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PBS Online Newshour
August 30, 2000


Gwen Ifill talks with John Hagelin about his bid for the presidency and his battle with Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party nomination.

GWEN IFILL: John Hagelin, along with Patrick Buchanan, is staking claim to the Reform Party's presidential nomination. Three weeks ago, both men were nominated by competing conventions in Long Beach, California, leaving it up to the states and, possibly, the courts, to decide on the true nominee. This is Hagelin's third run for president. In 1992, he helped found the Natural Law Party and ran as its nominee twice. This time he's running under the banner of what he calls the Reform-Natural Law Coalition. The Natural Law Party's nominating convention begins tomorrow in Virginia. John Hagelin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is 46 years old. And he holds a doctorate in quantum physics from Harvard University. He has never held public office. Welcome to the NewsHour.

JOHN HAGELIN: It's great to be with you.

GWEN IFILL: Why is it that you want to be President?

JOHN HAGELIN: Because there are critical problems that are not being addressed by either main party. The purpose of my campaign is to achieve unlimited possibilities for ourselves and for our country, not perpetuate the status quo, bought and paid for by special interest groups.

GWEN IFILL: Both you and Pat Buchanan are competing for this nomination. Where does that stand now?

JOHN HAGELIN: Well, Pat Buchanan - it would have been naive to think that he would leave quietly. And he has taken some of the goods with him; he's taken the Reform Party's ballot access in a number of states. But the Reform Party remains strong, certainly the majority of states, the majority of the ballot access and the majority of the party remains and nominated me and Nat Goldhaber as their presidential ticket. More exciting even now, moving into this convention this weekend, is the first-ever coalition convention forging a powerful coalition between the Reform Party and the Natural Law Party, a coalition that can credibly challenge the two-party stranglehold on our political process.

GWEN IFILL: In order to run anything resembling a viable campaign, at stake is $12.3 million in federal funds which the Reform Party is entitled to because of its performance in previous campaigns. Do you think that you have a claim on that $12.3 million?

JOHN HAGELIN: I would be astonished if the courts rewarded Pat Buchanan for his assault on the party's democratic principles. I'm quite sure we'll receive all of that money. But I'll tell you, $12 1/2 million is not going to make or break the Reform Party or my campaign. We've raised millions already; we will raise many millions more. We have got an ad campaign in place, we have got a campaign manager coming of considerable capability, a powerful vice presidential running mate in Nat Goldhaber. We have the elements in place to conduct the most viable, most visible third party effort in U.S. political history. Of course, Ross Perot had a very powerful campaign, and certainly well-funded. But what we have today is even more viable, a broader based, larger coalition of America's third parties, that could really catch fire.

GWEN IFILL: How does this stand right now, in some states like in Iowa and Minnesota, they are literally picking names out of a crystal ball between you and Pat Buchanan to decide who is the nominee. How do you decide who's the nominee, and is this any way to choose one? A contested nomination

JOHN HAGELIN: I don't think so. There are two states, as you mentioned, where essentially a coin toss picked the candidate. However, most states are going to be more careful.... I'm in a much more fortunate position here than Buchanan because I already have ballot access in virtually all of the states, as a Natural Law Party candidate, and again of course in many cases, also as a Reform Party candidate. So people will be able to vote for us in virtually every state.

GWEN IFILL: After all that happened in Long Beach, what is the Reform Party now? What does it stand for?

JOHN HAGELIN: The Reform Party now has been revitalized; it has been reestablished on its core reform principles. For a while, Buchanan was trying to pull this party so far to the social right that it was going right off the deep end, and it dropped from 20 million supporters to less than a million Buchanan supporters today. Now we're pulling it back. We're re-establishing the party on crucial democratic reforms to restore government accountability to the people including elimination of PACs and soft money, fiscal responsibility, fair trade, and now through this Natural Law Party coalition, extending that core platform to include what works -- best practices, in education, preventive medicine, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, a foreign policy that makes sense; a broad-based platform that has the overwhelming support of the American people, and I believe represents the first fully viable, mainstream alternative to the Republicans and Democrats, but a party of by and for the people, not bought and paid for by special interest groups.

GWEN IFILL: Let's start by talking about foreign policy. You said you favor reducing American involvement overseas. What do you mean by that?

JOHN HAGELIN: Well we have often a very meddlesome and invasive foreign policy. We can create enemies and do throughout the world. And plus, our foreign aid really represents military aid, coupons to be redeemed to the US arms manufacturers for weapons. It is an inside-the-beltway subsidy of our arms manufacturing industry. As a result, we're the country that has a reputation for providing a rifle to every man, woman or child who can lift one. We're sowing the seeds of enmity throughout the world; we've become the principal target of terrorism on earth, not because we stand for freedom but because sometimes our government does hateful things in the name of the American people.

I would shift the reform policy away from military aid, towards the export of critical know-how and business, entrepreneurism, education, agricultural methods, environmental technologies, to allow more countries to become... economically self-sufficient and contribute to a flourishing and more secure family of nations. Missile defense a 'failure'

GWEN IFILL: As you know, on arms control there is a pretty lively debate going on right now about whether the United States should be building a missile defense shield. Is that something that you support?

JOHN HAGELIN: I am a quantum physicist and I must say loudly and clearly this missile defense shield is a $60 billion failure. It is not just that it does not work, it cannot work. The very design of it is flawed. And with those $60 billion, for example, we could renovate every school in America. If we want to bolster our national defense, there are certain things we can and should do for more agile military, but first and foremost, stop creating enemies throughout the world.

GWEN IFILL: On domestic matters, the issue of education and what the federal government's role should or should not be has already taken center stage in this campaign among those two guys who are running on the major party tickets. Where do you stand on that?

JOHN HAGELIN: Education should have center stage, particularly for me as an educator running for president. The federal government should not be dictating state and local educational policies, but the federal government should play a critical research and development role by showcasing what works. We've got very successful public and private schools with educational innovations that are working to boost IQ, academic performance, broaden comprehension, graduate responsible citizens. These solutions have to be showcased so parents and principals can pick and choose from among these most successful programs....

GWEN IFILL: Another big domestic issue is Medicare and the future of Medicare. First of all what do you think is the strength of the Medicare system and are you going to jump on the prescription drug subsidy bandwagon which obviously Al Gore has made such a big point of?

JOHN HAGELIN: Of course we need prescription drug coverage. But the main problem with Medicare is that it is not a health care system, it is a disease-care system where Congress has actually outlawed prevention. According to Congress's own statistics, 70 percent of disease is preventable through proven preventable medicine. But if you are on Medicare and have high blood pressure and if you're at risk of heart disease, you can not get a $200 reimbursement for a trainer or a treadmill. But if you wait nine months, you can get a $50,000 quintuple coronary bypass operation, which is pennywise, pound foolish and inhumane. Therefore I would shift our health care system toward -- our disease care system towards a health care system by providing coverage for proven, prenatal and preventative medicine. Cutting Medicare costs

GWEN IFILL: And that would save Medicare from going off the cliff, in your opinion?

JOHN HAGELIN: It would. You can cut Medicare costs by as much as 70 percent within a five-year period through proven prevention, more than enough to salvage Medicare from bankruptcy, and over time, if we do this throughout our health care programs, to extend medical coverage to the 46 million Americans who currently don't have it.

GWEN IFILL: This week's big debate on the campaign is the role of religion. You obviously practice transcendental meditation. You are on the staff of the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. Do you think there is a role for religion in a campaign like this?

JOHN HAGELIN: Religion, no. Ethical and moral principles, yes. I think government is a spiritual profession or should be because government is the mechanism through which we collectively choose what kind of a world, a country, we wish to create together. Well, if the government is not informed by our highest commonly-shared ethical and moral values, then what is it? Unfortunately, it is what it has essentially become; government to the highest bidder....

GWEN IFILL: We are also in the middle of our quadrennial debate over debates. How important is it that you take part in these candidate debates this fall?

JOHN HAGELIN: Well, it certainly would be a shame for America if the third party voices, myself and Nader, got locked out because third parties, win or lose, are responsible for the vast majority of everything we cherish in our democracy: The abolition of slavery, the right of women to vote, child labor laws, workers' comp -- these ideas and most others came from third party voices. An idea that's so self-evidently right as a woman's right to vote can never be recalled. They are infectious; they inevitably change the political landscape. We'll win in the marketplace of ideas, but we're going to do better than that; we're going to go beyond 5 percent, we're going to go beyond Perot's 20 percent, because we have the right message at the right time. Remember, Jessie Ventura was nowhere three weeks prior to his stunning electoral victory. We similarly are experiencing the sort of grassroots uprising, a quiet revolution of the ballot box that could sweep us into office.

GWEN IFILL: John Hagelin, presidential candidate for the Reform-Natural Law Coalition. Thank you very much for joining us.

JOHN HAGELIN: A pleasure to be here.

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