Hayden's drive for senatorial office may be both more radical and more
Tom Hayden, New Left leader of the 1960s, began that decade as a moderate student reformer at the University of Michigan and ended it in a Marxist-Leninist commune in Berkeley warning that "today's reform is tomorrow's oppression." Today he's back at the liberal-reformist point on the American left's eternal vicious circle, running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from California against incumbent John Tunney on a platform barely distinguishable at first glance from the stereotypical liberal program of the past generation. The success or failure of his effort may be influential in determining whether this country will undergo a new resurgence of progressive liberalism in the late '70s and the '80s, or whether the American liberal tradition of the past century will finally founder for good on the shoals of inflationary recession and public hostility to government.
Hayden's decision to enter the electoral arena has inevitably rekindled the old leftist debate on the usefulness of electoral politics, and there has been strong opposition from some quarters to his attempt to resuscitate a political tradition he himself once denounced. No sooner had he tossed his hat in the rind than he was red-baited by the press and denounced as a traitor by the left. His closest friends and associates from the anti-war movement questioned the wisdom of a turn to conventional politics on the part of one of the movement's leading lights, arguing that his campaign would drain off vital energy from important organizing projects into a futile and purely individualistic endeavor.
His relationship with the California radical fringe has not improved since his announcement: the far left is more offended than ever by his explicit rejection of the socialist label and his occasional tributes to "free enterprise." ("There are a lot of good aspects to the Free Enterprise System–inventions, for instance; a lot of good inventions come out of the Free Enterprise System.") A formal conclave between Hayden and some 200 or so Bay Area radical heavies in San Francisco last summer–which Hayden opened by proposing a scheme to take people off the welfare rolls and put them to work building bicycle paths in Southern Cal-...the left tends to focus too much on abstract issues and to turn in on itself," Sam Hurst, Hayden's press secretary, told me. ''He feels that political events of the '60s and '70s have created a situation in the U.S. that the left should take advantage of, and that it's a shame to see the American left so narrow in a period when it should be reaching out." To the hostile question that he receives most often on the campaign trai–"Why aren't you running as a socialist?"–Hayden responds by arguing that the Democratic Party, despite its linkage with corporate liberalism at the top, "is, at its base, composed of consumers, workers, students, minorities and other alienated and powerless groups." It is, therefore, the best vehicle for political reform available. Finally, as Hayden told that San Francisco conclave last summer, he has never–"except for a brief period when I was a member of the Red Family in Berkeley"–advertised himself as being a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary.
If Hayden has been unable to rouse the enthusiasm of the left for his candidacy, he has likewise failed–at least so far–to stir the Democratic Party establishment to his banner. While hardcore radicals accuse him of selling out, establishment Democrats suspect him of being a closet socialist in liberal guise, and have for the most part adopted a standoffish attitude vis-á-vis the Hayden-Tunney race. Some wealthy liberals are turned off by what they see as a threat to their pocketbooks. According to a Hayden staffer, one affluent Democrat recently told the candidate to his face: "I liked your position on the war, but I can't support you for the Senate because I don't want you in a position where you can reduce my wealth." The same Hayden staffer summed up the attitude of most establishment Democrats this way: "Tunney is too much of a schlemiel to put energy into, Tom too much of a radical."
[Common Sense Radical]
Where does Hayden really stand on the political spectrum? He seems to be positioning himself on that far, misty borderline of liberalism where it begins to shade over into socialism, or at least a certain kind of socialism. He is, in other words, attempting to straddle a precarious line. Like his campaign slogan, "The radicalism of the '60s has become the common sense of the '70s," the first draft of his official campaign program seems carefully tailored to appeal to "mainstream" middle class Democratic voters without at the same time alienating the constituency of '60s anti-war veterans who form the core of his initial support and the bulk of his staff.
His central plank, "Making full employment the law of the land and abolishing unemployment forever"–a traditional liberal sawhorse that to many appears chimerical within our current economic system, is offered as the deus ex machina for all our problems. "Only
in a framework of full employment and expanding opportunity can we successfully press for the equal rights of oppressed or disadvantaged groups, such as Chicanos, Blacks, Indians, Women, Senior Citizens and Gays.... That is the alternative to the destructive rivalry between the employed and unemployed, between men and women, between white, black and brown, between those demanding seniority and those demanding affirmative action." A cautious call for "public control of large-scale enterprises" is balanced by the caveat that "the case for government control of essential industries must be made by its advocates on a case-by-case basis." His bold assertion that "power rooted in profit is the source of the present conflicts between environmental protection and industrial development" is tempered by a nostalgic pitch to homespun American values: "The regard we have for family ties, small enterprise and family farms, inventiveness and meaningful work is not outdated nostalgia.... Such concerns are the carriers of civilization in
the complex and dangerous age of science, technology and organization we now inhabit."
The rationale behind this delicate balancing act (and Hayden is nothing if not a meticulous and astute politic analyst) is that the combined impact of Vietnam, Watergate and economic crisis have created a willingness among Middle Americans to consider, if not immediately accept, more radical political alternatives. In support of the thesis that, as Hayden put it in a Rolling Stone article last year, "There is a remarkable transformation of American attitudes still going on," he points to certain findings of pollster Lou Harris. Harris has found that, whereas in 1967 a majority of Americans considered atheists, black militants, student demonstrators and homosexuals to be the most dangerous elements in society, they now consign dishonest politicians, generals and businessmen to that category. Harris concludes that American politicians are "twenty years behind the people" in their conservatism on the issues.
Accordingly, the thrust of Hayden's electoral strategy is to put together a coalition of students, minorities, disenchanted younger workers and veteran '60s activists, and to reach out from that base to the "disaffected" middle class. The connecting link of this ambitious alliance, according to Hayden strategists, will be generational. Hayden and his lieutenants—most of whom, like the candidate himself, appear to be in their early or mid-thirties and to be veterans either of the anti-war movement or of the anti-war campaigns of McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and McGovern—fervently believe in the existence of a "new generation," broadly defined as ranging from 20 to 35 years old, which is "just now reaching political maturity" and which cuts across class and ethnic lines in its determination to institute basic reforms in the American body politic. Hayden staff people point to the fact that most of their information on "redlining" (a practice by which banks exclude poorer neighborhoods from mortgage loan legibility—currently a hot issue down here) has come from younger bankers in their late 20s and early 30s.
Hayden's appearances on campus this fall, in an era of supposed student apathy, have drawn fairly impressive crowds. A recent speech at California State College at Long Beach attracted an estimated six to nine thousand people, by far the largest turnout for a political event on that campus in several years. The campaign has a full time Student Coordinator as well as a full-time student organizer out in the field, and embryonic Hayden-for-Senate student committees are operating throughout the state. Hayden has already received the endorsement of one student newspaper, the Claremont Collegian, the organ of California's leading school of public affairs.
In the area of minorities, Hayden has had his greatest success so far in the huge Chicano barrio of East Los Angeles, where he has just opened a local office under indigenous Chicano leadership. Hayden has the enthusiastic support of the United Farm Workers (Cesar Chavez was on of those who urged Hayden to run in the first place), who detest Tunney for his refusal to support Farm Worker's boycotts and who went so far in August as to "censure" him officially for his "alliance with many of California's most reactionary and anti-union interests."
Hayden's trump card with labor in general is his all-out support of the Kennedy-Corman National Health Insurance bill (a key plank in the program of many industrial unions). Tunney originally co-sponsored the bill in the Senate but has recently turned against it on grounds that the federal government cannot afford such an expensive program at this time. Hayden's position on National Health Insurance has already attracted the interest, if not yet the endorsement, of the Service Employees International Union (SElU), whose L.A. Local #660 did an article on the subject very complimentary to Hayden in their September newsletter.
Though Hayden spent some time this summer contacting union officials around the state, his strategists have little hope of cracking organized labor at the leadership level. Their basic labor strategy is to bypass the leadership in favor of rank-and-file committees made up of workers uninvolved in traditional union structures and recruited in the course of campaigning and leafletting (Hayden was on the picket lines several times this summer with the teachers', machinists' and public employees' unions). According to Hayden's Labor Coordinator, rank-and-file Hayden-for-Senate Labor committees are already operating unofficially in several places.
Meanwhile, the Hayden campaign's political director, Larry Levin, a former member of both Bobby Kennedy's and Tunney's campaign and Senate staffs, is spearheading an effort to open a fissure in the Democratic Party itself, through the worker-influenced California Democratic Council (CDC), an organization somewhat similar in form and intent to Oregon's Demoforum, though far broader in base and impact. According to Levin, the current composition of the CDC is pretty evenly split between traditional liberals and left-liberals, and the organization as a whole could go either way vis-à-vis the Hayden-Tunney battle. Levin would dearly love to obtain a CDC endorsement that would give his candidate some semblance of Democratic Party 1egitimacy.
What chance does Hayden really have of corralling enough mainstream Democrats to unseat an incumbent U.S. senator? He began the campaign with 13% Democratic voter support in the Field Poll—not at all bad for someone entering electoral politics for the first time—and over the summer managed to inch up to 16%. Meanwhile, Tunney's support among party regulars slipped ten points, from 65% to 55%, and the undecided vote (normally large in California politics) grew from 22% to 29%. Tunney's support, in voter survey parlance, is considered "soft"—that is, voters who describe themselves as committed to Tunney are not committed very deeply and could, theoretically, begin to desert him in the heat of battle next year.
Support for Tunney, apart from the giant corporations and agribusiness interests that have spoon-fed his campaign funds over the years, is definitely superficial all across the board. Historically, he burst on the California political scene from a background of virtually no accomplishment, coasted to his present position almost solely on the basis of his telegenic, toothy good looks and his association with law school roommate Ted Kennedy, and has little or nothing of substance to show for his six years in the U.S. Senate. A recent cartoon pictures him summing up his credentials to a group
of voters this way: "I’m here to ask you to vote for me because I'm young, good-looking, rich—and I went to Yale!" He is the type of nonentity—reminiscent to me of former Oregon U.S. Representative John Dellenback—for whom even his most vocal supporters can barely conceal their contempt. Both his chief fund-raiser and his campaign manager have recently deserted his campaign out of disaffection with their boss.
Before he can translate this widespread anti-Tunney sentiment into pro-Hayden support, however, Hayden must—in addition to clearing up his ideological confusion and establishing some solid credibility with the voters—surmount two other obstacles: his own public speaking style, and the perennial problem of money. Hayden's style on the stump tends to be dry, analytical and wooden, probably in part because most of his public speaking experience has been lecturing rather than hectoring. Hayden admits he is better at analyzing how to be a candidate than he is at being one. He is much more animated in question-and-answer sessions and in private than he is on a platform delivering a straight speech. If he could transfer some of this animation to his formal oratory, his chances would improve considerably.
The other major stumbling block is money. Never easy for left-Democrats to raise, it is even harder with the new limits on individual contributions. Hayden fund-raisers barely reached their minimum summer goal of $100,000, and the campaign has been spending money as fast as it comes in. The budget is now up to around $30,000 a month, a quarter of that going to staff salaries, which average around $85 a week. The sources of the money raised so far are fairly evenly divided between larger individual contributions of from $100 to $1000, small individual contributions generated at house parties and so forth, and a Linda Ronstadt/Jackson Brown concert in San Jose last August which netted about $19,000. Jane Fonda, Hayden's wife and the campaign's Fundraising Coordinator, who as a member of the candidate's family is entitled to a maximum contribution of $35,000, has furnished about $15,000 so far.
Campaign Budget Director Greg Movsesyan, who managed the financial side of Sam Brown's successful '74 grassroots campaign for Treasurer in Colorado, frankly admits that "Tom is going to have enormous difficulty" raising enough money to fund even the bare-minimum campaign budget of $500,000 (Tunney is expected to raise and spend the maximum $1.2 million). Movsesyan and Fonda are basing their fundraising hopes on more concerts, which rock impresario Bill Graham, who produced the Ronstadt/Brown concert, has offered to produce free of charge as long as the campaign recruits the talent, and on a direct mail effort which in its initial testing phase has yielded the unusually high rate of return of $2 for every $1 invested. An interesting fact suggesting the possible breadth of Hayden's support is that some one-quarter of the people responding to his mail solicitations have listed themselves as retired.
One of Hayden's major assets—perhaps the major asset of his campaign—is his staff. Youthful, bright, enthusiastic, efficient, somewhat lacking in direct experience with electoral politics but extremely dedicated and hard-working, they seem remarkably free of the vicious, backbiting rivalry which too often afflicts liberal campaigns such as those of the late Senator Morse in '72 and '74.
Staff members are convinced that, despite all odds to the contrary, the former New Left leader has a genuine chance at victory, if not next spring then the next time around. "If we can tap the reservoirs of distrust for Tunney—and if Tom doesn't make the mistake McGovern made of getting himself identified as a politician—then we can win," Movsesyan insisted to me. "My best guess is that by the time Primary Day comes around, we'll be 40-60 against Tunney in the polls, and any event or circumstance—such as a downturn in the economy or a mistake on Tunney's part—could tip the scales in our favor."
Needless to say, Hayden's people are also convinced of the benefits of having their candidate in the U.S. Senate. "He's a leader, he's an organizer, he would be saying things that no one else is going to say," Movsesyan told me. "It would be just like Bella Abzug. When she first got to Congress people made fun of her because she was a woman, but she showed them that she really knows how to organize those people. Tom wouldn't be in the Senate for more than a year before he'd have a following organized there."
Whether Hayden, even if he got elected, would have significant impact on the country with means that have been derisively labeled a "hobby-horse cavalry" of liberal reforms remains an open question. But he does seem to be tuning in—like California's maverick Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (of whom he is an admirer)—to what is perhaps the central fact of contemporary American politics: that while traditional liberal panaceas of expanded government and deficit spending have been discredited, only 23% of the American public identifies itself with the traditional conservatism of the Republican Party.
Hayden has lately taken to saying that at present we are being offered two alternatives: "The 1984 alternative of total domination by government, and the Rollerball alternative of total domination by the corporations." He concludes that the public is ready for a third way. He seems to realize that the solution to growing corporate power does not lie in further expansion of a governmental leviathan which big business always ends up controlling anyway. He has begun to shift his emphasis, ever so slightly, from the old liberal faith in big government to the quintessential radical belief in direct popular action and communitarian power—in, as he puts it somewhat vaguely, "people taking control over the institutions in which they participate and over their own lives."
Here lies the real possibility of directing the confused and ambiguous mood of the electorate into authentically radical channels. Hayden's drive for senatorial office may thus be both more radical and more promising electorally than it first appears, if it can succeed in opening communication between the left and a public increasingly disillusioned with both "liberalism" and "conservatism" and with the staleness of both the major political parties.
A victory, even partial, of Hayden's strategy would have far-reaching significance for the future of the left in America and in Oregon. It would suggest a genuine opening to the left within the mainstream of the body politic, and the possibility of action on a much wider terrain than recently imagined. And it would vindicate Hayden's battle-cry that "We have only seen the beginnings of political reform in this generation."