As a classical liberal Democrat, I find occasional solace at lunch in the “Sandy Hook Diner” in Connecticut. Its building predates the 1932 election of Franklin Roosevelt, who then described himself as “slightly left of center.” It is a stance I continue to take, but not without a bit of dottering.
My dining partner is Marcel LeRoi of Southbury. He tests local wells for contamination. His hobby is the publication of “The Trumpet Messenger,” a newsletter about immorality in politics. He makes copies at Staples and mails them to some 500 subscriber friends.
Marcel and I have much in common. We both get senior citizen discounts in the local shops — believe in God — and in the ’80s campaigned for Jimmy Carter. Neither of us could vote for Ronald Reagan or George Bush.
We also have religious differences. Marcel prays regularly, both in private and publicly in church. I pray mostly in private — and rarely attend religious services other than weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals. Sometimes at lunch I lower my voice and utter profanities. Though such words are not part of Marcel’s vocabulary, he doesn’t protest.
For the most part we agree on what is wrong with current American politics. It is over-driven by big money lobbyists. For the six digit campaign contributors an “honest” politician is one who will “stay bought.” As lunch wagon theologians Marcel and I also agree with Pope John Paul: Our society is suffering from overdoses of “materialism” and “moral relativism.”
Based on my experience as attorney for a number of convicts (including former CIA operatives) seeking parole from the nearby federal prison in Danbury I consider President Clinton a “sociopath.” Marcel has also studied abnormal psychology and concurs with that diagnosis.
In general, Marcel and I share common perceptions of political ills. We both prayed that our Senator, Joe Lieberman, and other Democrats would vote to remove Clinton from office. We also oppose the presidential waging of wars that are not officially declared by an act of Congress.
Our disagreements are mostly about whom we should vote for. I voted for Mondale in ’84, Dukakis in ’88, and for Clinton in ’92. In 1996 I became a “Democrat for Dole.” Marcel is no longer a Democrat. He tells me that, in protest, he has consistently cast a write-in vote for “Donald Duck” — in every presidential election since the defeat of Jimmy Carter.
Marcel never tries to convert me to his beliefs about either politics or religion. In contrast, I sometimes become evangelical and try unsuccessfully to reconvert him to sign the local list of registered Democrats. My most current argument is that we could then join forces in future Democratic primaries to vote in opposition to the presidential nomination of Al Gore and the re-nomination of Connecticut Senators Dodd and Lieberman — all of whom share complicity in the sins of “new” Democrat Clintonism.
I cannot persuade Marcel to return to my party. I suspect that his sympathies may lie with the Libertarians. But for the time being we have reached an agreement. Unless, by an act of divine providence, the official ballots include a candidate whom we can support wholeheartedly, we both plan to write in a protest vote for Jimmy Carter for President. Admittedly such a candidacy is a fantasy. But it has some substance.
Carter is a real live God-fearing gentleman. He is no Donald Duck. For us, he also has another advantage. Like Dan Quayle, at least Jimmy is “no John Kennedy.” Indeed, Marcel and I recall painfully that it was Ted Kennedy who divided the Democratic Party by opposing Carter for re-nomination in the Democratic primaries of ’88. Then, it was the “Camelot government in exile” that helped win the presidency for Ronald Reagan and the Republicans.
A protest write-in for Carter would be a reaffirmation of some noble causes currently being abandoned by Democrats and Republicans alike. As a champion of human rights Carter had a clear vision for bringing peace in the Middle East — without the necessity of our military intervention. Unlike Clinton and many Republicans, Carter viewed Uncle Sam as an “honest broker for peace” — and not as an “international policeman” selectively waging military wars against opponents of free enterprise in scattered corners of the world.
Today, one of the most fervent Republican opponents of our military intervention in a civil war in Yugoslavia is Pat Buchanan. But despite his current position on Kosovo, for other reasons I cannot vote for him for president. At the same time most Democrats (including our Senators from Connecticut and media celebrity Chris Matthews) now denounce Buchanan’s Carter-like stance on Kosovo to be “isolationist.”
Especially important to Marcel and me was a Carter program that no main stream media celebrity of either party mentions in public today. Carter was opposed to both OPEC and the price-fixing practices of our own “Big 8” multinational oil companies — who are often in cahoots with OPEC. Carter had an honorable non-military solution to both our foreign and domestic problems.
To counter the cartel of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and other OPEC countries (practices which, under our anti-trust laws, are illegal if committed by American companies) Carter pressed Congress hard — but unsuccessfully — to enact an effective program for the development of alternative non-petroleum sources of energy.
Since Carter’s goal was to free us as soon as possible of our over-dependence on oil, it was not surprising that Iran in particular tried to demonize Carter as a dangerous anti-Muslim “Christian fundamentalist.” But what was shocking to Marcel and me in 1980 was that during the Democratic primaries AFL-CIO unions helped Ted Kennedy denigrate Carter as a “holier than thou” southern Baptist. It helped swing the blue-collar vote to Reagan.
In 1998, what became even more appalling to us were the efforts of Clinton’s defenders to demonize the House’s Republican impeachment managers. One day at lunch, I thought that Marcel came close to joining me in profanities after reading the following quotes of Professor Alan Dershowitz (of my Harvard Alma Mater) in the Danbury News-Times:
“A vote against impeachment is a vote against fundamentalism. It’s a vote against anti-environmentalism. It’s a vote against the radical right. It’s a vote against the pro-life movement.”
After our lunch, I went home and wrote “An appeal to Senator Lieberman” (Washington Times 1/4/99), stating:
“Lieberman should call on President Clinton to resign [and should also] “speak out against the hate mongering of the likes of Dershowitz.
“In effect, Dershowitz is saying that one can’t be a mainstream Christian, or a proper pro-choice American woman, if one believes that perjury before a grand is an impeachable offense. In lashing out against fundamentalism, he is denouncing the Jewish Orthodoxy of Senator Lieberman, the Chassidism of my own ancestors, the Irish Catholicism of Sen. Moynihan, and the Evangelical Christianity of many constituents of Sen. Robert Byrd,”
Today, with the sentiment for sounding ground troops to Yugoslavia rising in Connecticut’s congressional delegation, I believe that Marcel LeRoi and I have it right. Unless there is an opponent to Al Gore who is acceptable to me, my write-in protest vote will be for Jimmy Carter. Similarly, if there is no acceptable opponent to Senators Lieberman and Dodd the next time they are on the ballot, I will write in “Donald Duck.”
Jerome Zeifman served as Chief Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. For comments or more information about him and Marcel LeRoi’s newsletter send email to [email protected].