The Fringe, Part 2
Presidential candidates you've never heard of.
Updated Friday, Oct. 19, 2007, at 6:30 PM
Can't he at least pretend to like the person he's endorsing? We know social conservatives aren't too enthused about the current batch of GOP candidates, but this is just absurd. It reminds me of the Web site that appeared during the 2004 race, www.JohnKerryIsaDouchebagButImVotingForHimAnyway.com. Their motto: "He'll do."
The Fringe: In honor of Stephen Colbert's presidential run and the beginning of the filing period for the New Hampshire primaries, Trailhead is introducing its first regular feature: the Fringe. We'll profile the über-long shots who have come out of the woodwork armed with limited cash, delusions of grandeur, and blind faith to seek residency in the White House.
Our inaugural candidate is Dr. Jack Shepard, a dentist from Minnesota—no, not that Jack Shephard. He has lived in Rome for the past 25 years but still thinks he's the Republican who can protect America and bring peace to the Middle East. Oh, I almost forgot, he's a convicted felon who is wanted on arson charges back home.
Shepard left the country in 1982, after serving eight months in jail for possessing narcotics—he says he was permitted to have them because of a license obtained for his dentistry practice *—and after Minnesota authorities claimed he burned down his house and dentistry office. Since moving to Italy, he says he routinely speaks with high-level Syrian, Iranian, and Hamas officials to assist America's foreign-policy efforts. He believes he is still serving in the armed forces at the age of 60 because his ID card doesn't have an expiration date. He claims he can't come home because he's still serving his country abroad. When I asked for specifics, he said that was all he was allowed to tell me.
If Shepard's platform has a fulcrum, it's full diplomacy with leaders in the Middle East, especially Iran. When I asked him about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's aggressive anti-Israel comments, he blamed them on a mistranslation. He would section off Palestine within Israel (he offered no specifics) and veto any pro-Israel bill that came across his desk. He also offered this: "The votes that I get will be votes from peace people," he said, "I'm curious how many people are actually after a person who really has dialogue with the evil of axis, as it's called." That was not a typo.
If Shepard sounds like he's a peace-loving Democrat, that's because he used to be. He became a "born-again Republican" in 2000 after a convoluted episode involving racial bias. Nevertheless, he wants the Rev. Jesse Jackson to be his ambassador to the United Nations.
He wouldn't tell me much about his domestic policy despite specific questions on health care, abortion, and gay rights. But he did say he wanted to reform the prison system, using personal examples from his own incarceration as evidence of its shortcomings.
To run for president, all Shepard had to do was send $1,000 check to New Hampshire's secretary of state and sign some papers saying he wanted to run. In South Carolina, you have to pony up $2,500 or 3,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot. Nobody does a background check, and he can't get pulled off the ballot in New Hampshire unless somebody files a complaint. This means Shepard will almost certainly remain a diplomatic vigilante.
Even if he were to garner a delegate, it's doubtful he'd be able to attend the GOP national convention in Minnesota, since that's the state where he's wanted for arson. Ever the optimist, Shepard ended an e-mail he sent me with this: "It would be the greatest and happiness moment of my life to return to St. Paul, Minnesota the city of my birth to get the Republican Nomination for President there." After all, aren't all politicians just talkative people looking for a little redemption?
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Photographs of: Mark Klein courtesy of Dr. Klein; Jack Shepard courtesy of Dr. Shepard; Rudy Giuliani in the Republican presidential debate by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images; Bill Richardson baseball card courtesy the Richardson campaign; Duncan Hunter by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images. Photographs of Sam Brownback by: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images; Darren McCollester/Getty Images; Mandel Nagan/AFP/Getty Images; Scott Olson/Getty Images; Bill Pugliano/Getty Images; and Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.