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Jewish World Review /June 8, 1998 /14 Sivan, 5758

Don Feder

Don Feder Republicans' Custer offers advice

THE LAST FOLKS Republicans should turn to for advice are their friends (note the irony) in the media. The next to last are the party's mega-losers. Since Barry Goldwater and Alf Landon are no longer with us, that would be Bob Dole and former President Gerald R. Ford.

In a speech at the National Press Club last week, Ford said two things that will in no way detract from his reputation as the Wrongway Corrigan of political punditry. He urged: 1) Newt Gingrich to rise above partisanship and comport himself as the speaker of both parties, and 2) the GOP to eschew authentic conservatism, especially the pro-family variety, if it hopes to win the White House in 2000.

The Republicans' embarrassment
It took Gingrich long enough to start saying something about a president who is morally damaged goods. And Ford wants him to stop?

Tip O'Neill, the Democrats' most effective speaker since John McCormack, was about as non-partisan as a Tammany ward heeler. In his first hour in that office, he pushed through two dozen rules changes that weakened the power of the Republican minority.

O'Neill's comments on Ronald Reagan weren't exactly statesmanlike. There is "evil" in the White House, O'Neill told the 1984 Democratic National Convention. "That evil is a man who has no concern for the working class. He's cold. He's mean. He's got ice water for blood."

Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. may have been wrong on just about every issue, but he was a consummate player for his side. For a decade, he led the House as an advocate openly dedicated to advancing his vision of the good. Why must Republicans be the only patsies in this game?

In calling on Republicans to scorn their base, Ford is equally absurd. For the past 22 years (since Ronald Reagan almost took the nomination away from him in St. Louis), Ford has been obsessing about the unelectability of conservatives.

In 1980, Reagan (with his "simplistic solutions") was "too conservative to be elected," Ford opined. "A very conservative Republican can't win a national election," the ex-president exclaimed.

Well then, such a candidate certainly couldn't be elected twice and have his vice president succeed him in the next election, as the Gipper did-- the only president to do so in this century.

You need but compare the track record of the Reagan-Gingrich Republicans (despite his current performance, Newt did stand for something in 1994 and 1995) to the Ford-Dole Republicans to see wherein the winning strategy lies.

The Contract With America probably shocked Ford in 1994 -- a balanced budget/tax limitation amendment, a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, no welfare for teenage mothers and no U.S. troops under United Nations' command. That radical platform allowed Republicans to take the House of Representatives for the first time in over 40 years.

Ford: "We should not permit an element in the Republican Party to dictate policies...and if we do, if they're the extreme right, we'll be doomed to defeat in the elections ahead."

The ex-president didn't specify which unpopular militants he had in mind. Could they be the proponents of school prayer (favored by 71 percent of the public), school vouchers (backed by 55 percent) or those who favor an end to racial quotas (52 percent)?

Since Ford did say, in the same address, that he wanted to keep government "out of...the bedroom," it must be the influence of the party's pro-life legions that troubles him.

It is standard media wisdom that a pro-life position is suicidal and the Republicans will only lose by kowtowing to their right-to-life contingent (not that there's been much head-banging here of late).

Actually, of the 20 freshman Republican senators elected in 1994 and 1996, all but two were avowedly pro-life. Doesn't this say something about the coordinates of the road to victory?

A lot has changed since the GOP operated out of the Palm Springs country club. Today, evangelicals are to Republicans what organized labor is to the Democrats. Reagan embraced them and triumphed. Bush dissed them and was defeated. Dole ran from them, once he'd secured the nomination, and today he's doing promos for Viagra.

How Gerald Ford, who lost the presidency to a nonentity like Jimmy Carter, could presume to give political advice to anyone is puzzling. That there are those who would listen is incomprehensible. If Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer had survived the Little Big Horn and written a book on military strategy or Indian relations, it would not have been a bestseller.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.