If the 1980 presidential election could be decided at the Columbia Station bar in the diverse Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Northwest Washington, then Citizens Party candidate Barry Commoner would win by a landslide, with none-of-the-above a distant second.
Of course, the election doesn't hinge on this funky, dimly lit honky tonk, nor on the patrons who converged there Sunday night to nurse their Grand Marnier and listen to the piped-in New Wave sounds of the B-52s and the Clash. Compared to the "average" voter, if there is such a thing, the regulars at this bar are younger, more educated, more elitist, more liberal and more cynical.
This is one group that feels disenfranchised this year, because of what they see as a lack of choice between the two major party canidates, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. It is this group that has become so turned off to national politics that many of them say they will exercise their protest by staying home on Election Day. Many others, like Theodore Pawlik, say they will consider casting a third-party ballot for Commoner.
"We need a new third party, obviously," said Pawlik, a disenchanted graduate of Georgetown's Foreign Service School who now runs a Connecticut Avenue liquor store. "I'm a little disappointed in [Independent candidate John] Anderson. He's an utter fool to be running for president and not starting a third party. That's why young, educated people are disappointed with him. Anderson has robbed the other candidates -- Commoner, the other guy, [Libertarian Ed] Clark -- of any exposure. Commoner is saying we must have constructive change."
"There has to be some sort of a liberal party," Pawlik said. "But you can't call it a liberal party because that has a bad taste to most Americans. We need a 'populist' party. What we need is a [Franklin] Roosevelt-type president -- he was a populist -- to say, 'Okay, Americans, let's get together, we have a crisis.' The government is not mobilizing people."
The concerns of these young people seem alien to many voters -- the environment, corporate responsibility, the preeminence of multinationals, and planet earth's deteriorating natural resources. They all speak in urgent, foreboding terms, much like California Gov. Edmund G. [Jerry] Brown, whom they often quote.
Pawlik, like Brown, once considered the priesthood, and also like the California governor, often reaches into the polysyllabic vocabulary of philosophy and religion for his metaphorbic analyses of the world's current problems. "What I see is the political, economic and social implications leading to a new religious movement in our times," he said. "It's catacylsmic. Messianic!"
Since Pawlik is convinced that the planet's Armageddon is inevitable, he said he is tempted to vote for Ronald Reagan only because he believes a Reagan administration would bring down the impending doom even faster, ahead of schedule. The approaching planetary disaster, he said, eventually will mobilize mass discontent into a new third party, and "If it's inevitable, maybe it's better if it happens now."
As for Carter, Pawlik said, "I don't want some . . . born-again Baptist whose wife won't let the Swedish Ambassador drink scotch in the White House."
And like the cynic he profess to be, Pawlik looked with some disdain on the rumors of a release of the 52 American hostages in Iran before next Tuesday's election. "It shows what I thought all along," he said. "It was an election-year ploy. Carter deliberately charged it to be an emotional issue. Carter got the nomination because of that. He hid out in the Rose Garden."
Another voter who feels disenfranchised these days is Connie Mahan, a night waitress at Columbia Station who works days trying to save the environment for the nonprofit Water Pollution Control Federation. "Reagan is the enemy. I'll never vote for him," said Mahan, who added that she thinks Reagan is terrible on environmental issues. As for Carter? "I'm a little upset with his energy policies. I'm real ambivalent about Carter."
Mahan is the type of voter, disenchanted with the two major party candidates, that Anderson was hoping would form the coalition behind his "national unity campaign." But Anderson's campaign has become stalled for lack of funds, and this natural constituency for him is just not forming.
Mahan went to hear Anderson speak at George Washington University earlier this year. She came away suitably impressed, but decided to vote for Commoner and the Citizens Party. "I like Anderson okay, [although] his past voting policy has not been all that encouraging," Mahan said. "I decided if I'm going to throw my vote away, I might as well go all out. Commoner, I think, would be great."
Another Commoner supporter, Robert Mele, entered Columbia Station and took a seat at the bar. "As far as the major candidates are concerned, I'd like to see Jimmy Carter win," Mele said. "But I wouldn't vote for him. I'm voting for the Citizen's Party."
Mele looked every bit the native American Indian that he is, with blue denim jean and jacket and red wraps tightly securing the ends of his long, black braids. But with his Harvard economics degree, his sense of history, and his taste for cognac, Mele is one of the legions of the intellectual elite who has given up on mainstream two-party politics.
"It's all very ambiguous rhetoric," Mele said. "I'm cynical in general about politics. There's not much politicians can do to fight inflation or to raise employment significantly."
And the Citizens Party? "It is opposed to the policies of the multinationals," Mele said. "If the corporations are to survive, they are going to have to make some changes. They can't continue to step on the earth. gThe Citizens Party needs 5 percent of the vote" to become a recognized political party. "If they can build a solid base of support, they can grow."
"Somebody's got to start doing a few things right," Mele said. "And recognizing that there are problems and providing new solutions, or at least not solutions being looked at by the two parties. I'm not so much concerned with the number of parties as with the quality of government."