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Knoxville's Presidential Candidates Past
Even pre-Lamar, Knoxville has fielded three prominent presidential candidates who actually had reason to believe they might someday live in the White House. All of their careers were, in one way or another, peculiar. None were elected president, but some changed the way we think about presidential-election politics. Amazingly, none of them was Republican.
Everybody thinks they know how to run the country. These local guys are actually trying to get the job.
by Mike Gibson
All right, so by now you probably already know far more than you ever cared about W., his burly bankroll, and whether or not he really inhaled. You've gazed at point-guard-turned-Congressman-turned-Time-coverboy Bill Bradley's overstretched but thoughtful mug, and dutifully pondered the incredibly deep and meaningful significance of his significance. You've heard bandied about names like McCain and Forbes and Perot and (Gawd help us all!) even Warren Beatty, and you've watched Liddy Dole gracefully exit the fray, spiriting away in the process all lingering traces of the x-chromosome from the restrictive Boy's Club of presidential politics in these here Yew-nited States.
And perhaps you've heard a little something about a couple of local boys, one a flannel-clad former governor whose campaign, as has become its custom, has prematurely bitten the dust; the other a guy named Al, whose status as Democratic front-runner has yet to be derailed (miraculously enough) by either his association with a certain bra-snapping Arkansan or by his own somewhat, er, uh, rather stiff demeanor.
But what do you know about the really, really local guys? Maybe you weren't aware that a handful of unheralded homegrown politicos are also casting their chips on the pile, vying for the highest office in the land without benefit of major party backing, name recognition, or a wallet full of cash.
Think of them as tiny but indispensable ball-bearings in the inexorable Wheels of Government; as so many dutiful manservants bearing up under Democracy's massive yoke. Or think of them as simply the proverbial Little Guys, united, if not by philosophy, then certainly by their collective disdain for the System, and all of the glad-handing business-as-usual for which it implacably stands. Think of them however you'd like, one of our chosen candidates might well say, as long as you think of them on election day.
The Divine Candidacy
His face is agreeably soft, a touch jowly, broad and square; his featureswell, they strike an undeniably familiar chord, marked by the aquiline nose, penetrating eyes, and the sort of frosty, chiseled goatee as befits a man with a name as memorable as Axelrod. Daniel Martin Axelrod, thank youindependent candidate for the office of President of the United States.
His name (as well as his descent) rates a special mention because his Jewishness is inseparably intertwined with his candidacy, which began with a Divine Omen in a small town just outside Philadelphia, when the brakes of his car gave way at precisely the same spot he had posed the question, exactly one week before, traveling in the same direction in the same vehicle en route from the same placemorning synagogue; in front of the same general store where he had wondered aloud a scant seven days prior whether a run on the highest seat in the land might not be in order for a Humble Servant, one with unshakable faith, a labyrinthine mental storehouse of ideas, and years of experience in government employ.
The revelation came on eight-oh-two-eighty (8/02/80), a day remembered, like a host of other significant dates committed to his nearly bottomless memory, by its numeric designation. Because in the world of Daniel Martin Axelrod, numbers are fraught with unsuspected connotations, larger implications, grander significances; and a simple date is rarely just a simple date.
"Excuse me if I get tears in my eyes; it was an emotional moment, an Act of God that began my candidacy," Axelrod says with palpable emotion, nonetheless still exhibiting the exaggerated deliberateness and impeccable articulation that typically characterize his speech. His reminiscence comes in the middle of lunchover a suitably Kosher morsel of crust and gooey cheese at Oak Ridge fixture Big Ed's Pizza, a stone's throw from the home he now shares with his former landlady and wife of three years. "It has been 208 months since then, and in that time I have been the recipient of 208 Holy Signs and Acts of Guidance, through times that have been very difficult, very lonely."
Though Daniel Axelrod's candidacy began with what was apparently a very sudden Act of Divine Inspiration, it was not without portent. A graduate of New York University, the industrious young chemical engineer was married with three children, living in Oak Ridge and working for the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) when his fledgling political notions found vent in a book, An Informed Citizenry and Individual Responsibility: The Strength of American Democracy. Written in 1967, the epistle was intended to preface another, perhaps even more prophetic work, a speculative exposition that was to have been titled A Constructive Action: A Presidential Candidate's Viewpoint. It never saw print, but the ideas that would have animated its pages remained vital, evolving and gaining new potency in the mind of Daniel Axelrod.
In the ensuing years, Axelrod became increasingly active politically; he campaigned for candidates from all parts of the spectrum as his personal allegiances shifted from liberal to conservative to his present self-described centrist orientation. He actively lobbied judges, Congressmen, and various municipal officials through a series of extensive letter-writing campaigns. He even gave testimony before sundry governmental bodies on scientific issues such as the efficacy of nuclear power.
Then came the aforementioned Road to Damascus epiphany (or, perhaps more appropriately, Axelrod's personal Burning Bush): "When my brakes failed, a police officer stopped me. His name was Officer Alexander; I don't know if there's any significance in the name, in the connection to the Tennessee Governor (Lamar) Alexander, but there may have been. But in any case, I was immediately stricken with what I must do. We stopped at a restaurant after the incident, and I told three people I was a candidate for president of the United States."
His nearly 20-year assault on the presidency has been nothing if not a campaign of Ideas; it requires not even the slightest substantive reference to trigger from Axelrod a torrential outpouring of unmitigated Thought, an unstemmable flow of concepts that spill over as if from a glutted fountainphilosophies and positions, numeric significances, self-created acronyms, religious symbologies, digression upon extensive digression... His political stances are informed by his own elaborately-drawn personal philosophy of Judaism, a concept he refers to as 08 Duet Judaism, the explanation of which is perhaps best reserved for another, lengthier time and space. His ideas include a 55-year plan for the eradication of nuclear weapons, a bureaucratic reorganization of the federal government into a series of sub-departments beneath the executive/legislative level, a complex long-term plan for elimination of the national debt through gradual spending limitations.
All of which points to perhaps the most unusual facet of Daniel Axelrod's self-styled campaign: that it is not truly a campaign in any traditional sense, but rather a one-man philosophical assault, waged via a never-ending onslaught of printed materials. Axelrod claims to have authored no fewer than 20,000 letters and another 50,000 position papers over the course of his two-decade political career.
"I realized in 1980 that I can do my best campaigning by writing, and not worrying about campaigning in person," he explains. "I don't have the time, the financial resources, or the skills to worry about going before television cameras and getting on every state ballot. I focus on how I would handle the job. It's up to the news media to cover me; it's up to the public to elect me. If they don't, it's America's loss."
And time may be running short. Beset with health problems, the unfortunate byproduct of years of tireless writing and working, Axelrod vows that the 2000 campaign will be his last. It was only by virtue of another Act of Divine Intervention, in fact, that his candidacy survived through the 1996 election.
"I had been working particularly hard, not sleeping much, carrying such an enormous burden that I was overtaken by some kind of seizure, tremors that shook my upper torso," Axelrod recalls. "That same day I turned on the news and saw a report on a series of earthquakes that had shaken Israel. It was too much to be a simple coincidence; 'Tremor, tremor, upper thoracic'then 'Tremor, tremor, Upper Volta.' It was God saying that He's still with me, that I should continue my labors.
"But this election will most definitely be my last," he adds with a broad, venerable smile, gray eyes shimmering in the restaurant's dusky light. "After that, I'll retire to the role of Senior Statesman."
The Patty Campaign: Right of Passage
Some might call Blount County's Hubert Patty a right-wing throwbacka political relic from a more inflexible, less enlightened era; some might call him a reactionary; some might even call him...a backwater eccentric, gently but purposefully navigating the outer currents of mainstream conservative thought. But whatever else he may be, the native Sevier Countian-turned-long-time-Maryvillian is nothing less than consistent. And what he has consistently done since 1991 is campaign for the United States presidency on the Republican ticket, riding atop a platform that, save for the occasional stray splinter, draws its planks from very solid, Goldwaterian grain.
"My overall position is simply that the federal government is too all-powerful, and that it greatly impedes individual as well as local government rights," Patty explains, relaxing in the McGhee-Tyson Airport lounge prior to a business meeting. "It makes our so-called democracy a sham. All the electorate does anymore is essentially condone the choices that have already been made for it."
His face creased and pleated like a very old but very comfortable slipper, the lines around his mouth permanently set in a kindly half-smile, this man some local party officials regard as an irritant seems somehow impossible to dislike. His hard-Right positioning may have even shifted ever-so-slightly center-ward over the years; the antiquated phraseology (i.e. "the women's lib movement" in lieu of "feminism") that was formerly a hallmark of his gently drawling speech has been dropped from his political vocabulary, and his stances are less aggressively posed, if stated with no less certainty than before.
The essential core of Rightness remains, however, as staunch and stolid as the day he attended his first Republican convention, the summer of '52 in the year of Eisenhower.
"The present make-up of the Democratic party leadership renders it unfit to run this country," Patty says. "Probably at least one-third of the 'fringe' members of society will always support the least desirable candidatethe homosexual group, the so-called right-to-choice group ('Sometimes we call them pro-death,' he chortles as an aside.). Now, there's a lot of honest people in these groups, but the trouble is they'll go with the Democrats regardless. If just a few of the so-called 'good' people fail to vote, the fringe determines the national elections."
A party activist since the early dawn of his political awareness, Patty gained a measure of notoriety when he ran as the Republican nominee for governor in 1962, an era when the seat was the sole province of the state Democratic party. The Maryville attorney would go on to hold various positions in the hometown Republican party, as well as run for sundry local offices, before launching his first assault on the presidency in 1992.
His bread-and-butter conservatism is spiced by a few savory centrist morsels, including a value-added taxa sort of de facto sales taxto be levied on both corporations and private individuals in place of the current income tax, as well as an ambitious (if somewhat vaguely elucidated) health plan to provide more-or-less universal coverage. But ever at the heart of his campaign is a Constructionist's populism, an overriding conception that the country's administrative reigns must be wrested not only from Big Government, but from the monolithic and all-too-tractable political parties that would feed its gluttonous appetites.
"Each state has its own ballot access requirements, which are ultimately controlled by the incumbents," says Patty. Despite his presence on a handful of state ballots, he admits he has yet to make the grade on the Tennessee ticket, which is accessible by way of either signed petition (of 2,500 state-registered voters, polled and reported within the space of a three-month time window) or a pass from the secretary of state. "Who is allowed to make the ballot is always governed by political influence," Patty says. "In New York, it's just about impossible for someone who isn't a party insider to gain ballot access."
Ever the trooper, Patty presses on, lobbying civic groups, authoring position papers, co-opting what media he can, even campaigning out-of-state where time and (largely personal) finances permit; his 2000 plans call for stumping in Florida, Oregon, New Hampshire, and the Dakotas. He's (surprisingly) realistic about his vote totals, which admittedly "haven't been overwhelming," and about his chances for significantly improving on such next year at the polls. "The reactions (to his candidacy) have kindly been a 'so what,'" Patty confesses. "I guess the great majority of the electorate has the idea there's nothing we can do about our current state of affairs. Right now, the only people with a real chance of being elected are those that are kindly pre-selected.
"But you never know when people might say, 'Enough is enough,' and restore the kind of government we're entitled to. If every voter knew my name and my position, I think I could be elected easily."
Liberal Arts: The Philosophy of Mixturism
If the promise of James Carroll's would-be presidency can even distantly approach the accomplishments of his varied and vital private sector career, then the Newport native is perhaps the great undiscovered treasure of the 2000 campaign. Author, philosopher, scientist, schoolteacher, home-builder, local printing mini-magnate...indeed, the trappings of Carroll's not-inconsiderable personal success are unequivocally manifest in the dignified bearing of his faux-Antebellum red-brick manse off Hardin Valley Road, in the towering solemnity of the ornate white columns which bolster the same.
But lest one make the easy mistake of judging Carroll's political leanings by the nearly aristocratic grandeur of his home, know that this short, bespectacled Air Force veteran with the faint lisp and distinctly rounded chin counts himself a "Liberal, with a capital 'L'," and that his sidelight as a builder is a product of his effort to provide affordable permanent housing for low-income folks.
"I've always been interested in seeing everybody brought in society's front door," says Carroll. "The key is that door has to be open wide enough to let everyone in. As a society, we have to realize that we are interdependent, not independent."
A chemist by training, Carroll interrupted his education at East Tennessee State University in the early 1950s to enlist in the Air Force, an admitted effort to avoid combat duty in the Korean War. "I guess you could call me a draft dodger of sorts," Carroll chuckles. "The Air Force didn't get a very good deal out of me; the only guns I heard fired were in basic training."
Instead, Carroll availed himself of the corps' abundant educational opportunitiestaking classes in electronics, radar, aerodynamicsbefore returning home and using his GI Bill benefits to finish his schooling. He commenced his workaday career as a federal employee with the Atomic Energy Commission programs in Oak Ridge before moving on to school teaching (23 years with the city of Knoxville) and to the publishing efforts that would prove to be the linchpin of his financial success. Today, his Video Publishing and Printing Inc. and its sister company, Textbook Tapes Inc., produce some 200 educational materials every year.
His run for the presidency began in '96 when, he claims, he was "the first person in America to announce (his) candidacy after Clinton was reelected.
"It's not that I want to be president so much as I want an opportunity to spread my philosophies. For me not to get these ideas out could be a disaster for the country. I challenge anyone to tear these ideas down; I know they're sound."
Those ideas are broadly umbrellaed by a system Carroll calls "Mixturism," the subject of one of his many self-published books. Loosely defined, it calls for the flexible application of principles from widely divergent economic philosophies, for the situational, often-intuitive employment of both socialist and capitalist methodologies.
More specifically, Carroll trumpets a federal health plan that would pay all one-time expenses in excess of $50,000; commerce regulations that would require large corporations to give notice of all intended price increases; a plan to radically re-think federal monetary policy.
"Inflation isn't caused by too many dollars chasing too few goods; it's caused by the simultaneous, systematic increase in price by a few corporate players acting in lockstep," Carroll snorts, flogging one of his favorite political whipping boys. "Then we have Alan Greenspan coming up behind and trying to curb inflation by raising interest rates and thereby driving up prices. It's crazy. It's like throwing gas on a burning house to put it out."
If there's one overriding flaw in Carroll's approach to politics, it's perhaps his tendency to assume that he is the sole intellectual curator of several relatively straightforward concepts, that he alone is vested with a larger understanding of truths that are, if not patently obvious, at least readily digestible. "Inflation is a euphemism for theft," he says at one point, before pausing to explain carefully the definition of 'euphemism' to the reporter to whom he is speaking. He's likewise more than inordinately taken with his "discovery" that a bank's hypothetical $20-per-100 loan return on its $5-per-100 deposits would effectively constitute a 300 (rather than 15) percent rate of net profit.
But it is perhaps precisely that particular stripe of intellectual self-assuredness, that sown-in-stone conviction of one's own irrefutable Wisdom and inarguable Rightness that makes a candidacy for Ruler of the Free World an emotionally conceivable reality, especially for the proverbial Little Guy. "Of all the people running for president, I'm the only one who has his finger on how the economy truly works," Carroll stoutly opines. "I'm the only person who understands what causes the problems and what the solutions are."