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Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 1999 /28 Elul, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Buchanan the spoiler? --
WILL HE OR WON'T HE? Republican activists are wondering what Pat Buchanan will do -- remain within the Republican Party or chase the very tempting vision of the Reform Party nomination.

The Reform Party is no longer the pet project of a bored billionaire. It is now the pet project of any number of has-beens. The crop of candidates chosen by Reform Party members in a political beauty contest included Ross Perot (22 percent), Donald Trump (21 percent), Pat Choate (17 percent) and Pat Buchanan (8 percent). Also on the list of potential candidates were radical activist Lenora Fulani and former Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker.

Gov. Jesse Ventura is the exception. Though certainly flamboyant enough to upstage even Ross the Boss, he is a bona fide governor running a real state now and, as such, he has more credibility and political potential than the rest.

But Ventura doesn't want to run for president (more evidence of his refreshing sanity). He's backing Lowell Weicker (can't win 'em all) and all indications are that he and Perot are struggling for control of the party. If Perot were to back Buchanan, there'd be a horse race.

Thanks to the fine work of campaign reformers of yesteryear, whoever gets the Reform nomination will have $12.6 million in taxpayer dollars to spend in the general election. Many members of the Reform Party are social liberals, but Buchanan has a huge mailing list of supporters who might be very willing to become Reform Party members if that's what it takes to give their man a platform. (Though it remains uncertain at this time whether the Reform candidate would participate in the presidential debates.)

What about content? To his by now familiar blend of protectionism, opposition to immigration and isolationist foreign policy (he prefers to call it America First, not minding the historical connotations), Buchanan has added a few new items. He is appalled that half of the Ivy League's students are of Jewish or Asian ancestry and would demand that America's elite universities set aside 75 percent of their places for "non-Jewish whites."

Such a posture undermines the principled case that conservatives have been making for 20 years against affirmative action. Rather than relying upon merit and judging people as individuals rather than as members of groups (oppressed or otherwise), Buchanan frames the entire question as one of group entitlement. He is clearly in favor of quotas -- for Christian whites. If politics degenerates into a fight merely about who gets what, with principle utterly abandoned, politics is entirely debased.

Reform party members probably won't mind Buchanan's passionate protectionism -- they last endorsed a candidate who predicted that NAFTA would spell ruin. But Buchanan's heavy breathing about nefarious foreigners is unlikely to sell well so long as the economy remains strong.

GOP chairman Jim Nicholson will advise Buchanan when they meet next month that "he has a future in the Republican Party." Buchanan is too smart to fall for such blandishments. If Nicholson wants to be effective in dissuading Buchanan, he must set before him certain facts. First, there is no doubt that virtually all of Buchanan's support would come at the expense of the Republican nominee. A recent Gallop poll found that if the race consisted of George W. Bush, Al Gore and Pat Buchanan, Bush would win, but by a very slim margin.

GOP activist Grover Norquist presents the hard political logic as follows: There are only two possible outcomes of a Buchanan third party run. Either he runs a terrific campaign and succeeds in getting lots of votes, in which case Al Gore gets to appoint all federal judges probably including two Supreme Court justices over the next four years, or Buchanan gets very few votes, in which case the victorious George W. Bush concludes that conservatives are not all they're cracked up to be. Both outcomes would damage causes (abortion, crime, multiculturalism) that Buchanan professes to care deeply about.

Buchanan may believe that there is a third alternative: that he wins the presidency. But for someone whose negatives ran up to 57 percent last time around, it is folly to imagine that outcome. Buchanan's decision will reveal which is more important -- his own ego, or the causes he espouses.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate