Growing up in Rockford, III., John Bayard Anderson often would go with his family to the homes of other Swedish immigrants. While the others talked and played, recalls a childhood friend, "John would go off in a corner and read a book."
"His early years were an intellectual development. He didn't start his social life until he came back from the [Second World] war," remembers June Foster, now his appointments secretary.
A bookworm at heart even today, reading mainly historical authors such as Barbara Tuchman, the independent presidential candidate has led a political life bred in ideas and later reshaped by circumstances. He still viewed as solitary man with few close friends but a very close family.
Born Feb. 15, 1922, to Ernest Albin Anderson and Mable Edna (Ring) Anderson, he was the fifth of six childern in a family brough close together when three of his siblings died in childhood. Their home was in the Scandanavian section of Rockford, a middle-sized industrial town filled with small shops and surrounded by farmland in northwest Illinois.
He was often called "John B." to distinguish him from all the Swedish-named Andersons in Rockford. He worked in his father's grocery store and often attended revivalist tent meetings in the evening.
At age nine during one such religious gatherings, he "was so moved by the message being preached" that he made a public confession to accept Jesus Christ as "my personal savior." He later called this a "cataclysmic change that is eternal."
With books and preachers as role models, he gained an eloquent tongue.
"He was always particularly bright. He was a scholar. People wondered if he was a sissy. But he liked sports and played around with friends," adds Mrs. Foster. Today, he says he swims 1,000 yards five days a week and does his best thinking lap after lap.
As an expert debater at Rockford Central High School, he won a "loving cup or two" for his speaking ability and graduated in 1939 as the class valedictorian. And his bellowing voice made him a good singer. He was a soloist at the First Evangelical Free Church and sang at weddings for $25.
"He tended to be very serious. He didn't flaunt his intellectuality. Some of his arrogance has come from frustration at not being understood. But it's not part of his nature," says his longtime friend.
One trait stands out to those who have worked with Mr. Anderson closely: He has an instant photographic memory of people and places, and can digest whole memos in seconds, later quoting from them verbatim.
He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois in 1942 with a political science degree. Then he served 2 1/2 years as a field artilleryman in the US Army during World War II, winning battle stars for four military campaigns.
"John's parents had that Middle West solidness. they would travel around the country to see him when he was in the aRmy," says Mrs. Foster.
"The Swedes wanted their sons and daughters to marry Swedes and settle down in Rockford. It was an active community life centered around the church, which was very strict.Instead of movies and dances, we had hayrides and Saturday night parties in the church. And there were a lot of preachings, 'You must be saved. You must be born-again.'"
With all the ambition of a second-generation immigrant American, Anderson gained a law degree from the University of Illinois in 1946, and took up practice in Rockford. His first case involved purchasing and escorting two elephants from Florida to the Midwest (they ate the roof off a house en route), an episode that partly gave him cause to seek "some larger satisfaction." He accepted a fellowship to Harvard University where he gained a master of law in 1949 and taught law courses at Northeastern University.
He became a Foreign Service officer and, from 1952 to 1955, served in West Berlin under the US high commissioner for Germany. After marrying the daughter of a Boston-based Greek barber in 1953 (see side story), however, he returned to a Rockford law firm when the chance of becoming an ambassador seemed remote and raising a family loomed as more important.
Local Republican leaders asked him to run for state's attorney in Winnebago County. He did and he won. "He was brought up in a Republican family in a Republican area and by sheer habit he was a Republican," expalins Anderson's wife, Keke.
In 1960, after three terms as state's attorney, he decided to run for a vacant congressional seat for the 16th District, an area that had not elected a Democratic congressman since before the Civil War. "Among Swedish-Americans, anybody named Anderson was almost assured election," Mrs. Foster points out.
"He ran against the organization," says David Martenson, his first campaign manageR, "but when he got on television and showed he could speak better, he swept the election."
As a member of the freshmen class in the 87th Congress, Anderson, along with several other new conservative congressmen, took up the cause of Old Guard Republicans.
In 1962, for instance, he voted against creation of a Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1964, he spoke against a liberal lawyer appointed to the Warren Commission for being a member of a "Communist-front organization." During the presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater, Anderson was a member of the "Paul Revere" team that toured the nation expressing Republican views.In 1967, he criticized Martin Luther King Jr. for "violent and inflammatory action" in urging "militant" but nonviolent moves by blacks.
Nothing in his record during these early years in Congress has sparked more controversy than his sponsorship in 1961, 1963, and 1965 of a constitutional admendment formally recognizing "the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Ruler of nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of the Almighty God."
Like many of his past actions, he acknowledges this "mistake" under questioning on the campaign trail in 1980.
"I disavowed that [amendment] 15 years ago," he says. "In 1971, when there were two votes on the floor of the House on the question of a constitutional amendment to restore prayer in schools, I voted no."
In 1970, he wrote: ". . . you don't necessarily tell a politician by his church pew."
Indeed, wife Keke now says, "My husband is a fundamentalist. My husband is a born-again Christian. But his decisions certainly would notm be made in accordance with his religious beliefs. They would be made in accordance with the laws of this land. Certainly, someone's religion must give them private sustenance in a time of trouble or anguish."
Sometime around 1968, when the nation was being buffeted by Vietnam and the civil rights movement, something happened to John Anderson -- at the least the public John Anderson.
In what most consider his most celebrated act as a legislator, Anderson cast the decisive vote on a House Rules Committee decision to pass a fair housing act. It was a measure he had voted against two years earlier.The bill was being rushed through Congress amid the violence following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Stepping away noticeably from the Republican Party line, he persuaded many of his undecided colleagues with an emotional speech that sparked spontaneous applause from the House floor:
"I legislate today not out of fear, but out of deep concern for the America I love. I think it would surprise you, perhaps, if I said I do not see this particular piece of legislation as a memorial to the dead. I see it rather as that cloud and that pillar that will guide the way of the living."
Although he had voted for the Civil Right Acts in 1964, his outspoken disenchantment with Republican conservatism was furthered by the praise he received from this action. "As a Christian," he wrote in 1970, "I had to be willing to give up age-old prejudices."
Keke explains it this way: "The man I married was not really a conservative man. When he went to the House and was exposed to a wider range of information -- including seeing some of the nation's ghettos -- he realized how important the problems were in this country. He actually went over New York City in a helicopter looking at some of the ghetto areas."
Emergence from a fairly sheltered life in Rockford and the realization that his seat was relatively safe in Congress also convinced Anderson to take up many liberal causes that he once had opposed. "There were things he just could not ignore. He became attuned to the national arena," says Robert J. Walker, his campaign domestic policy adviser.
Straddling divergent stands on issues, and changing his political stripes over time still marks Anderson during his "National Unity" campaign for the White House.
Once a staunch supporter of nuclear power, he now says the mishap at Three Mile Island requires a moratorium on new atomic plants until safety and waste problems are solved.And his withdrawal of support of the tax-cutting Kemp-Roth bill was caused by government debt and inflation getting "out of control."
In a fundamental way, Anderson became convinced that conservative theology does not necessarily lead to conservative politics, nor liberal theology to liberal politics. "It would seem that many conservative Christians have completely failed to appropriate for themselves the great doctrinal truth that they spouse to others -- that all men are created of one blood and that God is no respecter of persons. . . . Minimum standards of health, food, and shelter for example, need not be considered simply as problems of charity or benevolence; they are basic human rights," he wrote in 1970.
"We must stop using religion as an implicit justification for our political biases and learn instead to give our faith new expression in our politics."
Will he ever return to his old conservative views? "You don't revert when you have a slow process," his wife says.
His famed 1968 vote on housing led to further support of anti-discrimination measures, including co-sponsorship of the original Equal Rights Admendment in 1970. He believed the amendment would smite "the pervasive discrimination which has held American women in legal bondage for nearly two centuries."
Anderson's second splash on the national scene came in 1974 when he was the first Republican congressmen to call for President Nixon's resignation. In 1972 , he left his ballot blank on presidential choices.
Twice he considered a move to the Senate, once by seeking a governor's appointment on the death of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen in 1969 and the other in 1974 as a possible run against Adlai E. Stevenson III. Although he sought a more visible national platform that the Senate offered, his post as third-ranking House Republican seemed more influential than being a new senator in a minority party.
In the House, he sought a "tough-minded, intelligent centrism" that his colleagues often saw as a way to bring both sides of the aisle to common agreement. Like many liberal Republicans, however, he walked a thin tightrope in balancing fiscal pragmatism and a social conscience.
Still closed-fisted over what he called "warmed-over New Deal panaceas," Anderson voted against many social programs such as day care and urban renewel."
This halting liberalism extended to environmental legislation, where the Anderson record has been spotty. But it is marked with such acknowledged triumphs as the recent passage of the Udall-Anderson Alaska Funds Act. In support of a Noise Control Act in 1972, he said: "For those of us with kids at the right age, there is the stereo's blast from upstairs of the latest work of Led Zeppelin or Santana. Trivial examples perhaps, but did not this nation establish a Constitution in part to insure domestic tranquility" . . . This is one time, gentlemen, when I can say with emphasis, we have a sound bill."
Humor, John Anderson-style, has always marked his speaking despite many voters' perception of him as too serious, bordering on solemn. His humor is a self-deprecating play on words best captured in context. "He's just a stitch. But he doesn't tell jokes. Women would say he was cute in the way he uses words ," says June Foster.
But his on-the-stump philosophizing and pedantic oratory have led some of his House associates to refer to him as "St. John the Righteous." His thin, almost Lincolnesque face strains with polysyllable words that send reporters running to their dictionaries to look up "apotheosis" or "Manichaean."
"He feels he has to rouse and rally the troops. That's his oratory style and it goes way back," Mr. Walker says. Despite his reputation as one of the best extemporaneous speakers on Capitol Hill, "he still speaks like he was from the Old Testament," says Roger Hedges, a former Rockford newspaper reporter.
Former campaign manager Martenson says he believes Anderson has a "Messianic complex." "If he's not the one elcted, he thinks the country is in ruin."
Adds one former aide: "Anderson is a melancholy Swede. Deep down, he is like a Bergman film, with a touch of ambivalence. He is truely an enigmatic character.
He is a quote-monger, quoting past presidents, philosophers, and quite often himself. One of his favorite persons to quote is Adlai Stevenson II. "Anderson feels a kinship to Stevenson and like Stevenson feels a need to level with the people and not demagogue," says Walker. His speech writers regularly consult a book on the wit and wisdom of the former Democratic presidential candidate, who was considered too intellectual for voters in the 1950s.
"There is a very strong similarity in part of the personalities between Stevenson and Anderson," says David Garth, the Anderson campaign director who also worked for Stevenson in 1960. "They both have first-class intellects. The one difference . . . is that Anderson is a little tougher as an individual. Governor Stevenson was more cerebral. Stevenson had a sense of humor in public. Anderson has a sense of humor in private."
And there is one other thing that comes acoss when Anderson speaks. When he quotes Stevenson, he does not often fail to point out that the Illinois politician was a nominee for the presidency twice.m