the Milford (N.H...
...That never works...
...Harris does not confine his attacks on rich-people-big-corporations to interviews or gatherings where he would be preaching to the converted...
...President of Americans for Indian Opportunity and a national leader in women's and minority rights, she accompanies her husband on all his campaign ventures and doubles as campaign manager and political consultant...
...Certainly it is an economic necessity for him, and probably the only way he as an individual can survive the awful process of trying to become his party's candidate...
...Harris clearly knows what he is up against...
...What is Harris up to by choosing to ignore his party organization...
...That's why I'm running for President...
...That's why I'm running...
...Harris is passionate yet not angry when he talks about pundits: "First of all you can say that the political observers are not sometimes wrong, they are always wrong...
...A senator makes decisions and talks about them...
...Us against Them...
...You can't get folks that interested in the party...
...He was being deliberately grating, since he knew the group contained not a few affluent people...
...It's Us against Them...
...The pyramid began...
...Cabinet...
...So far I haven't heard anybody else talk about those kinds of issues...
...enforce the principles of a graduated income tax so that most people would have a tax cut and the rich-people-big-corporations would have a tax increase...
...barrages of information to the media...
...These are some things Harris would try to effect in his citizen Presidency: "Enforce the antitrust laws which we haven't done in 3040 years...
...Now there are more volunteers waiting to have coffees than time to hold them...
...We are in the process, as is the case with any campaign, of creating our own experts...
...The Democratic State Committee Secretary says his office has yet to hear directly from Harris or the Okla-homan's supporters that he has ever even been in the state...
...Instead of waiting to see how things will come out, they get involved to make sure how they come out...
...She says, "This country is not doing well at distributing the wealth among its people only because we don't want to...
...So what you have to do is go to the people...
...Remember that...
...A glance around the living room where one of his coffees was in progress counted several health and welfare workers, laborers, housewives, a minister, students, an engineer, a psychotherapist, and a couple of young lawyers...
...Harris estimates that at least 250 people have already committed themselves...
...A President makes decisions and executes them...
...A third, Fred Harris, former senator from Oklahoma, was found with his family in this Colonial town...
...Thanksgiving weekend, when most people were glad to be at home, local reporters were tracking down two Democratic Presidential aspirants, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and Florida Governor Reuben Askew, both rumored to be in the state...
...Always...
...He does not have a single person in New Hampshire on his payroll...
...Fred Harris is not going through the standard ritual, however...
...we're just not using it right...
...And I've been in politics since I was 21...
...Instead, he is conducting a genuine person-to-person campaign...
...Besides, the people are smart enough to govern themselves...
...I believe the economy is in desperate shape, with many people out of work and not able to pay for groceries...
...They're new...
...Harris is to announce here this month...
...But a dozen Presidential hopefuls have announced in one way or another by their presence in this state that it is not too early to start rounding up support for their bids...
...He is not making the special visits to party leaders and campaign contributors...
...His money dried up so fast that he never even made it to New Hampshire...
...This approach is novel, to say the least...
...His family often speaks more effectively for Harris than he does...
...Truman ended up in office as a whole and sane and human person...
...They were conducting their fourth weekend of New Hampshire Presidential politicking in two months-harris style...
...I dialed a telephone number given me by a friend who had been invited...
...His eighth-grade daughter, Laura, is a natural politician who made many friends around the neighborhood during her weekend in Amherst...
...Harris did consent to a private interview before the coffee...
...He is not courting the media...
...He argues that the last person who survived the process of becoming President was Harry Truman: "He didn't find it difficult...
...I know that is true...
...And the people of New Hampshire are smart enough to run their own campaign...
...Harris, who just four years ago was Democratic National Chairman, explains: "There is no contradiction...
...You can't really change things in America without having a President who wants to change things...
...Harris is not dissatisfied with the system so much as with the lack of implementation of what already exists within the system...
...I'm a Democrat and happy to be a Democrat...
...I've watched the Presidency up close, I've looked at it from the outside too, and there's no question that we have to make it a citizens' office again...
...She carefully introduced her new friends to the group at the coffee and captivated some of the guests with no-nonsense anecdotes about her political parents...
...Concentrated economic power causes that...
...What makes the party important is dealing with issues, like right now how can we get these damn prices down, how can we get people back to work...
...The structure is okay...
...obsequious approaches to the well-known money givers...
...Harris began talking about his populist program in 1972, when he ran a short-lived Presidential campaign...
...Harris' wife, LaDonna, is a Comanche Indian born on an Oklahoma farm and raised in a home where Comanche was the primary language...
...Harris answered the phone himself and said in his unmistakable and booming Oklahoma voice that sure, he'd be glad to talk to me if I'd like to come on over...
...Harris is impatient with those who doubt that his person-to-person approach will succeed...

Vol. 58 • January 1975 • No. 1


 
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