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The Ivy League Populist
Tuesday, April 18, 2000

By Terge Langeland

If John Hagelin were to win this fall's U.S. presidential election, he'd be the most highly educated president ever.

A Harvard-trained quantum physicist and an educator, Hagelin is expected to be the presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party for the third time this fall. He is also pursuing the nomination of the Reform Party, in hopes of building a third-party coalition with enough power to pose a serious challenge to the Democrats and Republicans....

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 600 people in Denver last week, Hagelin delivered a message that was very much down-to-earth, focusing on populist and progressive themes like campaign-finance reform, curbs on corporate power and a moratorium on genetically engineered foods until such foods can be safely tested and labeled.

The Colorado Daily caught up with Hagelin for an interview following his speech. The following is a condensed version of that conversation:

Colorado Daily: What made you decide to run for president?

Hagelin: I really see a nation, a humanity that -- for reasons of education, primarily, I suppose -- are failing to live their full potential life, to enjoy life as richly as possible, be as successful as possible. ...

I was drawn into education for that purpose, and then I basically feel that politics similarly must awaken to the need for education that really harnesses the vast untapped potential of the human resources of the American people. If we continue to graduate students who are not reaching adolescent levels of development, we're going to live in an adolescent society. Adolescents shouldn't have nuclear weapons. Adolescents shouldn't have chemical or biological weapons.

Not that everybody in society acts on that level, but if you look at the decisions of our government, the fact that the Senate, the Republican Senate, fast-tracked and defeated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, that's immoral. It's criminal, and it plays only to the interests of the nuclear manufacturers and no one else.

We already have, obviously, nuclear superiority, the most advanced, the most extensive nuclear arsenal on Earth. We weren't content with that. Instead we had to spend more money, special-interest money, on nukes. And that has given not only license but motivation to India and Pakistan and other countries all over the world to get busy, to keep up developing nuclear arsenals. And it's given them the moral authority to do so. It's an outrageous vote, and it was rushed through without debate by the Republican Senate, in the pocket of special interests.

Ultimately, these are human problems -- avarice, greed, underutilization of our full potential. That's what my life has always been dedicated to as an educator. But now it's taken a political voice. Of course, since I entered the process, I've seen up close and become frustrated with virtually every area of national policy. Genetic engineering and the complicity of our government rushing these untested, unsafe foods to the market. Of course, our energy policy is 180-degrees backward. Foreign policy is based on the export of weapons. And I'm pretty much equally fired up and motivated to change national policy on all of these issues.

CD: I've heard a lot about a connection between the Natural Law Party and Transcendental Meditation.

Hagelin: The party has a very pragmatic philosophy. And me as a scientist running for office, similarly, I always stick my neck out for what works, whatever is effective, cost-effective, whether it happens to be a treatment for high blood pressure, physical rehabilitation, education, agriculture. And (Transcendental Meditation) has been found to be effective by the National Institutes of Health against high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Half of our seniors on Medicare are at risk of heart disease, and heart disease, we now know, is a preventable form of disease. One of the things that irritates me is knowing that Medicare kills 585,000 grandparents every year by denying them coverage for preventive programs, like Transcendental Meditation, that could have prevented the onset of heart disease and death. I will be similarly bold about sustainable agricultural methods, renewable energy technologies, whatever works. ...

Other than that, there's no connection, no financial ties (between Natural Law and the TM movement).

CD: Your field, nuclear physics, is very empirical. How do you make the leap from that empirical world to all this spiritual stuff? You don't typically think of a nuclear physicist as doing that.

Hagelin: Most haven't, admittedly. But quantum physics, especially, destroys the myth of materialism. ...

According to quantum physics, we're living in a connected universe, and according to the latest developments in quantum physics, by which I mean unified quantum field theories, we're living in a unified universe. So when you really pursue science to its limits, you end up with a spiritual message: the ultimate unity of everyone and everything in creation. ...

Right now our government is based upon, really, 18th-century barbaric policies and practices. I'd like to update government and base it upon the most updated, comprehensive knowledge of natural law, knowledge of the universe. And the moment it's updated, policies will start to be life-nourishing, universally beneficial, like preventive health care.

It's a win-win program; it's a win-win solution. It's good for fiscal conservatives because it saves money; it's good for liberals because it improves the quality of life.

CD: That's sounds so radically different. To some people that's obviously very refreshing, but others might dismiss you as "out there somewhere," you know?

Hagelin: Well, actually, they look at the platform, which boils down to, again, a very simple mantra: Government should be based on what actually works, not what's bought and paid for by special interest groups. It's a message people get. It's a very pragmatic message; it's a down-to-earth message. As a scientist I would support what works, but by the same token I would un-support what doesn't work.

The problem there is that currently -- and this, for a scientist, is just maddening -- there is no review process in government to re-examine programs that have been on the books for a quarter century, that may have failed from the beginning or may have long since become obsolete.

There's a saying in Washington, D.C.,: "What's goes in the books, stays on the books," because no one ever goes to Washington, D.C., to remove obsolete and expensive, failed policies. (They go) to Washington, D.C., to bring home the bacon by adding new policies that benefit their states.

Traditionally, people have described the political spectrum as left vs. right. Some people in the populist movement are talking more about a top-vs.-bottom axis. Do you place yourself anywhere on either of those spectrums?

Hagelin: Firstly, we transcend those one-dimensional politics completely. .. That whole view of politics is based on a zero-sum assumption that there's only so much resources, so many limited health-care dollars, for example, to go around. And what we're saying is that we can structure win-win solutions where everybody enjoys better health care, where everyone has access to health care at a net cost savings to the nation, by preventing disease and promoting health, or by education that puts to work the limitless creativity and intelligence of the American people. ...

I would say that Natural Law solutions are life-nourishing and universally enriching. ... You can really unite opposites by transcending the surface squabble.

CD: Do you favor a national, single-payer health-care system?

Hagelin: I don't think it's necessary. I think we'll find that a combination of public and private-sector health-care works when we unburden systems from the growing demand for disease-care services, through the prevention of disease through proven methods. At that point, we'll re-examine the system and see where it needs to be tweaked.

There's certain things I would do that I would call systemic. I would give Medicare subscribers medical vouchers, basically a check that they can use to purchase the medical coverage they want. That will foster competition among medical providers and improve both the cost-effectiveness and quality of medical care, but it will also allow people to choose, for example, a system that offers preventive health care.

CD: I know you favor a holistic approach to everything, but if I can ask you your opinions on some very specific things -- what about the defense budget?

Hagelin: It's too large. For starters, we could trim $40 billion a year from useless weapons appropriations that the Pentagon, branches of our military, don't even want, like more B-2 bombers at $2 billion apiece. These appropriations come from committees within the Congress that are tightly wed to the military-industrial special-interest groups. It's all well-documented; it's a matter of public record. There's a tremendous waste there.

But the other thing we can do to strengthen our defense while cutting the defense costs -- this is the real Natural Law Party solution -- is to stop creating enemies throughout the world. We sow the seeds of enmity every day all over the world through our so-called foreign policy and defense policies, doing hateful things in the name of the American people.

One thing about foreign aid, about which we all tend to be somewhat proud -- it's almost all military aid. It's coupons that we give to foreign countries that get redeemed to U.S. arms manufacturers for weapons. So in a sense it's very much an inside-the-beltway subsidy of the arms-producing industries. As a result of that, we're now known as the country that will provide a rifle to every man, woman and child. We are on both sides of every conflict on Earth. We come across our own weapons in the battlefield, and we sow the seeds of enmity.

That's why we're the principal target of terrorists throughout the world. Not because we stand for freedom but because of the hateful things we do in the name of the American people. And there's no defense against it. We could spend a trillion dollars on Star Wars -- and that's what it's going to cost -- (and) when all is said and done we'll be able to defend ourselves against one country, North Korea. And even not against North Korea, because North Korea would never use such a high-cost, high-tech, traceable delivery device like an ICBM, when they could simply float a crude nuclear device up the Potomac. So there's really no defense against terrorism, and the only way to strengthen our security is to stop creating terrorists.

CD: Speaking of sowing the seeds of enmity, do you favor ending the sanctions against Iraq?

Hagelin: Yes. And Cuba, just because it's so obviously a failed policy. It's galvanizing the whole country against the United States. I think we're probably keeping Fidel Castro in power by galvanizing his role as a national hero standing up against the big bully to the north. It's time to review some of these failed policies.

CD: What about the War on Drugs?

Hagelin: It's a failed war. We certainly should revisit and soften a lot of drug penalties, especially for possession and use. I think there are a million people in jail like that, who are there for such nonviolent drug offenses. That's a waste of a generation, really.

But we must focus on the demand side of the drug economy by reducing the desire to take drugs. And I really think the way to do that is proper education that gives our coming generations access to their full potential and access to their full professional potential, instead of an educational system today that's fallen to all-time lows in comparison to other countries.

But the reason why I wouldn't just open up, legalize drugs completely, is that as the head of a brain research institute, I have very, very graphic, state-of-the-art images of what even six months of alcohol or even marijuana, heavy marijuana use, can do to a person. It's not pretty. ... I don't want to send the wrong signal to youths by implying that drugs are OK.

CD: You say you can cut taxes "deeply." Where is that money going to come from?

Hagelin: It's going to come from $150 billion of savings in the public-sector health arena. Not in year one, not in year two, but beginning in year three, year four, year five. It's going to come from ending our energy dependence on foreign oils and all the military expenditures that are tied up in keeping a fleet there in the Middle East. In fact, half of our trade deficit that the Reform Party members scream about, rightly, is due to foreign oil. And we can wean ourselves from that addiction very quickly when we put our engineers and our American ingenuity to work.

The costs of crime are quite staggering considering the property costs, the direct costs to property and to human life. By cutting crime through effective crime prevention programs that work, you can save probably $125 billion to $145 billion. ...

The whole idea of the Natural Law Party platform is proven, cost-effective, humane solutions. And we could, for example, live right now -- if we get rid of all the corporate welfare and simplify the tax code -- we could live with a 17-percent flat tax, for example, with a generous floor, a $36,000 floor below which you don't pay tax. And that 17 percent could probably fall to between 11 and 12 percent in four or five years, maintaining a balanced budget and actually retiring the debt and shoring up Social Security and Medicare.

CD: You refer often to these "proven solutions." What are they?

Hagelin: Our platform has all the scientific references that show that, for example, improving the nutritional quality of school lunches will improve attention span and academic performance, that malnutrition has a serious debilitating role in the effectiveness of education, especially in our financially disadvantaged neighborhoods. ...

The real blessing of doing what I'm doing is that I get the benefit of input from thousands of people who are conscious of solutions that are working in their classrooms, on their farms to prevent the erosion of soil, in their health care practices.

CD: Is there a unifying theme throughout these solutions?

Hagelin: They're prevention-oriented, sustainable, in harmony with natural law. Which, for example, genetic engineering is not. And that means an education, of course. We want to harness the laws of nature that govern learning and govern child development, the maturation of the human brain. ..

It's more or less common sense, what's in tune with natural law. But if there's ever any doubt, science can show what is effective and what is not.

CD: How do you counter the notion that a third-party vote is a wasted vote?

Hagelin: I'll point to history and say, "Third-party votes are the only votes that have ever accomplished anything." It's only when a third-party movement reaches a million votes, 2 million votes, that the Republicans and Democrats scramble: "What do they have that we don't, what are we missing here?" And then, these ideas become absorbed and become part of the political mainstream. That's another way of winning; that's the way third parties traditionally win.

We're going to do better than that. ... Jesse Ventura -- like him or not, he's really a fresh voice in politics -- he made a lie of the Republican and Democratic spin that third- party candidates cannot win. They can win. In three weeks, he went from nothing to governor, and we have seven or eight months to do that.

CD: I was in Washington and watched some of the demonstrations against the IMF and the World Bank. A lot of people who read our paper are very concerned about that, the WTO, NAFTA. How do you feel about it?

Hagelin: Well, those are different institutions. The WTO, I have issued a statement saying that if they don't revise their behind-closed-doors, undemocratic practices, if they don't admit significant input from environment, from human rights, labor concerns, that I would withdraw the country from that.

But I'm not surprised that these trade organizations or trade policies are warped, because they're warped in the very same way, by the very same special interests that have warped and co-opted every other area of government policy.

I believe in trade. Particularly now, the U.S. is spearheading the global information revolution, which is a good revolution. It takes us away from gross material consumption and is more about self-knowledge, self-development. But we need markets for our ingenuity, and trade is going to be essential to make sure that people who aren't benefiting from this incredible economic prosperity can benefit from it.

So trade is good, but (not) trade policies that are dictated by multinationals, by corporate interests alone. When trade with China is all about selling Coca-Cola, Marlboro and pharmaceuticals with no concern for human rights, the environment or labor, then it becomes self-destructive.

You know, some of these changes will happen by themselves when our public servants become public servants, because right now they're not, really. .. Books like "The Buying of Congress" have proven that is the case. And until Americans really know that, it won't change. I think if Americans knew what I have learned, they would take to the streets. I think the Natural Law Party can prevent that.

CD: Some people did take to the streets, in D.C.

Hagelin: And many will. (But) the Natural Law Party can effect a peaceful revolution by acting within the system, according to even the perverse democratic laws that we currently have.

CD: A lot of the things you've said tonight really mirror a lot of what people like the Green Party, the New Party are saying. Where would you say that you really differ from those?

Hagelin: The Green Party is a subset of the Natural Law Party's broader platform. The New platform is even closer to the Natural Law Party's platform. The Reform Party is a small but important subset of the Natural Law Party's platform. The Natural Law Party is unique among third parties in that it's not a special-issue, single-issue party. It's a broad-based platform, a comprehensive platform of solutions that most Americans, literally, will feel comfortable standing behind. ...

I am committed to forging a coalition of American third parties in this campaign. I am seeking the Reform Party's presidential nomination. ... It's a party in search for a message and in search of a messenger, but most members of the party have far deeper support for this type of reform, for inclusive, life-nourishing, common-sense, proven solutions than Pat Buchanan's style of reform. So I expect to win that public vote, and anyone can participate in it -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Natural Laws, Greens.

All we need to do is get the word out that there are two possible directions -- this type of reform or Buchanan's reform. And we'll win that vote. When we do, we'll have forged a very powerful coalition of parties that I hope that the Greens will participate in.

CD: You said that you're suing the Federal Elections Commission?

Hagelin: That suit was actually initiated back in 1996, and we're expecting to hear back any moment. Because the (presidential) debates commission, which the FEC oversees, is not a legal commission. It's not legal in that it shouldn't be tax-exempt. To enjoy tax-deductible contributions, you have to be nonpartisan. And nonpartisan is not bipartisan. And that debate commission consists essentially of two people, former Republican and Democratic chairs, one of which is now a lobbyist for the gambling industry. And they are being paid to concoct some rationale to rubber-stamp whatever the Democratic or Republican candidates want.

In 1992, they wanted Perot; in 1996, they decided they didn't want me or Perot, so they concocted an argument that would keep us out. The criteria, by law, must be objective, or else they can't claim that it's nonpartisan

CD: How does challenging their tax-exempt status help?

Hagelin: That would mean there would have to be objective criteria for participation next time. ... They have to buy TV time, and the Philip Morrises of the world won't contribute to that TV time if they can't get a tax-deduction, so it would be a very strong incentive for them to open up the process.

CD: Some people have said this country's elections are so corrupt we should have the United Nations monitoring our election process.

Hagelin: Well, they are corrupt, and they are really the least democratic of elections on Earth. They have fallen to that degree. But I think that we as a people can monitor ourselves, and it's just a question of education. People need to know to what degree our democratic process has been co-opted, and they will exercise their right to vote no matter how many hundreds of millions of dollars of propaganda George W. can throw at us.

No one has voted yet; no one has voted anything yet. No matter how much money is spent, if people are simply alert, they're educated about their candidates and what they really stand for, then no amount of special-interest control of our government will be enough, will be sufficient. So we're on an educational campaign. ...

On the campuses, which have really been asleep, politically speaking -- compared to the '60s, sound asleep -- we're starting to see an awakening, almost the start of a grassroots brush fire. Only 11 percent of students voted in 1998. That's just appalling by any historic standards; it's outrageous. But the students have no investment in the Republican or Democratic parties. When I speak to a poli-sci class of 150 people and ask how many are Republicans, two hands go up. How many Democrats? Three, four. The rest, they're all waiting, looking for a reason to vote. They have no investment in either party.

Once this starts on the campuses -- wow! Students are connected, you know, on the Net, and you can reach a critical mass on the Internet so fast.

For more information on Hagelin's candidacy and the Natural Law Party, visit or

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