For week six of "Fringe Friday," we feature socialist candidate for U.S. Senate Peter Diamondstone, a perennial fringie who, for the first time in three decades, isn't running under the banner of the Liberty Union Party he helped found.
We mean no offense by "fringe." Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third-party candidates — and their radical ideas — on the ballot. The reality is, these candidates seldom win more than 1 to 5 percent of the vote and remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
Candidate: Peter Diamondstone
Office Sought: U.S. Senator
Education: Queens College (BA in Economics, 1957) University of Chicago Law School (JD, 1960) U.S. Army (1954-56)
Occupation: Retired (lawyer, landlord, newspaper delivery driver for the Brattleboro Reformer)
Family: Diamondstone was born in the Bronx, raised on Long Island and moved to Vermont 42 years ago. Along with his wife, Doris, he co-founded the socialist Liberty Union Party in the early 1970s. Diamondstone has four adult children — Aaron, 50, Jessy, 47, Ian, 45 and Paula, 42 — and 15 grandchildren.
Campaign Website: Liberty Union Party website
Platform: 1. Socialize all doctors and hospitals. 2. Guarantee Vermont workers one hour of paid leave for every 12 worked, or the equivalent of four weeks annually, plus 10 paid holidays for "stress relief, mental health, and social group reinforcement." 3. Disband the Vermont National Guard and raise a taxpayer-funded militia. No Vermonter under 26 years of age shall serve in any military, paramilitary or police agency. 4. Create Vermont Food and Drug Agency to protect against "big pharma shams."
We caught up with Diamondstone last week at the VCAM studios in Burlington, where he had just finished taping a "Vermont Today" segment with host Terry Jeroloman.
Seven Days: You're running as a socialist, not as a Liberty Union candidate.
Peter Diamondstone: I'm not running at all. I'm a candidate for a job. I try to avoid the aura of gladitorial events. I'll be on the ballot for the 20th time this year. For the first time it won't be Liberty Union. I've been a member of the Socialist Party for more than 10 years.
SD: What offices have you been a candidate for in the last three decades?
PD: Mostly it was attorney general in the early days. I don't think I've been a candidate for lieutenant governor, but I might have been. I ran for governor. The way I decide what office I seek is, I'm a party hack, and whatever office they need a candidate for is what I'll do. I'm an expert generalist.
SD: Is this your first candidacy for U.S. Senate?
PD: I think so.
SD: Why are you running Socialist and not Liberty Union?
PD: We have been using the Liberty Union as a place for socialists to congregate and express themselves but this year we decided we'd go on as Liberty Union and Socialist. Liberty Union the Socialist, the secretary of state's office couldn't handle. Under some pretext that we were filing as independents, they kept us [from putting both party names on the ballot] and I didn't have the strength to bother with a lawsuit. The statewide candidates for state office are on as Liberty Union so we can get 5 percent and stay a major party. Local candidates or federal candidates will be on as Socialist.
SD: Why are the federal candidates running Socialist and not Liberty Union?
PD: Because the votes for us won't count to make us a major party. Only the votes for the state offices will.
SD: Why not do it anyway? Vermonters know Liberty Union as a brand, right?
PD: Oh, that may be. But we're in the process of trying to bring the Socialist Party to life here. We have a Socialist local in Brattleboro. Doris [Diamondstone] is an alternate to the national committee.
SD: Of the 19 times you've been on the ballot, what's the highest percentage you've ever won?
PD: I don't think more than 2 percent. That, I suppose, would bother some people but I have this feeling of responsibility for genocide in Afghanistan, the genocide in Iraq, for the Zionist state genocide in Palestine. I don't feel any blame but I feel responsible as a person living in the United States under its jurisdiction. It's my country and it's my legislature that's doing it and so I have a responsibility to try and change that. And if I'm not successful, I'll try to do the best I can. I have $90 for my candidacy and Pat Leahy has $3 million. I think he'll outdo me.
SD: What do you think of Pat Leahy?
PD: Not a lot. The press has covered for him. One of the worst covers for him was over his vote on third trimester abortions when they wrote that this is the first time he has ever voted against a woman's right to choose and that is just absolutely not true. He voted for the Hyde Amendment.
SD: You say the U.S. must abolish "corporate capitalism." Such as what?
PD: Oil companies. Banks. When the banks were on the verge of collapse in 1998 I wrote an op-ed saying we should nationalize the banks and we should have one national bank, get rid of the Federal Reserve system and every other bank would be a credit union. No banks except credit unions.
SD: Does Sen. Bernie Sanders act like a socialist?
PD: I see him as a war criminal. Everybody in the U.S. House and Senate who has voted to finance the military in Afghanistan and Iraq is in my view a war criminal. People always point to Bush but Bush is just a figurehead. He doesn't have a tank. He doesn't have a gun. He doesn't have nothing until Congress gives it to him. And Sanders has always said that his ideal of socialism is Sweden, and to me Sweden is as capitalist as the United States it's just got a little better welfare system.
SD: Capitalism has wreaked a lot of havoc in the U.S. over the last couple of years and yet socialism is still a really dirty word. Why aren't socialist concepts gaining wider acceptance?
PD: It's not new. The surpression of socialism in the United States has been by gun, by violence. And so people are afraid to be treated badly and so naturally, their response is to say it must be bad.
SD: If could get elected to the Senate, what's the one thing you'd want to get done?
PD: Zero military budget. Totally disband the military. I see the nuclear nonproliferation treaty as the effort of the United States to make the world safe for us to invade. I knew that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
SD: How did you know that?
PD: Because we never would invade a country that had nuclear weapons. Look how different we treat North Korea compared to how we treat Iran. But [disbanding the military] clearly has no chance of success. So the next one that might have success even if it was not adopted by the Congress — as the Socialist Party caucus, I could begin an investigation into 9/11. Once people come to understand that that was an inside job — and I have not the slightest doubt — everything in the house of cards comes apart. That's why we had these dummies make up a set of miracles to explain it.
SD: Do you plan to keep running every two years until...?
PD: Until I die?
PD: No. I might start doing it every six years [laughs]. Unlikely, but it's always possible. I'm a really good politician. It's maybe the only thing I do well.
SD: Have you noticed any increased interest in socialism in Vermont since the economic crash? Are you getting new recruits?
PD: The Socialist Party is, nationally. The young people coming in are more radical than me and my radical friends. Doing this is a burden, but it's a responsibility. I don't want to get into the details, but my last efforts in New York State, I almost took over the Democratic Party. Everyone knew that Allard Lowenstein was going to be the candidate for the U.S. Senate. In the back room before the convention, I told them who it was going to be and it wasn't going to be Allard Lowenstein. It was going to be Paul O'Dwyer and everybody shook their heads.
SD: When did you abandon the Democratic Party?
PD: I never voted for a Democrat after 1960. I didn't vote in '68 for a Democrat. I voted for Dick Gregory. It was the Chicago convention that pushed me over the edge. We were at a campground looking for a place to live in Vermont. I was listening to my son's radio very softly in this campground. And at some point around 3 o'clock in the morning I smashed his radio. I owe him a radio. That was the turning point. I hate what I'm doing in some ways, because it takes away from what I really love.
SD: Can't you find someone to hand the ballot to?
PD: If there was a candidate for the U.S. Senate I wouldn't be here. I would be delighted if there was no hole in the slate. Some of the candidates are ballot status candidates.