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Jewish World Review August 15, 2000 /14 Menachem-Av, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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A Peek into chaos: Pat Buchanan's world -- I'VE RESOLVED to stop griping about how dull and choreographed the parties' national conventions have become. What did it was watching a few chaotic scenes from the Reform Party's dueling conventions in, of course, Southern California.

I've seen more order in French politics between republics. Or maybe a better comparison would be with one of those literally free-swinging sessions of the Russian Duma -- or with Israel's Knesset, which seems to operate on the principle of One Man, One Party.

Indeed, it's hard to say just what the Reform Party's bifurcated shindig brought to mind -- maybe the Russian Revolution, only less orderly. At last confused report, Pat Buchanan's party was deep into mitosis, like the American Communist Party in the '30s. Although the Stalinists and Trotsykites seemed better behaved than the Buchanan and anti-Buchanan factions now battling it out for some $12.5 million in federal campaign funds.

Tell me again how public financing of presidential campaigns is going to clean up American politics and give the people a voice. Instead, that kind of moolah has only encouraged politicians whose egos are bigger than their following -- like Pat Buchanan and John Anderson. Now they tend to stick around forever in hopes of cashing in on an earlier spasm of popularity.

A pox on all their houses, including the one now crashing around Pat Buchanan. It couldn't happen to a more deserving character. Some fascist. He can't even control his own little convention, much less make the trains run on time. But we could have him around as long as Harold Stassen. His support will dwindle with each election but never quite disappear. Like a fading but chronic infection.

At least this much can be said for a fixed game like last week's Republican orchestration in Philadelphia: It was run with an iron hand in a Teflon glove. Nobody drew a breath on that convention floor without its having been approved in advance by the Bush people. But those bored by it all might find boredom a relief in comparison to Pat Buchanan's out-of-control convention(s).

I haven't seen anything quite so banana-republic since July 15, 1996. That's when, in exotic Arkansas, a governor by the name of Jim Guy Tucker had to be pried out of office by main force after he'd added a criminal conviction to his many distinctions and promised to resign -- only to have second and worse thoughts. It was a long, long day before reason -- and public outrage -- won out.

It may take longer for Pat and Bay Buchanan to fade away and take the remnant of their Perotista party with them -- especially if they can get their hands on those federal millions. If this is campaign reform, some of us would settle for good old-fashioned corruption.

The party that gathered in anything but solemn assembly at Long Beach, Cal., goes under the unlikely name Reform. And the show it has put on this past week ought to make the rest of us grateful for the two-party and only two-party system. And for the Electoral College. That underappreciated and almost unnoticed institution makes it difficult, if not impossible, for third parties to splinter the political spectrum into a multiplicity of warring little factions a la francais.

Come to think, here it is an election year, and not a single "reformer'' has proposed abolishing the Electoral College. The idea seems entirely forgotten. Do you suppose it's because we finally noticed how the Electoral College gives even presidents without a popular majority -- like Bill Clinton -- an immediate popular mandate? And eliminates a lot of doubt, confusion, and disunity, too.

Did the founding fathers understand that the Electoral College they designed would foster a two-party system? Or foresee how it would assure the smooth transfer of power and authority in the presidency?

Probably not. Whatever the reason for the Electoral College's being part of the Constitution, all of us can be grateful for it. It's one reason spectacles like the Reform Party are a just a sideshow every four years, and not part of the main event.

The way the Electoral College generally works, with all a state's electoral votes awarded the presidential candidate who carries it, fly-by-night parties don't have much of a chance. To win in this system, a political party needs a national base, and candidates with wide appeal. The result is a welcome stability.

It may not have been planned that way, but it works out that way. G-d, they say, looks after fools, drunkards and the United States if America.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate