Presidential candidates have flip-flopped on taxes, abortion, gun control and the war. But rarely has one flip-flopped on flying saucers.
In September, a spokeswoman for Dennis J. Kucinich dismissed a report emanating from a Washington conference about UFOs that the Ohio congressman had a close encounter with one.
"If you have a serious question, just ask me," Kucinich staffer Natalie Laber instructed a Washington Post reporter who inquired about Kucinich's knowledge of UFOs. "If not, then just keep your silly comments to yourself."
But Tuesday night, Kucinich had no wiggle room when moderator Tim Russert posed this question:
"The godmother of your daughter, Shirley MacLaine, writes in her new book that you've sighted a UFO over her home in Washington state, that you found the encounter extremely moving, that it was a triangular craft silent and hovering, that you felt a connection to your heart and heard direction in your mind. Now, did you see a UFO?"
Replied Kucinich: "I did."
Kucinich, whom other candidates seemed to regard as a creature from outer space when he called for President Bush's impeachment during the debate, did not elaborate much. He joked about moving his campaign headquarters to Roswell, N.M., site of the country's most famous alleged UFO crash. This, in fact, is why a second presidential candidate, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, was drawn into the fray.
When Chris Matthews, in a post-debate interview on MSNBC, asked Richardson what he thought of Kucinich's response to the UFO question, Richardson smiled, giggled a little and explained that as governor of a state that depends on the UFO-enthralled tourist dollar, he was not in a position to criticize. (Though, he hastened to add, he has never personally seen a UFO.) He also said it was time for the government to "come clean" on the Roswell matter.
Matthews began to sputter in disbelief, but as it happens, Richardson was not boldly going where no one had gone before. Richardson has said many times that the mystery surrounding the alleged 1947 crash in Roswell has never been adequately explained. "Clearly," he wrote in a forward to a 2004 book about the crash, "it would help everyone if the U.S. government disclosed everything it knows."
Kucinich is not the first presidential aspirant to report seeing a UFO.
According to numerous media accounts, when Jimmy Carter was governor of Georgia in 1973, he filed a report with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City claiming that he'd seen an unidentified glowing object four years earlier in Leary, Ga. He said later that he did not believe the object to be an alien craft, and some "ufologists," as specialists call themselves, think he saw a halo around the planet Venus.
Ronald Reagan believed he had seen UFOs at least twice -- once on the coast while driving to Hollywood with his wife, Nancy, and once, as governor of California, while flying on a plane near Bakersfield. In "Landslide," their 1988 book about Reagan's second term, journalists Doyle McManus, The Times' Washington bureau chief, and Jane Mayer, now of the New Yorker, wrote that Reagan's staff worked hard to keep the UFO sighting stories under wraps.
And that's easy to understand, since, as Alejandro T. Rojas, who handles media relations for the Mutual UFO Network, pointed out, "It's typically an issue used on politicians to make them look bad."
But, added Rojas, whose group investigates UFO sightings as well as reports of alien abductions, he was happy to see the issue raised in a presidential forum. "It's great because the debate highlighted it."
And, he said, as odd as it may seem, many presidents have dealt with the mysteries of UFOs. The website www.presidentialufo.com elaborates on UFOs and how presidents have dealt with them back to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
MacLaine, whose book "Sage-ing While Age-ing" is out Tuesday, did not return phone calls.