We intended to let our Fringe series lay dormant as the primaries and caucuses neared, but then a slim little book arrived in the mail, courtesy of a Fringer. We couldn't resist. So, welcome back to the presidential Twilight Zone.
Benjamin Richards is a self-proclaimed "guy from Iowa" who's running for president as an independent. His book, Ben '08 is probably the glossiest policy briefing a no-shot presidential candidate has ever produced. The book outlines Richards' "A to Z platform," which is a cute way of saying it's organized alphabetically. He runs through the usual policy pieces , including budget (balance it), climate change (fix it), and terrorism (stop it). The paragraph-long briefings are accompanied by quotes from Aristotle, Proust, and Agatha Christie.
Richards toes a fine line between being a serious, policy-based candidate and a jokester. His signature image is his goofy smirk behind a big thumps-up. He even Photoshopped himself into the Oval Office for the book's back cover. But when I spoke to him on the phone, he was, well, relatively normal.
Richards told me he commutes between Las Vegas (where his wife lives) and Iowa while working for a company that packages show tours across Asia. He's trying to attract support through the art of the rant. The long-winded video up on his Web site proves that he knows geography, but not much else.
Richards' problem—and a problem with Fringers in general—is that his policies are a collection of ideas without much detail. He's a mashup of the other candidates' positions, but there isn't much that separates his campaign from any other mainstream candidate's—besides the Benjamins (the dollar kind). It's a hump all fringe candidates (including, for example, Huckabee, Tancredo, and Gravel) have to overcome if they want to be viable.
Richards seems to recognize this. I asked him how his platform is different than the bigwigs. "I don't think it does diverge from them," he said, "I think more people with more ideas joining the discourse is a positive thing."
UPDATE Dec. 26 1:45 p.m.:
Image scanned from Richards' book,