Washington — John B. Anderson's early days as a Republican arch-conservative in the US House of Representatives are little known to many of hi supporters, and even the independent presidential candidate himself tries to shadow his political past.
Today, with his shock of white hair, and his brown eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses, Anderson looks like a Scholarly Woodrow Wilson speaking only for the future. He quotes Lincoln, Emerson, or Cicero easily and matches the wit of Adlai Stevenson II.
Yet in 1968, the right-leaning Americans for constitutional Action (ACA) looked with favor on his conservative voting record, granting him a 95 percent rating and stating that he stood "firm against the liberal pressures in Washington, The wild spending schemes, and the permissive society offered by the proponents of the Great Society."
Today, however, the ACA give him 55 percent as a conservative, which shows he is a "moderate," say Anderson aides. He acknoledges a slow metamorphosis of his views during the turmoils of the late 1960s and disappointments of the 1970s.
Mr. Anderson's desire to come out from unce any political label is reflected in how he addresses the American people on the issues in his bid fof the White House.
"I don't care whether you call me a conservative or a liberal, so long as you give me credit for having ideas," he said after announcing his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on June 8, 1979.
Indeed, for 16 months, detailed concepts and remedies for the nation's problems have poured forth eloquently from the serious intellectual from Illinois.
His ideas, however, are not necessarily new. Nor do they flash with insight. But they ar well-crafted combinations of competing concepts -- a Solomonic trademark of the Rockford congressman.
"Ideas come into his head very quickly and out of his mouth," states his wife , Keke. "He doesn't have to say, 'Aw shucks, what am I going to say next?'"
His most noted campaign idea has been a proposal to cut US oil consumption by imposing a 50-cent tax on gasoline. The money would be recycled to the nation's near-bankrupt social security fund, thus cutting social security payroll taxes in half.
It is considered an innovative but complicated scheme. And it gained him political mileage just for the risk in suggesting that drivers pay more at the pump.
"There can be no gains without some pains," he regularly states, quoting two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson
After ejecting himself the field of Republican contenders in April,howeveR, Anderson's most popular idea has been his independence from party affiliation -- a final leap for the GOP maverick that he had become during the last 12 years. Like Jimmy Carter in 1976 he champions an image as a rank outsider, yet he points to 20 years in Congress as possession of skills to get things done.
His independent campaign is founded on the idea that a new coalition can be formed out of a volatile political climate. The two major political parties, he says, are "dormant" and do not offer much of a choice in presidential candidates for 1980. This new coalition, of course, would be centered on the ideas of his "National Unity" platform.
He is both party and candidate unencumbered by tradition to write from scratch what he plans to do if elected. His 317-page platform, or "program" as it was unveiled Aug. 30, is a weighty document that even active supporters, such as his wife, admit they have hardly finished reading.
Under the theme, "Rebuilding America," it was drafted early in the summer with the help of committees made up largely of professors and members of the liberal Republican Ripon Society. According to Anderson, his positions are not a "mosaic of bargains among special interests or trade-off among experts."
The platform sets forth a "public philosophy" as the basis for an Anderson administration made up of Democratcs, Republicans, and independents who would "move beyond the politics of empty tactics and superficial images."
On the campaign stump, candidate Anderson states, "It would make sense to have a coalition government. That is absolutely essencial to the plans that I have for the country."
This "unity" of purpose is the heart of "the Anderson difference," as his slogan suggests.
A theme which calls upon people to pull together for the sake of without prosperity is unattainable. Prosperity without justice is unacceptable."
And so determined is the candidate to indicate his sinsicery in colaition-building that he seems at times to be throwing his political life on the line: "You have got to be willing to lose in order to win."
The man who came to Washington as on orthodox conservative in 1960 by the end of the decade was transformed by events into a respected "moderate" but wayward Republican.
In short, say his friends, family, and associates, what happened to John Anderson in the 1960s was eigher one or all of three things: After a "sheltered" Life in Rockford, he moved to liberal causes by witnessing the depth of the nation's poverty and costly arms races; or his emergence as the third-ranking Republican House leader meant he would have to moderate his views, especially if he had any ambition for higher office.
In Anderson's own words, however, written for a 1970 book entitled "Congress and Conscience," the "born-again" evangelical Christian reveals a religious search for tolerance in a pluralistic society and an understanding of the ambiguities of the human condition.
Ironically, he refers in his writing to a religious theologian often noted by candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976: As Reinhold Niebuhr points out, a Christian is both a liberal insofar as he is called to be the same time being neither: he is a liberal insofar as he is called to be the salt of the earth, and insofar as his Christian calling sets him in constant opposition to the imperfect status quo -- but he is a conservative insofar as he also knows that, so long as man is a sinner, mere social refor will never solve all the problems that plague him in organized society. We are, to paraphrase Niebuhr, seeking proximate answers to insoluble problems. Thus there is no reason for a Christian to think of himself automatically as either a liberal or a conservative. His faith puts him in the position of being albe to bridge the liberal-conservative dichotomy."
On the secular side, however, his 1970 biography revelas themes of the Anderson campaign that would emergy 10 years later. And, somewhat propehtically , it is entitled "Between Two Worlds: A Congressman's Choice."
In it, he writes, "If we can replace the image in the average citizen's mind of an anonymous and faceless bureaucracy, with a feeling that many people at all levels of government are working together in a cooperative effort to cure the ills of our society, we will have given new meaning and new stature to representative democracy.c
More, not fewer, federal initiatives woud be sought in Congress under an Anderson administration, although his staff contends that the "National Unity" platform would require less money than either the Democratic or Republican platforms. Chiefly, this is because of no new large defense programs, no new major health program, or anyu sizable tax cuts at least for a year.
"We better get our house in order before we start handing out goodies," Anderson tells crods, saying he wants to use the presidency to stir the populace to action just like John F. nKennedy did two decades ago.
In sometimes a moralizingtone, he calls for "prudency" in both economic and energy matters, hoping to build a "conservation ethic" in the nation.
"If we are going to get the conservation ethic implanted in people's minds, we are going to get the conservation ethic implanted in people's instead of paying the tax to OPEC," Anderson says. "If we live only for ourselves, that is something that is going to corrode both the individual spirit and the whole fabric of our society."
The classic conservative word is "prudence," says former Anderson aide Paul Henry, a political scientist and a Republican state legislator in Michigan who outlined a presidential bid for John Anderson in 1977.
"It means tempered balance or moderation in all things. Sometimes adjustments by government are needed to make the system work so that the system does not cumple. Some government programs, such as welfare or inner-city aid, plug the holes to keep the dam from breaking. You adjust the system to have it work for all people to prevent a frontal challenge to the whole system itself. Andersson is saying if we don't address the problems now, they will come back to haunt us in more fundamental way.
"So Anderson is still a conservative. People who shout most vociferiously as conservatives are not conservatives. Conservatives theoreticaly should be standing up for the constitutional rights that many liberals have espoused, such as equal rights. And his economic views are classical conservative positions -- not spending money we do not have," says Dr. Henry.
Campaign director David Garths, who has run 105 campaigns for "progressive" candidates, says Anderson is nto making any promises that the cannot deliver. "He has not said one single thing that he believes he wants to do economically in this country or any people he wants to help that he doesn't know where the money is coming from," Mr. Garth states.
Still, the platform lays out specific positions and programs that defy conservative-liberal labels and rely on the moral or political reasoning of primarily one man. "He always refers to himself as an eclectic and a pragmatist ," says Anderson's chief domestic policy adviser, Robert J. Walker. "The platform sets forth what can work. We don'tg set goals or numbers on objectives."
Anderson, for instance, refuses to base a military spending policy on percentages of gross national product, an accepted standard that now indicates the Soviet Union is outspending the US. "Percentages are meaningless," he says. Rather, defense programs will focus on increasing the readiness of conventional arms, maintaining "essential equivalence" in nuclear weapons, and seeking further arms limitation talks.
Inflation would be tackled by inviting representatives from the nation's stop 2,000 companies to Washington -- represent 60 percent of the work force -- and somehow forcing them to agree on wage and price guidelines. Then tax breaks and pernalties would be administered according to those who obeyed or violated the guidelines. Such a proposal has been pending before Congress.
Most of the new initiatives, except for two $4 billion trust funds for urban investment and mass transit, would be done with selective tax cuts providing incentices for saving and investing by private business. This includes "enterprise zones" in inner cities, where companies would get a 25 percent tax credit. No figures are presented by the platform on how much this would cost the US Treasury.
No goals are set for unemployment, and an Anderson adminstration would emphasize job training over federal job creation, hoping tax incentives will prompt private industry to hire the unemployed.
In opposing a constitutional ban on abortions, he calls for bigger programs that provide "alternatives" to abortion as well as for continued funding of the medical operation for poor women. Solar projects, especially photovoltaic research, would be expanded and $1 billion in programs would be proposed to put young people to work in conservation and mass transit jobs.
Also suggested early in an Anderson term would be a "convocation" of all governors and federal and state legislators to propose ways for improving the fedral government, which Anderson says is in "chaos."
But that raises the question fo wheter a President Anderson would be a good executive. Many observers close to his campaign point out that before Garth took over totally in late August, the Anderson campaign was not "runnign a tight ship." Scheduling and staff conflicts, despite high morale, were often a problem.
Even Garth offhandedly acknowledges a lack of administrative experience for the 20-year congressman: "The most important thing, as you have seen with four years with President Carter, is understanding how government works and how Congress works."
The selection of former two-term Wisconsin governor and Democrat Patrick J. Lucey as vice-presidentail running mate on the National Unity ticket ensures good administrative ability, sayts Gart.
"Between the two of them, they give you a balance, not only a bipartisan balance, but a balance in government . . . his 20 years [in Congress] and Pat Lucey's as governor far surpasses that of President Carter and Ronald Reagan."
"I think that John Anderson could have an easier time runnign this country as an independent than if he was a member of party. . . . He does not have to show any favor to anybody in Congress based on his party affliation. He can do it based on what they are doing for their nation."