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John Hagelin: "Voice of a New Generation" Has Hard Time Getting Heard
Julie Norwell

Given the popular sentiment that the candidates running for president this year are virtually indistinguishable from one other, it is somewhat surprising that the media have not been more taken with the novelty of a Harvard-educated quantum physicist cum transcendental meditator running for office.

John Hagelin is the presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party and has emerged as the leader of the Reform Party in several states since it fractured at the National Convention this summer. He also won the Independent Party ballot line in New York in September.

Although Hagelin, 46 years old, has never held public office, this year is his third time to run in the presidential elections. Asked why he is interested in running for president, he speaks of "critical problems that are not being addressed by either main party."

"I am running as a scientist trying to bring principles to a government that has none," Hagelin said in his nomination acceptance speech at the Natural Law Convention in August.

"The purpose of my campaign is to achieve unlimited possibilities for ourselves and for our country, not perpetuate the status quo, bought and paid for by special interest groups," he said.

Born in Pittsburg, PA, Hagelin went to Dartmouth and received a doctorate in quantum physics from Harvard University in 1981. His Ph.D. earned him a job at Europe###s most prestigious physics lab and at Stanford, where he coauthored an important theory on "Flipped SU(5) Supersymmetric Grand Unification." He has received support by the National Science Foundation and has published in prestigious physics journals.

Such is not the description of your average practitioner of transcendental meditation, one might say. But according to Bob Roth, Director of Communications for the Hagelin Campaign, the two are linked.

"The more abstract the study of the outer universe and quantum physics became to him, the more [Hagelin] became interested in the study of the mind and meditation," he said.

Hagelin is a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who moved his school, Maharishi International University, from California to Fairfield, Iowa in 1974. Until two years ago, Hagelin was a physics professor there.

In April 1992, Maharishi’s supporters, who were inspired by Ross Perot’s success as a third-party candidate, formed the Natural Law Party and elected Hagelin to lead it.

In the past, the Natural Law Party advocated meditation, yogic flying, and other peaceful, New Age solutions for national and international problems. But in recent years, Hagelin has modified such atypical messages in his campaign platform.

Hagelin pledges to create a prevention-oriented health care system, promote nonpolluting energy sources, develop sustainable, organic agricultural practices, and invest heavily in education. He also favors a low flat tax, the decriminalization of drug offenses, novel approaches to combating crime and scaling back the defense budget.

"I offer voters forward-looking, prevention-oriented, scientifically proven solutions to the nation’s problems," Hagelin said.

Although Hagelin is on the ballot in 44 states -- under the Natural Law Party in 37 states, the Reform Party in six and the Independent Party in New York – he had been a mere blip in the polls. In the last election he finished in seventh place, with just 0.1 percent. He blames this on a campaign format he says rewards the candidates with the most money and corporate support.

"One of his major goals is to shift public policy to end special interest groups, PACs, soft money, etc.," said Roth.

"Every year we have to spend campaign money on collecting thousands of signatures just to appear on the ballots instead of on advertising. Can you imagine the Republicans and Democrats doing that?" said Roth.

Because of an arcane restriction that limits third-party candidates who can participate in the presidential debates to those who have attracted at least 15 percent in the media polls, Hagelin cannot hope to gain more publicity from this forum, either.

But for Hagelin, winning the election is only one way to measure success in running for president. He is also hoping to influence the course of social thought.

"Third parties, win or lose, are responsible for the vast majority of everything we cherish in our democracy. The abolition of slavery, the right of women to vote, child labor laws, workers’ comp -- these ideas and most others came from third party voices. They are infectious; they inevitably change the political landscape," he said.

Hagelin intends to run again in 2004, but he feels his biggest strength is acting as the voice of a new generation of politics. This is particularly evident in view of his campaign’s focus on students and younger voters.

"Students are much more willing to think outside of the box," said Roth. "[Hagelin] tells them during speeches at colleges that he wants to turn the future over to them. They like hearing that."