Friday, May 16, 2008

One Man's Investment in America: A Profile

One morning in June of 2005, Dr. Mark Klein decided he should run for President.

While covering the election in New Hampshire last winter, I walked into a White Hen Pantry and noticed a man passing out fliers for his Presidential campaign. Initially, I was temped to dismiss him as another publicity hound in New Hampshire running a vanity bid for the White House. Instead, what he said to me caught my attention. Mark Klein was “sick and tired of writing letters and complaining.” Klein believed deeply in citizens actively pursuing solutions to problems this country faces and in his ability to “guide our troubled society through very rocky shoals.” Running for President was simply performing his civic duty.

Klein, a sixty-seven year old retired psychiatrist, decided to take the money he was saving to reward himself with a gift like a luxury car and begin a campaign. Klein would seek America’s highest office having never previously run for any political position. Once he completed FEC Forms 1 and 2, Klein was on his way.

Over two and a half years later Klein returned home from snowy New Hampshire to his home in Oakland, California; he had received nineteen votes in the New Hampshire Republican Primary. Dr. Klein finished second-to-last among the twenty-one Republican candidates in New Hampshire, but the significance of his campaign is bigger than the small number of votes he received.

As a psychiatrist, Klein feels he has diagnosed some of the problems of America. “I always tell patients ‘if you continue to go in this direction you’re going to have a bad end.’ What happens is they don’t listen to me until they have to go into rehab. America has meshiga,” Klein explained to me over the phone earlier this week. “If I were President that wouldn’t work for me.”

In an election year where the predominant campaign theme is “change,” Klein’s campaign was rooted in a different philosophy: returning America to the strengths it once possessed. “I was in the last generation of people raised in an America that I thought was governed by grownups. Now the country is run by a bunch of juveniles.” A campaign flyer Klein distributed in New Hampshire featured a portrait of President Dwight Eisenhower hovering behind his own. Though Eisenhower is often remembered for his command of American troops through France and Germany during World War II, Klein was not invoking his memory to make any foreign policy or military statements.

“Eisenhower was very cautious about foreign adventures, but he was also careful about fiscal responsibility” says Klein. It was around domestic issues like the economy that Klein’s political platform was centered. After telling a story about growing up the son of a butcher, working in his father’s store, and making (on good days) $1 an hour, he solemnly declared that the buying power of wages is woefully low now. In Klein’s eyes, the prospects of creating a middle class family like the one he grew up in are in jeopardy.

Klein ran for President as a Republican, and his position on a hot button issue like illegal immigration, for example, is very much in line with the GOP’s positions. “Millions of illegal immigrants drive down wages and take once good-paying blue collar jobs,” wrote Klein on his MySpace campaign page. On other issues, however, Klein found it difficult to connect with the popular policy positions of either the Republican or Democratic parties.

As a vocal supporter of the Fathers Rights Movement—a self-described civil rights campaign that fights to end what it sees as discrimination against fathers in family custody courts—Klein’s core of supporters came from the Movement. Though the Movement has a sizeable following around the country (and there are over 25 million non-custodial parents in the United States), they are often deemed too radical and extraneous to get the attention of those in the political establishment. Klein has four children and has spent much of his life helping to raise them. In Klein's view, the negative impact that current policies have on the fate of today’s children was enough to get Klein out of bed and into the Presidential race.

“The children come first!” proclaims one of Klein’s pieces of campaign literature. In order to ensure the economic livelihood of the next generation of Americans, Klein believes our government ought to pay down the national debt, regulate interest rates, and crack down on companies outsourcing jobs overseas.

I asked Klein if his adamant opposition to free trade was out of touch with the inevitable growth of globalization. Klein turned the tables on me immediately. “Are all our children supposed to work at McDonalds or Best Buy?” he asked. Klein admits he lives in an upscale bubble, but in campaigning he “ran into all these kids who were college graduates working at Starbucks—they don’t have anything. Is our future to give everything away? If that is the future, it’s nuts.”

Though Klein’s position on globalization is hardly mainstream, he argued his point clearly and with the experience of a man who’s heard the concerns of voters around the country. After all, campaigning heavily in three states, building a volunteer network, and working crowds at local conventions and straw polls was what Klein did through most of 2006 and 2007.

Though he is far from an established politician or veteran of political campaigns, Klein did have a following in the Northeast corner of Georgia. This base of support gave Klein hope that he might be able to make a small showing in Georgia. Fanning out from his corner of support, he thought he could then pick up enough momentum to get his name and candidacy into the MSM and onto voters’ radar.

Unfortunately, New Hampshire would be the last chance for Klein to make a stand. Of the states he initially campaigned in, New Hampshire was the only one in which Klein could get on the ballot (by paying a $1,000 registration fee). Although he placed highly in the Des Moines straw poll and other polls at conventions around the country, Klein feels the Republican party systematically squeezed him out of the race by denying him spots on state ballots and at the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa.

Klein was aware that his campaign was drawing near an end when I met him just days before that state’s Primary. When I asked him if he did more than distribute fliers in New Hampshire, Klein explained “well that’s all I did, nobody invited me to anything [he was barred from debates and other forums]. I decided to spend every day walking around and talking to everybody. I figured if I had a shot it was by word of mouth. Anybody with a heartbeat got a brochure.”

After what he considered a “very poor result” in New Hampshire, Klein decided to return home and get back to pursuing his hobbies and spending time with his kids and grandchildren. As he wound down his campaign, however, Klein says he has no regrets about running: “The money I spent on this was my gift to the United States. To repay America for all it has done for me and my family. It’s basically a charitable gift.”

Since ending his campaign Klein has split from the Republican Party and says he is now supporting Senator Barack Obama.

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