Tom Hayden: “People want to know if I’m a radical."
Easy Quiz: who is 35 years old, male, of radical political background and is now trying to unseat the California Democratic incumbent, John Tunney, in next June’s primary? His reformist platform has a broad economic appeal. He’s also married to a movie star with outspoken views who won an academy award despite her politics.
Answer: Tom Hayden.
Jon Voight: Tom "put himself on the line, got hit over the head with sticks, and I felt guilty."
He came to a fund raising garden party in his behalf, held at the home of Elsa and Keith Breuckner in La Jolla, Sunday, October 12. Admission at $15 a head included Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, finger food, plus the Versailles-type garden of the hosts. Drinks extra, at a dollar apiece.
A few years ago, the Breuckners had opened their home to raise money for the defectors from the Constellation sailing for Viet Nam. At that time, the price of admission was $5, Jane Fonda and David Harris the guest speakers, and about 200 attended. But money is tighter and, movie stars or not, only 75 turned out for Hayden. Still, the speakers could not be faulted for their lack of commitment or enthusiasm.
Fonda and Voight arrived together, early, and in advance of Hayden. After a few minutes of rest, they both mingled with the guests in the patio. Apparently starving. Fonda ate rapidly from her paper plate — fritos, cheese, assorted dips, stuffed cherry tomatoes. Her fingers worked like wild birds. She wore a cotton tie-dye suit, mid-calf and wine colored, and a string-knit off-pink shirt. Her boots were high heeled and of crushed leather. Her hair was glorious; she appeared lightly made up; she wore no lipstick. Jon Voight came dressed in milky jeans, a tan shirt and a pale blue corduroy shirt jacket with an iridescent finish. His naturally blonde hair grazed his shoulders.
What has this to do with politics? Though Miss Fonda won an Oscar for Klute and Jon Voight received a nomination as best actor for his superb performance in Midnight Cowboy they came as “just folk,” speaking to anyone bold enough to ask a question. Of the two, Jon proved the most effective. He made a preliminary speech about Tom Hayden in which he explained why he had decided to sponsor Tom — because Tom had “put himself on the line, got hit over the head with sticks, and I felt guilty. I was very impressed with Tom during the Chicago 7 trial. He was more peaceful and clear than the others and 1 kind of identified with him most. He was dignified and beautiful, so I kept in touch.”
“To follow Tom is always fruitful,” continued Voight, “because he tells the truth about what’s going on, and he has the ability to phrase things. I’m not as astute as Tom. He can cut through things and arrive at decisions quickly. I think he’ll be a fantastic senator.”
Jon Voight meant it. Unassuming, modest, self-effacing, Voight constantly assured everyone that Tom would explain the issues better and knew the answers more than he. He wanted to address each person by his or her name. When I asked whether his politics had caused him any difficulty in the movie industry (he also campaigned for McGovern) he assured me that since the war in Viet Nam ended, actors could express whatever political opinion they wanted to without fear. Warm, sincere in the best sense, he had my vote as a humanist. Inquiring about what he had been doing lately, and expecting some answer about his next film, Voight surprised me by smiling boyishly. “Mostly baby-sitting. I have a baby girl 5 months of age and little boy of 28 months.” This proved to be his first appearance for Hayden.
Fonda could in no way duplicate Jon Voight’s warmth, nor does she feel the need to. Understandably, she is under pressure. Hayden has spoken to 600 groups since last June. If Fonda appears at even a fraction of these, it must be difficult to answer the same questions again and again and to maintain her poise when people address her as “Jane,” and expect her to be informed on such issues as Indochina, statistics on unemployment, etc. Said she, both as wife and politico, “If the people of California were the jury, Tom would win.”
After 40 minutes of this, Ms. Fonda retired to one of the bedrooms and was not present during Hayden’s speech. He arrived by plane and car at approximately 3:30 — the party started at 2 — and Voight introduced him.
Hayden wore a tan summer suit, a cerulean blue shirt; a tie of blue and brown stripes, knee length brown socks (he pulled them up before speaking) and brown laced shoes stitched like moccasins. In other words, he had erased the sweatshirt and bluejeans image.
Dispensing with the microphone, he said, “People want to know if I’m a radical. If radicalism means getting to the bottom of things, I am a radical. Some think radical means chaos. But I am for alleviating problems within the Democratic party where media candidates predominate. Politics has to be restored through the use of clubs, unions, organizations, senior citizen’s groups, so people can pressure for their demands.”
“The issue will not be a menu of 25 different issues to appeal to 25 different groups, but to accept that we are at the end of the Age of Expansion in which we have an unlimited concept of energy, cheap labor, and policing around the world.” He attacked the salary of $800,000 a year for the president of Exxon, Pentagon spending, and said that it was hypocritical for people to believe that they were for the military budget but not for inflation.
Hayden spoke with energy and passion about the need for a National Health Bill, for an Economic Bill of Rights in which employment would be guaranteed for all, the need for solar energy for California’s future, and most important, the acceptance of a new philosophy. Not the philosophy of the frontier, in which one had unlimited resources to use for status symbols and gadgetry, but “the improvement in the quality of our lives.”
Start to finish, 15 minutes. Sober, dedicated, with no attempt at jokes, small talk or a visceral appeal to the audience. Then the question and answer period.
Question: How do you plan to implement your “economic bill of rights”?
Answer: By hoping that groups of people will work for this policy and that I won’t be an isolated type in the senate, but one of several who can be effective.
Question: You spoke of hypocrisy. Don’t you think you're a hypocrite to come here and speak about people’s economic needs when you’re married to Jane Fonda, who’s a millionaire? I mean, I can’t help it, I just think of you as Jane Fonda's husband.
Answer: I worked for years in Newark organizing and lived on a dollar a day. As for Jane, everyone knows she gives her salary to good causes. Would you have liked it better if there had been no movie stars today? Would you have come out to see me on a street corner?
Reply: I would.
Hayden: Then sign that lady up for our organization at once.
Question: Where are your Blacks and Chicanos today? This is a privileged group paying $15 to get in. What is the practical thing to say about Blacks and Chicanos?
Answer: We have to build along the lines of the coalition.
Question: Why are you running in the Democratic party, rather than as an independent?
Answer: Because people in the Democratic Party have the most problems (the poor and underprivileged) and I want to help them.
Question: What future do you foresee for yourself if you don’t unseat Tunney in the primary?
Answer: I will go on.
The party’s over. Hayden prepares to leave. There are still hands raised for questions, but Hayden has to drive back to the airport, get back on the plane, back to the next meeting tonight, tomorrow, the day after. A crowd forms around him, but most of the people disperse.
Why did they come?
To hear Tom Hayden and find out what the issues were.
To see Jane Fonda in person.
To see Jon Voight and Jane Fonda.
Oh, I’ve been to this house for another fund-raising occasion, and I love this house, it’s neat.
I’m sick of my job, I want to meet new people. I thought, why not.
I’m old, but I’m always willing to listen to something new.
I always admired Tom. I just love Tom. I’d do anything to get him elected. I even made a dip, and I hate cooking.
Photographers take the last of the pictures. The candidate thanks the host and hostess. The wife-movie-star-campaigner emerges from the bedroom. The sun flops on its belly and sinks into a faultless, non-political sea.