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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 1999 /10 Tishrei, 5760

Don Feder

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JUMP, PAT, JUMP -- THESE DAYS, Pat Buchanan is getting lots of advice from folks who aren't his friends and some who are, like columnist Cal Thomas. They tell him he should stay in the Republican Party until hell freezes over, or Bill Clinton develops a conscience.

I disagree. Pat has done as much as he can within Republican ranks. Odd as it may seem, his exit to pursue the Reform Party nomination could make him not a spoiler but the GOP's savior -- by forcing the party to focus on its conservative base.

Pat owes the party nothing. Despite years of loyal service, including positions in three Republican administrations, Buchanan has been ignored when he wasn't being insulted.

When he came close to the nomination in 1996, the party elite united behind Bob Dole. They preferred to lose gracefully with Mr. Sominex than see their boardroom invaded by Pat's brand of populism.

Buchanan went to the Republican National Convention that year with 3 million votes and 200 delegates and, Pat laughs, "They wouldn't even let me on the platform and gave my speaking spot to (New Jersey Gov.) Christie Todd Whitman."

But Pat is too big to be moved by pique. "I'm tired of conservatism being equated with Clinton-bashing," Pat told me earlier this week. "I think it's time we had a bold agenda and an alternative of our own."

Those urging Buchanan to Grand Old Party-on argue that as the Reform candidate he'll only end up putting a Democrat in the White House. How long have conservatives fallen for this ploy? Support the moderate Republican, or get the liberal Democrat.

Conservatives deserve more of a choice next year than Bush or Gore, tweedledumb and tweedlechallenged.

Bush is pro-life, he says, but don't ask him to elaborate and don't expect him to appoint pro-life judges. He's already promised there will be no "litmus test" on appointments, which means his professed values will play no part in some of his most important presidential decisions.

On racial quotas, he says he's for "affirmative access" (whatever that means). As president, don't expect Bush to get Washington out of the mandatory diversity business.

Tired of watching this administration kowtow to Beijing? Don't expect better from Bush. The governor criticizes Clinton, who's now pushing China's membership in the World Trade Organization, for having "missed an opportunity" by not getting the People's Republic into the WTO last April. Bush says he backs bilingual education, if it works. It doesn't, as anyone who isn't into pandering for ethnic votes knows.

The Gov has perfected the fine art of political fence-straddling. When El Cenizo, Texas, decided to conduct city business in Spanish only, and threatened to fire municipal employees who help the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the public waited for a response from the state's governor.

Bush declined to directly criticize officials of the separatist community (that might offend some Hispanic activists). Instead, he made a vague statement about contacting "the relevant state and federal authorities to ensure that ... the immigration laws are being enforced."

He also boldly declared that, "As a general principle ... government business in America should be conducted in English." As a general principle? And what would the exceptions be? Here is a candidate who makes Bush Sr. seem decisive and Dole look principled by comparison. "But, he'll appoint Republicans to the Supreme Court," GOP loyalists plead. Would that be Republicans like Clarence Thomas, or Republicans like pro-Roe vs. Wade, pro-gay rights David Souter?

Based solely on polls taken a year before the election, pundits are saying that George W. Bush is the party's best chance to retake the White House. They're wrong. As the nominee, Bush would split the party. The more optimistic conservatives are wary of him. The more discerning are depressed by the prospect of a Bush nomination.

A Buchanan Reform Party candidacy would send a clear message to GOP honchos -- if Bush is the standard-bearer, the right will have a third-party alternative, a fire-eater who will dog the governor on the many issues where he's a weak echo of Clinton-Gore.

That makes it more likely Republicans will nominate an authentic conservative who can reactivate the Reagan coalition, like Dan Quayle. Popular wisdom notwithstanding, it wasn't the Reform Party that elected Bill Clinton twice but a Republican Party that, after eight years of Ronald Reagan, just got tired of standing for something.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate