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Who Is Fred Harris?

Who Is Fred Harris? image Who Is Fred Harris? image
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Fred Harris, the Oklahoma Senator who has been conducting a grass-roots campaign tor the Democratie Presidential nomination, touring small towns, campuses, and big cities in an ordinary camper, has been characterized by some observers as a "folksy Ted Kennedy," by others as an "intellectual George Wallace." Harris, who made the comments quoted herein during a September visit to Ann Arbor, does have the "populist" appeal of a Wallace and something of the Kennedy charisma, but the similarity ends there. The Harris platform talks unabashedly of redistributing the United States' wealth-by "getting the rich off welfare," breaking up the big oil companies, creating massive federal job programs, slashing the defense budget, closing tax loopholes,and so forth. Harris says his best response is coming from middle and lower income Americans. "The two groups, interestingly enougli, who respond most enthusiastically to what I say are wage-earning white people and blacks." Under the new federal campaign financing laws, drawn up by a committee which included Harris, Presidential hopefuls must raise at least $5,000 in each of at least twenty states in order to qualify for federal matching funds n the primaries. Harris qualified late in October. His biggest obstacle is lack of media attention. While the Wallace and Reagan candidacies have been met with extensive front-page coverage in the national print media, the Harris campaign-despite its fresh approach, its colorfulness, and what would seem to be its controversial positions on key issues-has normally received little more than equal space alongside a dozen or so comparatively uninteresting Democratie hopefuls. "My main problem is the viab├╝ity crisis," says Harris. "The experts say there are two magie moments which must oceur for a successful Presidential campaign. "One is that the Great Mentioner must mention you. After the Great Mentioner mentions you, items begin to appear in the paper like this: 'Among those mentioned for President is Fred Harris...' 'The other magie moment occurs when the experts say you are 'viable.' So you go willy-nilly around the country and hope that in some mysterious, magie way, you will one morning piek up the New York Times and it will say, 'Voila, today Fred Harris is viable.' Sort of like your bar mitzvah celebration." Due in great part to the aftermath of the 1972 campaign, the rules of the game are completely different for 1976. Individual eampaign contributions are limited to $250. Private funds raised before the primaries are matched dollar for dollar by public funds, and each major party candidate then receives $20 million, the spending limit for the remainder of the campaign. "It really cuts the rich and friends of the rich down to size," says Harris, "and ordinary people now have a fighting chance against the ITT's and the Gulf Oil Companies." Should Harris succeed in his quiet campaign to capture the nomination away from the faceless multitude of competing hopefuls in his party, voters will at least have an opportunity to register their response to some singularly hard-headed approaches to the nation's critical problems. "If we take the rich off welfare," says Harris, "by which I mean, stop these direct tax subsidies to the Lockheeds, the Penn Central, the timber interests, the oil and gas crowd, for example, we can get this country back to work. "A widespread diffusion of economie and political power ought to be the expressed goal of government. The big corpora tions get away with polluting the environment because they have inordinately concentrated economie power- which, in our system, primarily by the campaign financing system, has in the past translated almost exactly into political power as well. "We ought to have a graduated income tax, rather than graduated loopholes. We ought to enforce the anti-trust laws against those monopolies that overcharge us. We ought to set up a public parallel, a public oil and gas and other energy Corporation to develop energy reserves on our own lands and provide some modicum of competition with these giant oil monopolies against whom we ought to vigorously enforce the anti-trust laws. "Last year 24 millionaires paid zero come tax, and fifteen giant U.S. oil companies paid eight times as much tax to foreien eovernments as they paid to our own government. We ought to break these oil companies up by law, not wait around x for the eourts. Priceswould come down naturally in America HARRIS? ever hearabout Mm?) McDonald if we had some eompetition. "The basic cause for inflation in our society is monopoly control. We ought to have price controls on monopoly industries. I'd make it a point to appoint an attorney general who would enforce the law against what Ralph Nader calis 'crime in the suites.' "We need a new tax cut now for most people to offset these price rises and to get our economy moving again, to get people back to work. We need a job program. No person willing and able to work in America ought to be out of a job. There are plenty of jobs that need to be done, there is plenty of money to do what needs to be done if we take the rich off welfare. "A job ought to be just as automatic as unempioyment compensation or social security. We ought to permanently authorize two million public service jobs, which would be locally controlled and on the shelf in case we need them, as we do right now. Jobs like health care, day care, cleaning up the environment, mass transit, etc. "We're spending billions and billions on increased crime as a result of unempioyment. Even the Wall Street Journal has pointed out that crime and unempioyment go hand in hand. We're paying, of course, enormous costs in human beings that we lose and cripple by the effect of teaching them the work ethic and denying them the ability to work, the chance to work. We know that heroin addiction goes up, hand in hand, with unemployment. So does ( alcoholism. So does mental illness. What you and I really ought 'C-to worry about is why is it that l 1 people are alcoholics and heroin A addicts? Basically, I think we know that people have to feel [j some worth and self-esteem M out being on heroin or alcohol. That's the kind of society we've got to try and help build. 'Til be the first President ever in your lifetime ever to go on televisi├│n and talk about how we can tially cut that military budget and still have a much more secure country. If you cut the B-l bomber, if you bring back a big part of those troops in Eyrope and permanently reduce the number of uniformed and civilian employees in the Defense DeDartment. if vou cut " out some of those other weapons systems, you can cut that budget right away by about $14.7 million, which we would have to do. "You're going to have to have a citizens' board to control the FBI. The CIA, as we know it, ought to be dismantled. There ouglit not to be a covert operation which is a euphemismifor killing people, assassinating people, overthrowing governments. "There ouglit to be a federal urban bank to loan to municipalities. If that were presently true, and if New York City were paying at reasonable interest rates, rather than what they're paying to First National City and Chase I Manhattan and others right now, that would reduce its annual budget by around $250 million- which is about equal to its present deficit. "I feel very deeply that the mental problem in this country is that toq lew peopie have all the money and power, and everybody else has very little of either."