By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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The same stresses that eventually killed Alberta made her brother strong, self-reliant and independent, according to his biographer. But they would also shape how he reacted under pressure. Campbell's third wife, Linda Price Campbell, to whom he has now been married thirty years, told Viola that early in their dating Campbell said she frightened him because she was getting past the self-protective wall he had fashioned around his emotions. "I do think he has a real fear of losing what he has, and that makes him very insecure," she said.
The cycle of reunion, then dissolution, continued throughout Campbell's childhood. His parents fought bitterly, and young Ben often picked up his soused father at a bar. He got in fights at school, and the family was always poor and hungry. "I remember one day, in fact, when my mother opened a can of peas and gave half of them to my sister and half to me," Campbell recalled. "All she kept for herself was the juice in the can."
Life finally got better when Ben was a teenager. Albert at last pulled himself together, and Mary opened a grocery store and restaurant in their home. The family learned firsthand the beneficent effects federal government can have when the road that ran in front of the store was replaced by an interstate with a major off-ramp.
When he wasn't at the store, Ben found work picking and packing fruit. It was at this job that he was introduced to judo--by a young Japanese co-worker who reacted to Campbell's bullying by putting the older boy on his back. At the other boy's invitation, Campbell began to study judo in the Japanese neighborhood.
Although teachers said Ben showed promise in school, it was also noted that he was "resentful and hypersensitive, but pleasant." He liked sports but showed no real skill at any team games; he was thought to be gifted in art and story-writing, though he seldom pushed himself. In high school he was an indifferent student except for shop and art courses, and he flunked U.S. history. One teacher summed him up as "dreamy."
Seeing no point in finishing high school, Campbell dropped out in 1950 and joined the Air Force.
Forty-six years later, Campbell credits those early working days with inspiring him to break rank with his new party over the proposed increase in the minimum wage. After that, he voted against a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have exempted small businesses from the wage hike--much to the consternation of the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the National Chamber of Commerce.
"Although I'm comfortable with my new party," Campbell says, "in these matters my beliefs stem from the fact that I come from a dysfunctional family, with no health care, minimum-wage skills, parents who never got past the eighth grade. I think I'm an unusual senator in that I've had experiences that have tempered my beliefs as a fiscal conservative.
"The majority of senators come from wealthy, stable backgrounds with great educations; many have several degrees," he continues. "I think that's great, but maybe I bring some real life to the senatorial image. I know what it is to come up poor, to live in an orphanage, to get down on my hands and knees to pick tomatoes, and to be hungry. You can show all the charts and graphs and statistics you want, but you can never understand that kind of hunger until you've experienced it.
"As I told one guy who was giving me a hard time about voting for an increase in the minimum wage, when I was down on my knees picking vegetables in the mud, it was organized labor--not the NFIB or National Chamber of Commerce, but the Teamsters--who got me a job with decent wages so that I could afford to attend night school so that I could get a job as a teacher--and now I'm a U.S. senator. That's not something I can put out of my mind or my heart."
The minimum-wage hike was long overdue, Campbell says, but he'd previously voted against it because it was always attached to some other legislation he couldn't support. This summer, though, when it came through as a stand-alone bill, he had no problem supporting it. "There are two different schools of thought on the Hill," the senator says. "One is that you are elected to do whatever your constituents want at the time. The other is, you do what's right--and that's the primary direction I lean."
While he was in the Air Force, Campbell earned his high school equivalency degree. As a military policeman in Korea, he managed to continue his judo training through a Korean physician.
When he returned to the United States, Campbell entered San Jose State College, in large part because it had a top judo program. It was during this period that a truck driver offered to teach him how to drive an eighteen-wheeler, whereupon he received his Teamsters card and earned enough money to finish college.
Campbell married his first wife when he was 22. "He had an unrecognized need to come home to a loved one, a need that lingered from his troubled days of childhood when he felt abandoned by his mother," Viola wrote. Unnamed in Viola's book, she was described as "a young woman endowed with considerable physical assets but little else." The relationship was purely physical, and both realized the marriage was a mistake; after a few months they had it annulled. (She was a strict Catholic, and divorce was out of the question.)