Running On Empty

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I dont know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

Running on – running on empty
Running on – running blind
Running on – running into the sun
But Im running behind

— from “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne

Screaming in the Rain

I was on my way home from doing a radio interview in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was very cold, windy and pouring rain. As I got closer to home, I found myself driving down a road where many of my campaign lawn signs had been planted. I noticed that one had blown over and was lying in the street. I pulled my car over the side of the road, jumped out of the car and began screaming at the sign as I picked it up, straighten it out and re-planted it. “You’re not going to lay there on the road, in the rain and get hit by a truck. You’re going right back where you were and do your job”.

That was the first of three stops I made. When I jumped back in the car after yelling at the third lawn sign, it just dawned on me that I had ruined a very good pair of shoes and perhaps a very good blazer while saving around five dollars worth of lawn signs. But it took me until I got home to realize what had happened. It wasn’t about the price of the lawn signs and it wasn’t about wrecking my shoes and blazer.

Why would a 62-year-old man with a couple of university degrees jump out of his car on a cold, windy day in the pouring rain and start yelling at lawn signs insisting to them that he wasn’t going to let them lay in the rain drenched street and get hit by a truck? It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that what had happened began to coalesce in my consciousness.

This is what it’s like to run for Congress as an independent. This was a metaphor I could’ve never constructed consciously. I never gave a thought about wrecking a pair of shoes and a blazer in order to save five dollars worth of lawn signs. It was what I simply had to do. This is what I’ve been doing every day for the last nine months.

Why did this happen today? Have I finally snapped? In a week the election will be over. I have no money. Worse; I am around six thousand dollars in debt. I raised ten thousand dollars but I had to spend seven thousand of those dollars just to get on the ballot. That is how much it costs to collect the five thousand signatures required in Pennsylvania this year to appear on the ballot. So I had only three thousand dollars to conduct my campaign compared to the five hundred thousand dollars raised by my Republican opponent.

Raising money is not rocket science. There are only a couple of things you have to do. First of all you have to ask. That is the main reason why people contribute. But you do have to explain to people the value they will derive from their donation. If they don’t believe they will receive any value from such a donation, there will be no contribution.

So after hundreds of telephone calls, hundreds of letters and e-mail messages to thousands of people over nine months I have only raised ten thousand dollars. I know a lot of people. If each one that I asked had contributed just two hundred dollars I would’ve raised four hundred thousand dollars. That would actually be enough for an electoral victory. But out of the thousands of people I contacted only three dozen contributed a total of ten thousand dollars. What value did those three dozen people see that the thousands of others did not?

If someone were to ask me if I would like to have a seven series BMW, I would give them an emphatic ‘yes’. On the other hand, if they then said all I had to do was hand over seventy thousand dollars, I would have to say that I didn’t want one quite that much. Give it to me at no cost and I’d love to have one. I might even come up with twenty thousand dollars. But I would never spend seventy thousand dollars for an automobile. It is simply a luxury that I cannot afford.

Everyday I get e-mail messages and telephone calls telling me what a great job I’m doing and how much we need to have candidates like me. But as soon as I finish thanking the person for their complement and ask for a donation the message becomes very clear. “John, you’re doing a great thing but you can’t really ask me to throw away money on a candidate who cannot win. Maybe I can let you have twenty-five dollars”.

That’s when I go in to my explanation that, although I cannot get elected, there are many things that I can win. I usually explain how I was only permitted to participate in one debate two years ago but this year I have appeared in all three. I explain about all of the radio stations and newspapers which have interviewed me; all the organizations which have invited me to speak this year while none of that happened two years ago. But in the final analysis, I am perceived as a luxury candidate that people cannot afford. Progressives want me in very much the same way I want a seven series BMW. Give it to them with little or no cost and you have a deal. But I am just not worth two hundred dollars let alone two thousand.


You hadn’t an arm, you hadn’t a leg,
Hurroo Hurroo
You hadn’t an arm, you hadn’t a leg,
Hurroo Hurroo
You hadn’t an arm, you hadn’t a leg
You’ll Have to be put with the bowl to beg
Oh my darling dear you look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ya

— From “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya”

Last Sunday night I went to the AMVETS to make a little campaign speech with the other candidates. After the presentation a big husky women veteran grabbed me by the arm and said, “Honey, you was the best one up there”. I thanked her very much and asked her if she would tell her friends about me and ask them to vote for me too. She said “oh honey, I ain’t going to vote for you; I hardly know you. I ain’t never seen you before tonight. I ain’t never seen you on the television and I ain’t got none of them postcards from you. None of the other ladies never heard of you neither. I think you ought to get a job on the radio because you sound very good like that Rush Limbaugh”.

Of course she has never seen me on television or received a post card from me and I only appeared in each of the newspapers that serve my congressional district one or two times as part of an article about the incumbent. It costs a lot of money to do those kinds of things. It would cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to send a postcard to each of the voters in my congressional district! The Republican and Democrat Parties send out postcards for their candidates. That way the candidates do not even have to use any of the funds they raised on postcards. They will spend their money on television advertising.

Even at this late date I could flood the local radio stations with advertisements for only about six thousand dollars. I could place an ad in the “Community Courier” for two thousand dollars and get into one hundred and ten thousand households. I could get out powerful progressive message and raise the consciousness of tens of thousands of people but this effort is of such little value that only a very few see it worth a contribution over two hundred dollars.

Buddy Can You Spare a Dime

They used to tell me I was building a dream
and so I followed the mob
when there was earth to plow or guns to bear
I was over there
right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream.
With peace and glory ahead —
why should I be
standing in line,
waiting for bread?

— From “Buddy Can You Spare a Dime”

The author of that depression era song tells us that the narrator is not bitter; he is bewildered. He is a man who had faith and hope in this country. Then came the crash. Now he can not accept the fact that the bubble has burst. He still believes. He still has faith. He just doesn’t understand what could have happened to make everything go so wrong.

Our nation is now closer to fascism than it has ever been. The two corporate parties have led us into two illegal wars, stripped us of our civil liberties, plunged us into a ten trillion dollar National Debt and have made corporations our masters instead of our servants. We have troops not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in one hundred twenty-seven nations around the world. In the last few weeks we have bombed Pakistan and invaded Syria. For the first time since the Civil War we have a combat brigade on duty in the United States “to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities”. So much for the Posse Comitatus Act.

The two major presidential candidates have both confessed they plan to continue a foreign policy of war and aggression with the concomitant slaughter of potentially another million innocent men, women and children. Both have committed themselves to a failed economic system which sacrifices the well-being of ninety-nine percent of the people on the altar of the superrich ruling elite which finances their political campaigns.

The Republican and Democrat parties lack any clear vision for America. They have no real leadership and they inspire no hope for the future. They have given us a view of the world that is clouded by war, poverty, ignorance, fear and violence. I have a different vision for America. I see an America that leads the world in spreading peace instead of war; hope instead of fear; sustainability instead of disaster; freedom instead of occupation. I see an America in which every person, regardless of their race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation is valued and lives in dignity, and every person is free to reach his or her full potential.

Before the night is over I will get a dozen “at-a-boys” in e-mail messages or from people on the phone and maybe if I’m lucky someone will contribute twenty-five dollars. Yesterday someone contributed five dollars. Running a congressional campaign on thirty dollars a day and a dozen “at-a-boys” pretty much explains why I went “screaming in the rain.” But it no longer makes me feel like I am “building a dream”.

John Murphy was the independent candidate for House of Representatives in Pennsylvania's 16th district in 2006 and 2008 . He is a founding member of the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition where he represents the independent candidacy of Ralph Nader. He can be reached at: Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Brian Koontz said on October 29th, 2008 at 10:41pm #

    Americans are the ruling class of the world. It makes no sense to elect someone who will oppose the interests of imperialism, even if that someone has views shared by most Americans.

    Americans don’t want to elect people like themselves – they want to elect thieves and murderers. Electing people like themselves won’t make them any richer.

    If wealth is redistributed in America there is a serious problem – where did the wealth come from in the first place? It came primarily from two sources – exploiting material and exploiting humans. Industrialization (destroying the environment), capitalism (destroying wage slaves), and imperialism (destroying foreigners).

    So it’s a bit odd to elect someone who is a decent person and then that decent person turns around and redistributes money gained from these destructive forces. It’s like if a new mob boss comes in and redistributes mob money to the mob underlings, money acquired by the old mob boss in the first place – how exactly does that address the behavior of the mob itself?

    Therefore, the only logical choice is to elect a thief and a murderer. They were the ones who made America rich, so they should receive their inheritance.

    Americans of nearly all persuasions enjoy the “American way of life”. These “moral” Americans who want the “poor” to receive a “bigger piece of the pie” should check the ingredients of that pie.

    If Americans really want to redistribute wealth, they should redistribute it to the people it was primarily taken *from* – the poor of the third world. These reparations would destroy American imperialism, which of course is the last thing the “moral Americans” want.

  2. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 30th, 2008 at 4:39am #

    brian, yes
    to iterate, a gang has no pang. and the large gang/mob like the one in US makes its own rules of conduct just like all the other gangs.
    some people call that safety in numbers.
    and the mob in US controls cia, fbi, drugs, military, wmd, politicos.

  3. Brian Koontz said on October 30th, 2008 at 6:05am #

    In a world of gangs, it’s best to have the strongest one on your side. That is the motto of the vast majority of the American people.

    Voting for McKinney or Nader is avoided not due to “thinking they can’t win”, but because their administrations would be a much weaker gang (worse at imperialism) and Imperialist Americans (99%+ of the population) wouldn’t stand for that, *despite* the many improvements in their lives they would bring.

    Mob Bosses never are kind, gentle-hearted souls, are they?

  4. Phil said on October 30th, 2008 at 9:49am #

    It may be a generalization, but I suspect that the constituents who’d most want and support independent candidates are the ones with the least money to donate. At least in large part.

  5. Brian Koontz said on October 30th, 2008 at 3:20pm #

    Since the center of power and wealth in the US (and almost everywhere else) resides in the ruling class, a person’s degree of wealth is largely tied to their relationship with the ruling class.

    The poor are the revolutionaries.

  6. Alex said on October 30th, 2008 at 7:47pm #

    One great German Philospher said: The only enduring legacy from one generation of humans to the other is biology and science. Or more simply put DNA and territory and ideology.

    Thus, you can argue one way or the other all you want. But, in the end, for the greater good of humanity is all that matters. In life, there are ONLY winners and losers. Who plots the course of humanity?


  7. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 31st, 2008 at 7:10am #

    our forewalkers of millennia ago cld not have survived if the structure of governance had been similar or same as it had been everywhere for the last 7K yrs.
    the institutionalized serfdom was introduced some 7-20K yrs.
    oft survival of a clan depended on few girls. they had to be cherished/fed/protected. and all ate.
    but at certain time the oldest professions emerged: liars, deceivers, cheaters. thnx