Character. Some people have it. Some people are it. Ed O'Donnell, who's just announced his candidacy for president in 2020, is both.
As a perennial presidential candidate, O'Donnell is a latter-day Harold Stassen, the president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1948 -'53 who is remembered for his (unappreciated) efforts to enhance the status of the football team.
Stassen ran for president nine times, plus for a host of other posts.
The 2020 presidential campaign will be O'Donnell's record-setting 10th. In the previous nine, he's amassed a grand total of 494 votes. He always runs in New Hampshire because the Granite State requires only a $1,000 filing fee, not pesky petitions with voters' signatures. He will turn 69 on Monday, Martin Luther King Day, he notes with satisfaction.
So why do you run, Ed?
Not because he thinks he's going to win, he says with a laugh. He runs because he has ideas about love, peace and tolerance he wants to place on the table. After Colgate University, he did a year at Harvard Divinity School and his political platform is unapologetically Christocentric.
"I am trying to help people," he says. "I run like it is one of the apostle Paul's missionary trips. I pretend I am preaching a Christmas Eve homily."
Like another recent presidential candidate who shall remain unnamed, O'Donnell is mostly self-funded, although he has received donations "from students, street preachers and the homeless." Philly Jesus gave him money, he says, for his candidacy. Bernie Sanders bragged his average donation was "$27 bucks." O'Donnell's average? $1.46.
Since his first quest for the presidency in 1984, O'Donnell has spent more than $1.5 million of his own money, the inheritance from his successful pediatrician father. A Wilmington native, O'Donnell used most of the money to set up the charitable, but penny-ante, Winthrop Foundation that hands out food, clothing and toiletries to the homeless. His meager income comes from selling books and maps and distributing literature for small businesses.
"I've spent all my money on the charity and running for president," he says. He realizes he could have done more for people by focusing better, "but you can't undo the past."
You can undo the future, I mention.
"I've cut back. I'm spending less money on running for president," says O'Donnell, who wears thrift-store clothing and prefers low-cost suburban motels that offer free nights and free breakfast to an apartment.
He's run so often he recites his platform by rote and his answers can be as long as President Obama's,
The first plank in his platform is "to treat everyone with love and mercy and forgiveness" and to get everyone else "to help people with real true love and help them with money, food, housing, transportation and jobs."
Second, "pick up all the litter and make it America the beautiful."
Then mental health courses in schools, teaching children how to deal with anger, followed by reducing stress in the workplace, especially for blue collar workers.
President O'Donnell would somehow mandate "four-day work weeks with higher pay, flexible work hours, more breaks, more vacation time and either fitness facilities at work" or discounted gym memberships, plus stock for employees.
What worker wouldn't like that? What employer would?
Noting most big financial gifts go to Ivy League schools, he would redirect them to community colleges and smaller colleges "so some kid at community college has the same experience as the kid at the University of Virginia."
When I mention the president has no authority to do that, he says he knows, but "if you are a persuasive person, you can do it and I am very persuasive, I'm a good motivator."
Two other points: defense and foreign aid.
He is a total pacifist who would have done nothing in response to 9/11. How about December 7, 1941?
He would not have retaliated against Japan.
If the Japanese invaded San Francisco?
He would have wanted to negotiate with them and offer them money. Like Christ, he would turn the other cheek.
O'Donnell's foreign policy is more proactive.
"I would have a nonviolent foreign policy based on feeding, housing, clothing, educating and employing - that's the key - the Third World. That would reduce war and what is called terrorism dramatically."
In less than four years, O'Donnell will be trudging back to New Hampshire, $1,000 in hand, ready to run again and spread the good word.
Maybe he should bring Philly Jesus with him.
firstname.lastname@example.org 215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky Blog: ph.ly/Byko Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky