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Think Red Instead? BY JAMES CULLEN Politics being a perverse science, often the people who seem to make the most sense are the ones farthest from power. J. Quinn Brisben, the Socialist Party USA candidate for president, is free to tell his version of the truth as he crosses the country in his quixotic seach for write-in votes for the nation’s highest office. Brisben, a retired Chicago schoolteacher who resembles Col. Sanders, as played by Burl Ives, has visited 20 states since he accepted the party’s nomination in September. One of his first trips was to Florida, where he spent three days in an Orlando jail for his part in a disability rights demonstration. On a recent Texas swing that took him through Denton, Fort Worth, Richardson, College Station and Austin, Brisben, 57, an Oklahoma native, had pointed comments about Texas politics and the cast of characters running for president in the two “mainstream” parties. “I’ll never understand two things about Texas,” he said to a dinner group of 25 in Austin recently. “First, why you think it’s necessary for the state to kill mental defectives who’ve been convicted of a crime, and second, why you elect so many of them to public offices.” Brisben peppered his remarks with similar one-liners as he outlined the Socialist platform, which calls, among other things, for higher tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporations, socialized banking and health care, more spending on education, public works to provide affordable housing for all, support for unions and family allowances for day care. He also called for universal nuclear disarmament, abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency and a drastic reduction in military spending. Brisben believes health care is an issue whose time has come. He noted that a recent poll showed 70 percent of Texans want to see a new approach to paying for medical care, but Time magazine has dismissed U.S. Sen. Robert Kerrey’s plan to create a national health-care system, which does not even approach the socialized health-care model Brisben proposes, which would abolish all fees for service. He proposes a drastic reordering of the government’s spending priorities, with more money spent on health, education and a public works project to build 30 million housing units. “One of the reasons we have to starve the health and education sectors in the United States is that we’ve been … spending billions and trillions of dollars on weapons systems, and the best thing I can say for them is they’re useless,” he said. “Now George Bush, in his State of the Union message, said we won the Cold War. Well, dammit, if we won the Cold War, why are we still paying all this money on Stealth bombers and other things we don’t need? Why aren’t we building schools with that Mounting a write-in campaign is “a tremendous disadvantage, given the state of your school system.” money? Why aren’t we building houses? Why aren’t we healing the sick with that money?” The bailout of the nation’s banking system is a good time to institute a central bank, he said. “If we’re going to. socialize their losses, why don’t we socialize the profits too,” he said. His plan to put the nation’s jobless to work building houses for the homeless is not terribly original, he admitted. “It’s exactly the kind if idea FDR used to steal off Norman Thomas [the Socialist leader of the 1930s], and I’m terribly disappointed in the Democratic Party that they don’t have anybody around today with the wit to steal ideas like that today.” That prompted another one-liner: “I’ve always felt friendly toward the Democrats. You know the Republicans will do things to the working people on principle what the Democrats will only do when they’re bribed with hard cash.” Brisben support the rights of democratic labor unions to represent workers, a fairly radical concept these days. A top priority would be repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, which allows states such as Texas to adopt “right-to-work” statutes. While the Democratic Party has been campaigning to repeal the law ever since it was passed, he noted, despite Democratic control of Congress during most of the intervening years, “that Taft-Hartley law is still in place.” American labor leaders are going to have to revive their demands for social and economic reform, soft-pedaled since the 1930s, when the unions embraced Roosevelt’s New Deal, Brisben said. “The workers are fairly sensible, and they know it’s not really a democracy when you’ve got no choice except between George Bush and whichever Democrat wins the primary,” he said. “They know you have a democracy when you can determine how your work is laid out and how you do it. So it’s not enough to have a political democracy; it’s got to be an economic democracy too.” Even the Democratic candidate closest to organized labor, Tom Harkin, has felt the need to tone down his rhetoric, Brisben said. “He used to be in favor of a progressive income tax … [but] Tom Harkin told the Des Moines Register a couple months ago that he didn’t want to be known as the `soak the rich’ candidate. I sent a letter immediately to that paper, applying for the vacancy.” Brisben dismisses the fear that a vote for a Socialist candidate may help elect a Republican, even with the threat of further stacking of the U.S. Supreme Court with conservatives. “I wouldn’t worry too much about one or two more reactionary judges,” he said. “I think it would be a disaster if Roe vs. Wade [the landmark decision establishing abortion rights] were repealed, but in a way I’d kind of like to see everybody go out there and raise some hell with their representatives and their senators to get protection for abortion rights in the law.” Mounting a write-in campaign is “a tremendous disadvantage, given the state of your school system in a lot of areas,” he quipped, but he has little choice as Texas allows only one month after the regular primary elections for independent candidates seeking to get on the general election ballot to collect more than 58,000 signatures from registered voters who have not participated in either the Democratic or Republican primary. The low-tech campaign has Brisben and his wife travelling by car and usually bunking at the homes of fellow Socialists. Brisben joked that George Bush probably spends more on his hairdresser than Brisben will spend on the entire campaign. And response sometimes comes from unlikely places, such as the punk rock fanzine, Maximum Rock and Roll, which generated interest when it reported his comment, “We don’t need new drug laws, we need better reasons to stay sober.” In his parting shot, Brisben said the two major political parties reminded him of a remark attributed to Tallulah Bankhead as she watched a bride and groom stroll down the aisle: “I’ve had them both, and they’re awful.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9 oreinfillipiortn*