Super Tuesday Special: Dizzy for President
So it’s Super Tuesday and the electoral circus has come to Massachusetts, and this year it’s brought along even more clowns than usual. We can’t keep the clowns out of the circus, but sometimes genuine humorists—Will Rogers, Gracie Allen, Pat Paulsen—make the trip too. Today, though, I’d like to remember one who brought us mirth, but with it a serious platform. That was John Birks Gillespie, and the year was 1964.
Gillespie was asked why he was running for President. His answer: “Because we need one.”
Dizzy’s campaign began when the Associated Booking Agency started passing out “Dizzy Gillespie for President” buttons. When one was visible on a prominent lapel during the 1963 March on Washington, a few people, including Gillespie, saw an opportunity to spread a message. Before long, there was a John Birks Society in California working to get him on the 1964 ballot. He had a campaign manager, Jeannie Gleason, and a campaign publicist, her husband, the journalist Ralph Gleason.
The Gillespie Platform
At the core of Dizzy’s campaign was the movement to bring an end to discrimination, and he believed economic pressure was one way to go about it. He advocated using widespread consumer boycotts: institutions otherwise indifferent to the plight of the disadvantaged would work to end discriminatory practices if their bottom line was jeopardized.
Dizzy also advocated lowering the income tax by instituting a national lottery. He wanted to legalize playing the numbers, since millions of dollars were already being spent on them daily anyway. He was ahead of the curve—New Hampshire passed the very first state-operated lottery in the U.S. in 1964, just months before Dizzy called for a national one.
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