Reform's John Hagelin, Transcending Politics

Washington Post / August 12, 2000
By Peter Carlson

LONG BEACH, Calif., Aug. 11--John Hagelin's security guys check out the van, searching for God knows what, while Hagelin waits there, a presidential candidate of one of the two factions of the Reform Party meeting here. He waits patiently. At 46, his face is unlined and his bearing is serene. His balding head is a perfect oval, his blue eyes are clear. Everybody around him is wired, cranked, frantic, frenetic but Hagelin is calm. Perfectly calm.

The people from CNN have sent the van to pick Hagelin up despite the fact that he's standing in a hotel lobby across the street from the Long Beach Convention Center where the TV folks want to interview him.

He could walk the 200 yards but God only knows what kind of mayhem might break out when he got there. The problem is: Hagelin is the candidate of one faction that is convening here. And the convention center is where the other faction - the Pat Buchanan faction - is holding its meeting. The factions hate each other and if Hagelin tried to walk through the convention center - well, CNN isn't taking any chances.

Neither are Hagelin's security guys, the dudes with the plastic doodads in their ears and suspicion in their eyes. Hagelin has calm in his eyes. Is it his cosmic attitude based on his occupation as a quantum physicist? No. His press secretary, Robert Roth, thinks he knows the reason: "Thirty years of meditation," he says.

The security guys give him the okay, and Hagelin slips into the van. He sits down and starts talking about Transcendental Meditation. "I meditate," he says, in a voice that is, well, calm - the soothing voice of a laid-back classical music deejay announcing a Vivaldi concerto. "I learned it when I was 17 and I was in a body cast after surgery." He'd busted up his legs in a motorcycle accident and the surgeon recommended meditation so Hagelin tried it. And it worked. It helped him recover. "I stuck with meditation to this day because of the mental side effects - mental clarity," he says. "It's very popular in my field for that reason." He is a Harvard PhD who worked in the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Switzerland and at Stanford University, where he co-authored a paper on Grand Unified Field Theory, "Supersymmetric Flipped SU (5)." But he was so enthralled with Transcendental Meditation that he left Stanford in the mid-'80s to teach physics at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, the epicenter of American TM.

He's still a professor there, although he's on leave now so he can run for president. It's his third run for the office - in 1992 and 1996, he ran on the ticket of the Natural Law Party and, in '96, got .12 percent of the vote. His platform back then was pretty much what it is now - in favor of tax cuts, preventive medicine and solar power, and against a "meddlesome" foreign policy, additional gun control and genetically engineered foods. Now, as the CNN van pulls out into the street, Hagelin is talking about how TM helps when you're running for president.

"As a candidate, it's a good way to remain clear and take deep rest at will - between interviews if I want," he says in that deejay voice. "George W. could use a little mental exercise," he adds, smiling ever so slightly. Now, the van has pulled into the back of the convention center, which is a madhouse of moving trucks and forklifts and guys screaming instructions, trying to direct traffic. The van's driver is on the cell phone, furiously calling for instructions.

But Hagelin is, of course, utterly unperturbed. He's talking about the time he and his colleagues brought 4,000 Transcendental Meditators to Washington, D.C., back in the summer of 1993 to do a scientific study to see if their meditation could lower the rate of violent crime in the city. And it worked, he says.

"There was a statistically significant reduction of major crimes," he says. About 22 percent, he claims. He slides out of the van, climbs up on a loading dock and into the bowels of the convention center, stepping over wires and puddles as he explains how 4,000 people meditating could affect the activities of local criminals. "The same way you're having an influence on me now and I'm having an influence on you," he says. "In a densely knit urban center like D.C., the influence just spreads, percolates."

Last year, on the "Roseanne" show, Hagelin suggested that sending meditators to Kosovo would help calm the violence there. "Yes, it could have," he says now, as he steps into a freight elevator. "They could air-condition the surrounding environment by being there." Air-condition the environment? "Keep it cool," he says, smiling slightly.

He steps out of the elevator and through a door and suddenly he's in the hall where the Buchanan faction will be meeting in a few hours - the very hall he was barred from entering by the Buchananites yesterday. If he notices this irony, he doesn't mention it. Instead, he stands calmly while a technician straps a wire on his shoulders and inserts an electronic gizmo in his ear. Then he sits down in front of a TV camera and waits for the CNN host, who is in Atlanta, to start firing questions into that earpiece.

He waits . . . and waits . . . and waits. He doesn't fidget. He's perfectly still, perfectly serene.

Finally, the first question comes. Hagelin is the only guy in the room who can hear it. He smiles. "Oh," he says, "things are much calmer today."

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