She’s embarrassing and unpredictable, known as a “gadfly” and a “maverick” (among other names). She admits she’s never been a joiner. She has alienated both political parties and the Minnesota media. There are no topics on which she doesn’t have a strong opinion and no circumstances under which she would stifle any opinion. One cringes to think of her at dinner with heads of state. Fortunately, it will never happen.
But much of what Republican presidential candidate Mary Jane Rachner says is what decent, middle-class Americans mutter daily in the privacy of their homes or to friends.
Rachner, 66, is a retired Minnesota schoolteacher with a Ph.D. in education and not a lick of political expertise—although God knows she’s tried. She was a “smart-ass” anti-Vietnam Democrat until Reagan swept her off her feet eight years ago, and has run unsuccessfully for a number of local and national positions, including US senator. This year, to honor Reagan and help perpetuate what he started (which Bush wouldn’t do, she figured), she pursued the presidency. No one has written to thank her.
North Dakota holds the latest primary in the nation—on June 14—and Rachner gave it a try (she skipped the Minnesota primary), gathering 300 signatures by herself in Fargo and at the state Republican convention in Bismarck to get on the ballot. She missed by fewer than 200 votes, or one-half percent, getting what she needed: 6 Vi percent of the vote, which would have given her one delegate and a trip to the national convention. Still, in a race in which George Bush’s nomination is a foregone conclusion, getting 6 percent of the primary votes in a highly Republican state says something, Rachner feels, and probably more about George Bush than about her.
She had at least two reasons for wanting to be in the North Dakota “race.” One is that her mother and maternal grandfather were North Dakotans, and such ephemeral alliances seem to mean more up here than they do in many other regions. (In a recent news release she said, “I’m channelling for my [dead] grandmother . . . great-aunt . . . and mother, all of Bismarck, North Dakota. They came to me in a vision and said, ‘Go for it!’ They said, ‘There are no New Yorkers or Californians channelling from up here. They’re channelling from the other place!'”)
Another reason she ran in North Dakota is that she wanted “to make the point that North Dakota exists, to draw attention to the Midwest and its importance.” It wasn’t important to most candidates; the Associated Press described it as a “meaningless” primary, and North Dakota’s secretary of state said it was “worthless.” Bush had, understandably, declared weeks earlier that the primary season was over—which may have cost him 6 percent of the votes. Besides him, Rachner faced only Texas Libertarian Ron Paul on the North Dakota ballot. Mike Dukakis didn’t run.
The drive behind her candidacy is that “nobody else will stand up for normality.” Rachner says that psychologists and sociologists have “trashed the word ‘normal.’ They’ve said that whatever is possible is normal. . . . What we’ve created is . . . a prodigal son society” in which people are rewarded for doing wrong. She writes of the pervasive damage of what she calls the “psycho-educational-industrial complex,” which manipulates public concern over such problems as child abuse and AIDS, and is “driven by greed for federal money” to magnify the problems and ultimately make them worse. “When you earmark evil, you increase it a hundredfold,” she says. Take teen pregnancies. Take crime. Take homelessness.
The North Dakota primary was her second and last. Her first was in New Hampshire, where she spent $7,000 of her own hard cash to finish second among the GOP fringe candidates, with 120 votes. (Lyndon LaRouche, the Libertarian on the Democratic ticket, received only 24 more votes than she did.) Rachner blew all her money in New Hampshire because someone promised her she’d be included in a CBS 48 Hours special report on the fringe candidates. The program fell through, and to economize she teamed up with a willing Democratic candidate who happened to have a car. For three days, she said, “I’d steer all the Democrats to him, and he’d send the Republicans to me.” This kind of pragmatic, oddball relationship is typical of Rachner, who isn’t good at following rules. It worked out particularly well in New Hampshire because the Democrat was conservative and strongly pro-life, as she is, (Rachner tried to get on the Nebraska primary ballot, but failed. “I had called Kelly Girl to help me get petition signatures,” she told a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter. “I got to Lincoln and this guy wearing dangly earrings came up and said he was the Kelly Girl who was there to help me. I should have known, in this day and age. . . . I think he might have messed up and that’s why I didn’t get on the ballot.”)
Rachner ran into trouble with a North Dakota billboard company in May when she tried to buy space for her anti-homosexual campaign. She had a contract with a local company to put up the messages in five of the state’s largest cities, but when the company received her billboards, which had been made up in Minnesota, it just couldn’t go through with the deal. The manager of the Bismarck branch said that the contract gave the company the right to refuse to place offensive messages (“Stamp Out Homosexuality”). Rachner thinks the North Dakota Republicans had a hand in the plot, but they deny it—except to note that Rachner’s personal logo looks uncomfortably like the National Republican Party’s logo.
(“My elephant is . . . much, much prettier [than the party’s logo],” Rachner says. “My elephant has a rose in its trunk and is wearing a crown made up of reversed R’s. The R’s stand for Republican, Rachner, and Reaganite.” In a recent interview she compared the president, whom she idolizes, to Yorkshire pudding, and herself to a popover: “President Reagan has more experience; I have ‘air bubbles,’ blanks in my experience.”)
At a news conference in Bismarck, Rachner said that ridding the world of homosexuality would for her be a goal “like getting rid of murder and war” (although rest assured she’s big on SDI). Homosexuality is a crime, she said, adding that we “need a law that defines anal intercourse as rape,” not just as protection against the spread of AIDS but also because of homosexuality’s threat to “public health and sanity.” Many of her prepared news releases use the word “rape” in place of the odious “gay sex.” One release states that warning people to be careful whom they sleep with isn’t enough: “Those who already look crazed and brain-damaged can be spotted, but many carriers still look normal.”
So what does she have against the clearly if not obsessively heterosexual George Bush? Nothing personal; it’s just that “he isn’t saying anything,” and that he’s too elite. “George Bush is a country-clubber. I’m a K-Mart Republican, like most of them,” she says.
The Republican Party, according to Rachner, has become as doggedly prohomosexual and pro-feminist as the Democrats. Is this news? When she ran for the US Senate, she says, “I took ‘lessons’ from the Republican National Committee on how to be a congressional candidate, and they were very upset when I asked a question about homosexuality. I was invited into a little windowless room, and three men came in and made it clear that I should drop that subject.”
She chuckles and adds, “For an example of a good political speech you’d think they’d have a video of Reagan, but no, they had a video of Ted Kennedy.”
What, precisely, did this woman with air bubbles in her experience hope to achieve with her candidacy? A fairly respectable writer (she’s been published in The American Spectator), she rambles on the phone and at news conferences. Still, she manages to convey that she just wants to do some good. “I’m past the age when people care about fame and fortune,” she says. “I ran for president for my own mental satisfaction that something honest had been done in the realm of getting a president elected. There’s been enough hypocrisy.”
Yes, but what specifically did she hope to accomplish? Basically, it amounted to making sure that George Bush didn’t get nominated on the first ballot in New Orleans. If she’d gotten her 6 Vi percent in North Dakota (she won no delegates in New Hampshire), at least one first-ballot vote would have had to go to Rachner, whose chances of getting some national media coverage would increase dramatically and—she had hoped—influence, at least slightly, the choice of a vice-president and the party platform.
She’d like the vice-presidency to be more of a “co-presidency” or “twin-presidency,” with the vice-president as someone who would form a team with the president and promise to leave office when he did. “It’s important this year to switch to a twin-presidency [because] it’s the only way to save the public from the adolescent speculation about pillow talk which the media insists on using in order to turn wives into co-presidents. It is the president’s spouse, not his vice-president, who should be silent. I would be the perfect co-president because, having no husband, I would be my own spokesperson and I would probably sleep with my dog. The dog would be quoted, of course, but only as an unnamed White House source.”
Rachner has fantasies like all the rest of us, and leaves no doubt that if nominated she would have run and if elected she would have served. (Someone once said that if any one of us received a phone call begging us to run for president, we’d feign surprise but in our hearts wonder why it had taken them so long.) As president, Rachner would, she says, nominate Ronald Reagan to the US Supreme Court, issue voter identification cards so that people could vote easily from wherever they are, withhold voting cards from criminals, and fine every non-voting citizen $100 as a contribution to reducing the national debt. Federal money to gay and lesbian rights groups, even for AIDS education and testing, would stop: “That’s like giving money to a pornographic magazine in order to stop pornography.” Under a 27th Amendment to the Constitution, parents would have the right “to sue any local, state, or federal government for funding a school which might damage their child’s character, morals, personality, patriotism, or religious belief” Rachner would offer a choice of Cabinet posts to a catholic array of conservative Republicans, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, Oliver North, Phyllis Schlafly, Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson, Pete DuPont, Linda Chavez, Robert Bork, and Ed Meese, and—a maverick again—would “offer Jesse Jackson an anti-drug czar post.” The first people she’d fire would be C. Everett Koop and Otis Bowen.
Rachner would “empower employers to discriminate against hiring in full-time positions” any mothers of children under the age of seven. (“Never underestimate the power of simplistic phrases repeated over and over,” she writes in a satirical dialogue between two liberal congressmen. “Concentrate first on the discontented. At first you will get only women who are already unhappy, those who are eaten with jealousy and feel left out. Eventually, you can use these women to influence their more contented sisters with simplistic advice like, ‘Be your own person,’ ‘Be good to yourself,’ ‘Fulfill your potential.’ Soon the fashionableness of career commitment will drive women to earn and to spend, and they won’t realize where the money’s going. They’ll even be grateful to . . . liberal politicians and call [them] their advocates. And [the politicians] will get more PAC money from big business because [they’re] turning mothers into a pool of cheap labor.”) She would allow employment discrimination for health, gender, age, moral character, personality, physical strength, attitude, and IQ—but not race.
She would be outspoken in her opposition to what she describes as “the goofy, sado-masochistic, anal penetration which journalists, Democrats, and the entertainment industries of Hollywood and New York choose to call ‘sex’ and even insist on describing with the adjectives ‘gay’ and ‘normal'” She would bring to an end the Democrats’ “gigantic bureaucracy” with which they “coddle and care for a subculture of wastrels, ghouls, vagrants, and perverts.”
Newspaper reporters and columnists tell her they think she’s a kook. She explains—patiently, ploddingly, I imagine—that the media consistently censor her opinions, and that only by producing “hot copy” does she have a chance to get some coverage. Doesn’t every terrorist and nightclub entertainer know this? “If I get enough attention as a kook, and someone takes down a little bit of what I say, perhaps a glimmer of truth gets through,” is how she puts it. She’s willing to spend her own cash to take the chance.
Here’s what all of her voluminous writing and speaking seem to boil down to: “If I had Frank Fahrenkopf’s job [as head of the National Republican Party], I would point out to the nation’s Republican candidates the simple fact that most American homes have rules which all members of the family obey. Certain rudenesses are not tolerated. Isn’t our country the home of all its residents? Don’t we have a right to say that certain rudenesses and ridiculous forms of behavior will not be tolerated in the United States of America?”
One would hope so—but apparently only a kook would say so.