Taking into account the magnitude of the position, it is surprisingly simple to run for the presidency of the United States. Aside from making a couple of phone calls and filling out some forms, all one needs is to be a natural born citizen, a resident for at least 14 years and age 35 or older.
Heck, look no further than the latest list of Democratic candidates. Situated alongside Howard Dean, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and the six others invited to the sanctioned debates is Willie Felix Carter, a Pentecostal church deacon from Texas who is making his fifth attempt at the Oval Office. Even more impressive is the persistence of one Al Hamburg, 72-year-old Wyoming Democrat, a house painter and a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Hamburg's name has graced the ballot six straight times. Six! His platform: Illegal aliens are dog meat and drug addicts must be sterilized.
Yet, when it comes to resiliency - down-in-the-dirt, you'll-never-rid-yourselves-of-me resiliency - Carter and Hamburg have nothing on Lyndon H. LaRouche, a man who is to presidential elections what fungus is to the damp side of a rock. Beginning with his 1976 setback to a Georgia peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter (Carter received 40,830,763 votes, LaRouche 40,403), LaRouche has run in seven straight elections - always making modest noise, rarely taken too seriously. The 2004 campaign will be his eighth, which, if "The Guinness Book of Records" acknowledged such a category, would rank him just beneath Harold Stassen, who famously ran nine times.
LaRouche is 80 years old, and he lives in a stone house on a modest farm in this northern Virginia town.
According to a spokeswoman, he collects his income through Social Security, as well as his job editing Executive Intelligence Review, a weekly pro- LaRouche magazine with a circulation of about 20,000. Despite never having garnered more than 80,000 votes, LaRouche continues to partake in presidential politics as - depending on whom you ask - either a dangerous, power-hungry intimidator or a genius who can save the United States of America from inevitable doom.
On the corner of 86th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, a team of five men regularly sets up a table of LaRouche pamphlets and books, desperately trying to convince passersby that votes for Dean or Kerry or George W. Bush are the equivalent of wads of paper being thrown down a toilet.
All across America, LaRouche-ites like these spend their days in such a way, driven by the unyielding belief that their leader is greatness personified. "Lyndon LaRouche is the most brilliant person I've ever met," says Mike Leppig, a Vietnam vet who, on a recent Friday afternoon, stands before a crudely designed sign that asks, ARE YOU SMART ENOUGH TO ELECT A GENIUS? "What I'm trying to do is get people to vote for Lyn and change the course of world history."
LaRouche's 2004 campaign centers upon the idea of a national economic recovery based on fixed exchange rates and a commitment to global development. LaRouche is also against the U.S. occupation in Iraq, believing the responsibility should be turned over to the United Nations. He is, for the most part, pro-choice and against gay marriages. It is a strikingly mainstream platform.
To many, however, LaRouche is nothing more than a psychotic, power-hungry political cult leader with delusions of grandeur. They dismiss him as insignificant, a political never-was with a small following of paranoid hatemongers. "If you asked 100 poli-sci majors on this campus who Lyndon LaRouche is, five might recognize the name," says Art Paulson, a professor of political science at Southern Connecticut State University. "But if you asked 100 random students to identify Lyndon LaRouche, maybe-and I mean maybe-one could tell you. He's a conspiracy theorist, and not a very important one at that."
But he is running for president. Again.
"The Beatles had no genuine musical talent, but were a product shaped according to British Psychological Warfare Division specifications."
- Lyndon LaRouche, from the pamphlet, "Why Your Child Became a Drug Addict"
Before being granted a private audience with Lyndon LaRouche, one must go through a screening process that is, in a word, weird. First, all pockets, purses and bags are completely emptied. Then a man with a metal-detecting wand does a twice-over, checking every crease of the body. In an airport, or visiting, say, the Eiffel Tower, such measures are understandable, even expected. But here, in the home of one of his supporters, isolated in the middle of nowhere, it seems excessive. "You don't know," says the wand worker. "Mr. LaRouche is a wanted man. He's not safe."
In the flesh, LaRouche is more grandfatherly than grandiose. He is a peaceful-looking senior citizen, with soft blue eyes, brownish teeth and an easy, almost tender laugh. Kicking back in a plush brown chair, a glass of water in his right hand and a dog by his side, Lyndon LaRouche could easily be Fred Bartles or Ed Jaymes, sitting on a porch pitching wine coolers.
Although his followers will describe a conversation with LaRouche as (pick one) "riveting," "enlightening," "life-affirming," or "world-defining," there is seemingly as much babble as substance. LaRouche talks endlessly, in diatribes that can last up to 20 minutes without going anywhere. It is like visiting a lonely grandparent in a nursing home after he just finished reading the newspaper.
And yet, there is something disconcerting about LaRouche, and it's not simply his bizarre track record of intimidating those who disagree with his stances; of being labeled everything from a racist to an anti-Semite to a homophobe; of accusing Walter Mondale of being a KGB agent and Queen Elizabeth of smuggling drugs. No, the man who would be president projects a sense of self-importance that is unnatural, almost inhuman. It is one thing to win the presidency, then strut around with a barrel chest. But LaRouche seems to actually believe he is the president.
"We already feel as if he's running things," says Angela Vullo, his press secretary. "People don't understand," she says. "But he's doing a lot of the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes in this country, and around the world."
Although there is no visible evidence for outsiders to accept such a claim (LaRouche says the mainstream media have intentionally misrepresented his status and, thusly, muted his impact), it is what keeps LaRouche and his impressively large collection of followers going. Across the globe, according to Vullo, thousands of people work and volunteer for LaRouche, distributing his literature on street corners and college campuses, running his campaign and publishing his seven magazines and newspapers. With few exceptions, those dedicated to the movement believe, in their heart of hearts, that LaRouche somehow will do what he was unable to accomplish seven previous times.
The idealism is best displayed by Vullo, a charming, intelligent woman who, 13 years ago, left her job working as an Off-Broadway producer to go to work for the LaRouche movement.
Generally speaking, others in her role as political press liaison would candidly admit, off the record, that while the presidency would be nice, the realistic goal is to make a splash or influence voters or inspire legislation. Not Vullo. Asked, "Were you forced to predict the election outcome with a loaded gun to your head, who wins?" Vullo doesn't hesitate.
"Lyndon LaRouche," she says. "I believe that." She backs her decree by citing the Federal Election Commission's most recent fund-raising figures, which showed LaRouche ranking sixth among 10 Democratic candidates, with $4,541,113 in contributions from individuals. He is ahead of Bob Graham, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich, all of whom are taking parts in the debates. "He's a factor," Vullo says. "You'll see."
Actually, you probably won't. Even if LaRouche were raking in the dollars at a Bush-like pace (the president leads all candidates with $33,681,050), he would be no more welcome at party functions than Rush Limbaugh. In May, LaRouche formally requested a space at the first Democratic debate of the season, only to be turned away by ABC, the sponsoring network. "We've invited all the candidates that we feel have a legitimate chance of winning the party's nomination," ABC's Jon Banner told The Associated Press. When LaRouche's representatives accurately noted that Sharpton, Braun and Kucinich were longshots, the point was, in Vullo's words, "completely and unfairly ignored."
Nationally, the only elected Democrat who openly supports LaRouche is Nevada State Sen. Joe Neal. All others remain quiet. The Democratic National Committee did not return calls for this story.
LaRouche, sipping from his cup of water, looking an interviewer directly in the eyes, says he is indifferent to the party snubs, citing the Internet and small-town newspapers (as opposed to televised debates) as keys to pulling off an upset. In an era of national turmoil, with the economy floundering and the war effort increasingly under attack, he is convinced that the time for President LaRouche is now.
"We have this great crisis that's here, and nobody can do anything right in Washington," he says. "The American people are ready." It is the type of thinking one would expect from a man who begins "The Power of Reason," his 1988 autobiography, by writing, "During the course of the past nearly 20 years, I have become perhaps the most controversial among the influential international figures of this decade." In no particular order, LaRouche takes credit for: Ronald Reagan's presidency, the Strategic Defense Initiative, AIDS awareness, world monetary reform, and developing a flawless long- range economic forecasting system. He also says he predicted both the reunification of Germany and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Back in 1976, when LaRouche kicked off his presidential-running career by representing the U.S. Labor Party in the general election, his reputation to many was that of a brilliant- yet-misguided nut case.
At the time, LaRouche, a Northeastern University dropout and U.S. Army veteran who worked days as a business consultant, had gained moderate infamy as the head of the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC), an organization accused by the Anti-Defamation League of plotting violent anti-communist acts. (Debbie Freeman, LaRouche's spokeswoman, calls the NCLC a "philosophical organization dedicated to the teachings of Socrates.")
In early 1974, shortly before he would announce his candidacy, LaRouche first entered the public domain of conspiracy theorists by giving a speech that accused "sinister forces" of kidnapping and brainwashing his NCLC peers. He followed that up by publishing a 129-page book entitled "Carter and the Party of International Terrorism," which described a "brainwashed" Jimmy Carter teaming up with the CIA to start a war with the Soviet Union. The text sold roughly 200 copies, and LaRouche placed ninth in the general election, only 50,000 votes behind Peter Camejo of the Socialist Workers Party.
He was just getting started.
"The choice between Lyndon LaRouche and Bill Clinton? Oh, I'd take Clinton, no question. Clinton might have some flaws in his thinking, but they're commonly held flaws. The stuff LaRouche comes up with is just plain dangerous."
- Grover Norquist, chairman of arch-conservative Americans for Tax Reform
Any presidential candidate worth his salt has some skeletons to hide; those harmful little tidbits that inevitably sneak their way into the spotlight and turn into grenades. George W. Bush drank too much. Bill Clinton fooled around.
Lyndon LaRouche was accused of killing cats.
Yes, cats. A couple of weeks before the 1980 New Hampshire primary, Jonathan Prestage, a reporter with the Manchester Union-Leader, was assigned to profile the various Democratic candidates. Although LaRouche was-at best-a fringe contender, Prestage thought it might be entertaining to meet the man. "He came to the office with 10 people, including these big thugs," recalls Prestage. "When I entered the conference room and began taping, all these guys were standing around, looking intimidating." Midway through the interview, Prestage says he questioned LaRouche about a scathing New York Times article of a few days earlier. "He said that I can't ask him about that, or write about it," Prestage says. "He told me, 'We have ways of making it difficult for people who don't do what we like.'"
In the following day's paper, Prestage's LaRouche piece began with a description of the threat. Two mornings later, Prestage says he rose from bed, walked downstairs and found his two pet kittens hanging from strings on the porch. They were dead.
"It scared the hell out of my wife and kids," says Prestage, who reported the incident to the New Hampshire district attorney's office. No charges were brought. "I had no doubt who did it."
LaRouche denies involvement in the feline affair. ("It was organized crime," he says.) Yet both supporters and detractors agree that a crucial element of his game plan is visual intimidation.
Along with the alleged cat hanging, perhaps the most famous example of crossing the line took place less than two years after LaRouche's second uninspiring presidential showing. In the 1980 election loss to Ronald Reagan, LaRouche spent much of his time dumping on Henry Kissinger, Republican ex- secretary of state whom LaRouche repeatedly referred to as a "Nazi." Kissinger mostly ignored LaRouche, which only seemed to cause more resentment.
On Feb. 7, 1982, Kissinger was walking through Newark Airport, from where he was to fly to Boston to undergo triple-bypass surgery. According to The Record of Bergen County, a LaRouche supporter named Ellen Kaplan tracked Kissinger down and asked him, loudly, "Do you sleep with young boys at the Carlyle Hotel?"
In December 1988 - after two more fruitless runs at the White House - LaRouche finally attained the mainstream media attention he had always sought. Convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud in his organization's solicitation of $34 million in loans, he was sentenced to 15 years in the federal prison in Minnesota. He actually ran his '92 campaign from behind bars. ("I knew that'd be a tough one to win," admits LaRouche, who was given early release after serving five years.) This piece of LaRouche history presents an odd juxtaposition: As a convicted felon, he does not have the right to vote for himself.
"I don't care what people say-Lyndon LaRouche isn't a loose cannon. He's a brilliant man."
- Joe Neal, Nevada state senator
Lyndon LaRouche's 2004 presidential campaign is-if nothing else - his most precise. Unlike past runs, where his crazy messages bounced around like kangaroos atop a trampoline, this time LaRouche has a singular hot-button issue: the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.
LaRouche calls the vice president a "chickenhawk" and accuses him of lying to President Bush about intelligence relating to Iraq. Perpetually calm during interviews, LaRouche's eyes bulge when it comes to all things Cheney. Though he will send no Valentine's Day cards to Bush, LaRouche considers the commander in chief little more than a marionette. "Cheney calls the shots in this administration, and he's gonna go down," says LaRouche. "He's shaky enough and vulnerable enough with what's happened around Iraq that the financial swindles he's involved in can do the rest of the job sinking him."
Of course, many politicians have made the case that Cheney and Bush misled the public, and some have even called for impeachment. But here is what makes LaRouche LaRouche: Whereas, others blame Osama bin Laden for 9/11, LaRouche insists Cheney orchestrated it in a gigantic plan to make a scapegoat of the Middle East, tear the region up and lead an American world takeover.
"When I'm president," he says, "there'll be no more of this irresponsible behavior. America will stand for something again."
And if he's not elected yet again, cry not for Lyndon LaRouche.
There's always 2008.