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Jewish World Review Oct. 6, 1999/26 Tishrei, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Jesse accidentally opens door for Pat -- FORMER SENATOR and Connecticut governor Lowell P. Weicker, who is flirting with a Reform Party presidential candidacy, warned that the Reform Party "verges dangerously on the edge of becoming a joke."

Becoming a joke? With all due respect, the Party has already been a joke for some time. The only reason I'm not laughing is that this joke is not funny.

Aside from all the bickering and Jesse Ventura's recent outbursts, the main problem with the party is that it (or its predecessor, United We Stand America) began with no affirmative ideology of its own. Formed after Perot's failed presidential bid as an independent, its main rallying cry was that the two-party system was corrupt.

Its proposed solutions were never intelligible, despite Perot's best efforts to paste together a positions-paperback in the frenzied heat of the 1992 presidential campaign. For all of Ross' dazzling charts and graphs, the thrust of his platform was a solemn promise to "get under the hood (as opposed to going into the hood) and fix the problems of this country."

At that time, when distrust of the two major parties was at its apex, Perot's greatest drawing card was his projected image of integrity. There is no telling how far he could have ridden that wave had he not voluntarily surrendered his credibility by temporarily dropping out of the race because of some bizarre tale about Bush sabotaging his daughter's wedding.

Perhaps because the party has been personality-oriented and its founder is an eccentric tycoon, unusual personalities have risen to the top of this organization. Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura certainly fits that description.

Ross and Jesse have something else in common. They both excel at mobilizing the disaffected. And so does Pat Buchanan.

But for the Reform Party to be taken seriously, it must correct its ideological incoherence. A laundry list of complaints is not enough to confer cohesiveness on a burgeoning party. The Republican Party has hopefully learned this lesson the hard way through its agenda-sapping obsession with Bill Clinton. For a party to sustain itself it must stand for something. This is Pat's cue.

Perot would tell you that he is for fair trade and against NAFTA and GATT. He is for campaign finance reform and a balanced budget. In his view, though, social issues have no place in politics.

Jesse the Body, on the other hand, appears to decry protectionism. So the schism between him and Ross involves more than a power struggle.

Just when Ventura seemed to be establishing his dominance in the party though, he inserted his sizable foot in his mouth. Following in Perot's footsteps, he has just gratuitously forfeited his credibility as well -- not by dropping out of any race, but with his Christian-bashing and otherwise impertinent Playboy interview.

Before the interview he may have been able to single-handedly block his party's nomination of Buchanan, but now he is in a much weaker position to do so.

After asserting that organized religion is "a sham and crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers," Ventura backpedaled to "I respect the role that religious organizations play in our communities, and more importantly, that faith plays in people's lives."

This could be the first time in post-modern history that politically incorrect-Christianity has ever been afforded the protection exclusively reserved for political correctness.

Buchanan must be loving every minute of this. Just when it appeared that he was going to be rejected because of his strong social conservatism, his main opponent on those issues may have effectively muzzled himself.

So I hate to say this, but the Reform Party may be ripe for a Buchanan takeover. And Pat may be able to buy Ross' silence on the social issues too -- in exchange for silencing the Minnesota upstart with an ideologically-driven campaign centering on protectionism and bolstering the American manufacturing base.

Jesse's unexpected gift may have done more than finally convince Pat to seek the Reform nomination. It may have also inadvertently paved the way for him to take this floundering party by storm and remold it in his own image.

That would mean ideological coherence and focus and possibly even an unapologetic dose of protection for the unborn.

If so, this "joke" is becoming less funny all the time.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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