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Integrity in presidential politics? I think it’s extinct

John Anderson, the Illinois congressman who ran for president, has died at the age of 95

John Anderson ‘an alternative candidate willing to tell it like it was’.
Photograph: Ira Schwarz/AP

US politics


Integrity in presidential politics? I think it’s extinct

Tim Dowling

Tim Dowling

I’ve met Bill Clinton, and been thrown out of Gerald Ford’s elevator. But my favourite was John Anderson, a would-be candidate in 1979. He was my hero

At some point in the summer of 1979, I was eating breakfast at a diner with my family, in northern Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire. I can’t be sure: we were halfway through a long drive to Maine, and had spent the night in a motel.

A man with white hair and glasses walked up to our table and introduced himself. He asked if he could sit down. This overt display of friendliness, I could tell, alarmed my parents. When he claimed to be running for president, we all exchanged worried glances. But he had badges and stickers with his name on them. John Anderson, who died this week at the age of 95, was indeed pursuing the Republican nomination, in contention with Ronald Reagan, among others.

My mother told him she was a Democrat, the way you might tell a doorstep evangelist you were Catholic – I’m good, thanks – but he seemed undeterred. I was 16 – too young to vote. My three siblings were younger. I can’t remember anything he said now, but I remember being impressed. Then again, I kept thinking: if you were actually impressive, wouldn’t I have heard of you? Anderson, an Illinois congressman, quickly came to national prominence as an alternative candidate willing to tell it like it was. Central to his campaign was an environmentally minded 50c-a-gallon gasoline tax, a promise not destined to endear him to the American voter. He had measured, common-sense things to say about gun control that drew boos from audiences.

However, after Reagan was nominated, Anderson continued his campaign as an independent, making significant inroads into the support for the main party candidates – at one point he was polling 25% – briefly raising the possibility that integrity might yet have a place in presidential politics. For nine months of 1980, Anderson was my hero. And I’d met him.

I’ve encountered a couple of actual presidents in my time: I shook hands with candidate Bill Clinton at a train station in 1991, and Gerald Ford’s secret service detail once pushed me out of a lift he was in while I was working as an office temp. Anderson made the biggest impression. He was something rare in politics even then. Now, I fear, his kind are extinct.

Selling like cold cakes

Amazon package being sorted




The only way to get your hands on Russia’s president. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

There have been several recent reports in the Kremlin-friendly Russian media that 2018 Vladimir Putin calendars are selling “like hot cakes” in Britain. The calendar features action shots of the Russian president – playing with leopards, winning at judo, hunting shirtless – and a convenient month-to-a-page layout. No wonder they’re popular.

Apparently I’ve been disinformed. No retail outlets or distributors in the UK even stock Putin calendars. Despite claims on Russia’s Zvezda TV channel that Britons are buying the calendar “en masse”, apparently no more than a few hundred have been sold in this country, all of them online. I honestly do not know what to believe any more.

Putin, my calendar guy

Vladimir Putin hunting topless




My calendar guy: Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Dmitry Astakhov/AP

I’m sorry to admit that on hearing about the Putin calendar my first question was not about the Kremlin’s agenda. It wasn’t even: is it Gregorian or Julian? It was: where can I get me one? Or even half a dozen? It’s the ultimate one-size-fits-all Christmas present. Secret Santa? Putin calendar. Brother-in-law? Putin calendar. Children? Putin calendars, times three.

Amazon seemed an obvious port of call, but few sellers offering Putin 2018 actually had any available for sale. One vendor who did was asking £283.84 for it. That’s more than I’ve spent on calendars, total.

I must say, the three five-star customer reviews were extremely persuasive. “The only Vladimir Putin calendar you will need,” said one. “This was one of the best calenders [sic] I have seen of President Putin,” said another. “I would be interested in more President Putin calenders [sic] and items by this seller.”

What was I thinking? Sold.

• Tim Dowling is a Guardian writer


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