HIS TRUTH IS OUT THERE; 'Sloth' Candidate Prefers the Fringe

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HIS TRUTH IS OUT THERE; 'Sloth' Candidate Prefers the Fringe


    Depressed by Tuesday's choice of presidential candidates? Consider U. Utah Phillips.
    The singer-songwriter, hobo anarchist and former Utahn is running for president on the little-known Sloth and Indolence Party ticket. No, Phillips is not on any ballots. He is not even campaigning. And if you don't vote for him, that's fine.
    "The way I see it, everybody who doesn't vote, votes for me."
    OK, so the aging folkie slacker with the Santa Claus beard, the acoustic guitar and the eccentric wit is probably no more qualified to be president than Texas Gov. George W. Bush or Vice President Al Gore. But he's a lot more entertaining.
    Phillips' slogan is "U. for President." His running mate was a 600-pound bionic duck named Mallard Fillmore until (he says) the duck fled to Arkansas to become a Pentecostal preacher. He calls the youth wing of his party Youth Against Whatever's Next, or YAWN. His campaign promises are, well . . . a bit unusual.
    "If I accidentally wind up in the White House, I promise you I won't do anything at all," Phillips, 65, says by telephone from his home in Nevada City, Calif. "I'll scratch my butt and shoot pool. And I'll say to the people, 'If you want something done, don't come to me. Do it yourselves.' "
    In his own quixotic way, Phillips has run for president every four years since 1972. He does it, "all strictly word-of-mouth," to poke fun at a political system he considers deeply flawed. As you might have guessed by now, Phillips is no fan of government. Or corporations. Or the mass media. Or any powerful establishment figure.
    "The government is too beholden to corporate America," he says. "Are corporations run by elected people? No. Are corporations democratic institutions? No. We talk about fascism. Well, it's already here.
    "People who do work deserve to get back the wealth they create instead of lining the pockets of the rich. We need democracy from the bottom up, not the top down."
    It's not surprising that of the four major presidential candidates, Phillips favors Green Party nominee and anti-corporate crusader Ralph Nader. He has little use for either Bush or Gore, whom he views as puppets of corporate interests.
    "His candidacy is always valuable," says fellow folk singer-songwriter Rosalie Sorrels, who has known Phillips for 50 years. "He does it to get people's attention and he talks about things that are real. I appreciate that. We need a sense of humor to put up with what's going on [politically] now."
    Phillips lived in Salt Lake City from 1947 to 1969, during which time he ran for the U.S. Senate on the Peace and Freedom ticket. Phillips' nickname was inspired by his years in Utah -- he still loves the place -- and by the late country singer T. Texas Tyler. The U. in his name stands for whatever he feels like at the time: Uinta has been one choice. Underwear was another.
    Since moving to Nevada City, a hippie town in the foothills of the Sierras, Phillips has continued to record and tour. He was nominated for a Grammy for a recording he made with singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco. But he cut back his schedule to about one concert a month after doctors diagnosed him five years ago with congestive heart failure.
    In place of touring, Phillips hosts "Loafer's Glory," a weekly radio program of songs and folk tales broadcast on some 30 stations around the country. Programming has included Gaelic poetry, songs about labor unrest and an interview with a poultry breeder.
    Phillips won't be out stumping for votes Tuesday because he prides himself on working as little as possible. But he'll share his political views with anyone who will listen. Who wins on Tuesday makes little difference to him.
    "If we can't build democracy where we live and work, the biggest ballot box in the world isn't going to give it to us," he says. "How we govern ourselves has to change."

-- Mr. Happy (x0x@cdo.net), November 07, 2000

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