New York Times
August 5, 2000
TAKING A SCIENTIST'S APPROACH TO THE PROBLEMS OF POLITICS
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
DENVER -- So how does a physicist who expanded on Einstein's theory of relativity with a treatise called Supersymmetric Flipped SU (5) find himself running for president?
"It's a quantum leap," John Hagelin said with a deadpan expression.
But then he explains the transition, and it sort of makes sense, a progression of curiosity, from science to public policy to public service, in which he has always embraced a common sense approach to problem solving.
What might appear to make less sense is why someone with his academic background and soaring I.Q., 165, would seek to put his ideas in play as the presidential candidate of the Reform Party, an utterly chaotic political organization that is mounting yet another charge this year against the Republicans and Democrats.
Mr. Hagelin, 46, who received his master's and doctorate from Harvard University and spent nearly 20 years as a research scientist, is immersed in a nasty primary fight with Patrick J. Buchanan, the loquacious former television commentator, to win the party nomination at its convention next week in Long Beach, Calif.
Until now, the primary has focused more on arguments, conflicts and accusations of election fraud against Mr. Buchanan than any discussion of ideas or issues. Mr. Hagelin, who remains virtually unknown to voters, visited Denver this week, as part of a campaign trip from Washington to Long Beach, to call attention to his own charges, that Mr. Buchanan has corrupted the primary process by submitting the names of people ineligible to vote in the Reform primary.
Insisting he has done nothing improper, Mr. Buchanan has grown so sure of winning the nomination that he has dismissed Mr. Hagelin as a minor annoyance, to the point of alerting reporters this week to the time and place of his victory party next Saturday.
But his opponent's bold confidence has hardly discouraged Mr. Hagelin, a soft-spoken man who is hardly the political neophyte that his background and easy demeanor suggest.
This is his third run for president, following largely symbolic campaigns in 1992 and 1996 as the nominee of a party he helped found, the Natural Law party, to apply principles a scientist uses every day through common sense, to national political problems.
"I was always about solutions that work, and I was very intrigued by a party founded on the concept of natural law," said Mr. Hagelin, who was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in a succession of towns in Connecticut.
After winning only 39,179 votes in 1992 and 113,668 four years later, he realized this year that by adding his base to the Reform Party, founded eight years ago and represented twice in presidential elections by Ross Perot, he could achieve a bigger platform and a stronger voice in the 2000 general election campaign.
But Mr. Hagelin's ideas and positions are born less from years in politics than from years of scientific research that focused on brain development and, later, the application of scientific principles to public policy. It led him from Harvard to the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva to Stanford and finally, in 1985, to Maharishi University of Management, a private institution in Fairfield, Iowa, where he established a research institute that explores issues like health care, education, crime prevention and the environment.
Early on in Fairfield, a rural town of 10,000 where he now lives, divorced from his wife of eight years, Margaret, Mr. Hagelin spent considerable time studying how to change the nation's health care system, which he calls "a disease care system" because of its emphasis on problems rather than prevention. He consulted dozens of House members and even helped write a single paragraph in the comprehensive but ill-fated plan Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed shortly after her husband became president.
"It was the only paragraph in a 10,000-page document that had anything to do with health," he said, recalling its focus on cost-effective preventive care.
He also favors fair trade, campaign finance reform, a flat tax, reduced American military involvement overseas, abandoning efforts to build a missile shield system, gun ownership rights and abortion rights.
But years of working with Republicans and Democrats, he said, convinced him that the parties are tied too closely to corporate donors to enact fundamental changes in major areas like trade, health care and military spending.
So he increased his efforts in building a third-party alternative, convinced "that we had to do what the government did with Microsoft, force competition through a vibrant third party."
His task at hand is a prodigious one. Mr. Buchanan has worked aggressively to assure himself the nomination through a complex process that could include the nullification of the popular vote in favor of a vote of the convention delegates. Mr. Buchanan claims to have the two-thirds majority he would need.
Complicating matters for Mr. Hagelin is Mr. Buchanan's longstanding presence in American politics and on American television. On Sunday, for example, Mr. Buchanan is scheduled to appear on four morning talk shows. Mr. Hagelin was not invited to any of them.
But Mr. Hagelin said Mr. Buchanan might be surprised at the convention, and if his years at Maharishi, where meditation was part of the daily routine, taught him anything, it was patience -- Mr. Hagelin said he meditates 15 minutes every day.
If he wins, he said, interest in him and the party would instantly increase.
"But even if I lose, I won't lose in a key respect," he said "As long as we have reached the marketplace of ideas and the Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to co-opt them, as they always have, we've won. No question about it."
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company