Third Man

Fort Lauderdale's John B. Anderson ran for president in 1980 and paved the way for spoiler candidates

Driving his black Volvo sedan down Dixie Highway at 8 p.m. September 30, Dickenson fights traffic as horns blare and uniformed police officers stand on roadsides to contain the crowds. In the passenger seat, Anderson looks attentively at the demonstrators across from the University of Miami. It was nothing like this in 1980. "We didn't have any protesters that I can recall," Anderson says.

In the past two decades, Anderson's political views have shifted steadily to the left. "I make no secret of that," he says. In 2000, he voted for Nader. He'd probably support the perennial candidate again this year were it not for the 2000 election debacle and Nader's "tendencies toward the egomaniacal." Four years ago, Anderson offered Nader advice on gaining ballot access nationwide.

This year, however, his advice for the former Green Party candidate was quite different. Anderson wrote a letter asking him not to run. Apparently his role as a father to modern third-party candidates wasn't enough to sway Nader, who never replied. "I thought that it was too close to 2000, which had come out disastrously," Anderson says. "Much as I admire many of the positions [Nader] takes, I just thought it was a bad time to run."

Anderson refused to blindly support his party and became a paragon of political courage.
Colby Katz
Anderson refused to blindly support his party and became a paragon of political courage.
Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb spoke at the presidential counterdebates in Coral Gables on September 30.
Colby Katz
Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb spoke at the presidential counterdebates in Coral Gables on September 30.

If this year's race between Bush and Kerry is as close as polls indicate, Nader could once again serve as the spoiler. That would be disastrous for independent political movements, Anderson speculates. And that's partly why the former presidential candidate will give his vote to Kerry on Tuesday. "I think this is the most important election of my lifetime," Anderson says. "I'm not sure I've ever felt this strongly. I am unequivocally opposed to the Bush doctrine of preemptive war. I don't think there's ever been an administration in this country... that puts itself above the good of the American people. George W. Bush is the leader of the wealthy and well-bred. He represents the elite and the few."

The Illinoisan goes on to describe the 43rd president as "wholly unfit to lead" and "a man of very little intellectual capacity and depth." Just then, the northbound lanes of Dixie Highway come to a standstill. The southbound side empties of traffic. The flashing police lights appear first. Cruiser after cruiser and motorcycle after motorcycle pass at 45 miles per hour. Then comes a motorcade of black SUVs and limousines with darkly tinted windows. A limo passes in the center bearing the presidential seal.

Anderson watches respectfully as the president passes. He sits silent, his hands on his knees, as stoic and patient as he was 24 years ago.

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