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Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 1999 /5 Tishrei, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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SO BUCHANAN is "strongly leaning" toward the Reform Party. Is this the act of a conservative?

First, let's explain the affirmative-action question raised in a recent column of mine. Several readers thought it unfair. Buchanan wrote a column in 1998 decrying the over-representation of Asians and Jews at Harvard and other elite universities. According to Buchanan, almost 20 percent of Harvard's student body is Asian, while Asians represent only 3 percent of the U.S. population; and between 25 and 33 percent of the Harvard class is Jewish, while Jews represent an even smaller portion of the overall population.

Buchanan's conclusion: "A liberal elite is salving it social conscience by robbing America's white middle class of its birthright, and handing it over to minorities, who just happen to vote Democratic."

Let's leave aside the peculiar notion that places at Harvard belong to the white, Christian middle class as a matter of right, and move on to the list of ethnic groups Buchanan thinks should be up in arms: "As for the ethnic identity of Harvard's rejects, it must include many kids of Scots-Irish, Irish, Welsh, German, Italian, Greek, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slavic, Scandinavian, Russian, Croatian, Serbian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian descent." Let's stoke those ethnic resentments, eh?

Buchanan claims to hate the multiculturalism that is peddled by the left, yet his attempt to revive the ethnic hatreds of Europe on American soil plays right into their hands. Most conservatives want everyone here to drop the hyphens. Does Buchanan?

Buchanan's proposed answer to the injustice perpetrated by Harvard is another injustice: "Perhaps ethnic Catholics and Christians can stop resisting proportional representation and demand their fair share of the slots at Harvard, etc., based on their share of the U.S. population. How can Harvard say no to the Irish if it says yes to Hispanics?"

Many readers assume Buchanan wrote this with tongue in cheek. I think not. Believing in proportional representation for his team ("ethnic Catholics") is unfortunately fully in keeping with Buchanan's other positions. He thundered against the Gulf War on grounds that America had no business interfering in that part of the world but abruptly changed course when Catholic Croatia came under fire from Serbia. He then discovered a long-lost friendship between our two nations that required us to come to Croatia's assistance.

A personal note: I was very fond of Buchanan when I worked with him in the Reagan White House. That was before he made a special point of picking on Jews. Greeted by Jewish protesters at a campaign event in 1996, Buchanan tried to intimidate them by sneering, "This event is for Americans." His favorite Wall Street villains seem always to be "Goldman Sachs," rarely Merrill Lynch or E.F. Hutton.

His economic policies, which seem so much more central to his platform these days than the social issues he once wrote so feelingly about, also seem to be a mere extension of tribalism. He hopes to wage economic war on Japan, China and any other nation we trade with in order to save the jobs of mill workers in New England and autoworkers in Detroit.

What Buchanan never acknowledges is that tariffs are taxes, and that they harm not only our trading partners, but inevitably ourselves as well. If you place a tariff on imported steel to save our steel mills, you've made one industry very happy. But you've made 1000 other industries, which must now pay more for steel, less competitive with foreign firms. You've also reduced the standard of living for every American who is not a steelworker.

Conservatives who thrill to Buchanan's tough-guy rhetoric about "fumigating" the National Endowment for the Arts should reflect that Buchanan was highly critical of Republican efforts to scale back Social Security and Medicare. "They should have gone after foreign aid," he said at the time. Foreign aid, as he surely knows, is a tiny fraction of the massive federal budget. The other two are the Sumo wrestlers of the budget, and getting larger every day.

Buchanan's message of resentment and economic Russian Roulette has limited appeal. But if only 2 percent or 3 percent of the electorate votes Buchanan instead of (presumably) Bush, it could give Al Gore the presidency. No Pat No!

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