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Jewish World Review March 18, 1999 /1 Nissan 5759

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Does Forbes have a chance?

(JWR) ---- (
WHEN HE STICKS TO HIS MESSAGE, repeats his talking points, stresses his themes and punches out practiced one-liners, there is almost no candidate on earth as awful as Steve Forbes.

Banality is not in his bones.

Forbes is every consultant's nightmare. He can't fake. He can't say with conviction things he doesn't feel, and he can't express with eloquence conclusions he hasn't reached.

It's not that he hasn't tried. He spent $32 million in 1996 going robotic.

In the process, Forbes, the nicest and smartest candidate, looked like a disgruntled chess-club president in a Steven King novel. He spoke in a trance. He never blinked. He frightened small children.

And still, he intrigued voters with flashes of rebelliousness. He got fiery on the topic of the flat tax. He held his ground after the shooting started. He was so effective that some party elders actually blamed him for Bob Dole's downfall.

Now we have a new, improved Forbes, who talks about much more than taxes.

He has shorter hair -- almost butch -- and grayer. His glasses are thinner.

But as with the last campaign, he begins with a simple template.

In a talk the day before he announced his candidacy, Forbes mused about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He echoed something he wrote in the December 1997 Policy Review: "Switch the order of these fundamental rights -- putting happiness before liberty, or liberty before life -- and you end up with moral chaos and social anarchy. Deny the God-given nature of these rights and you open the door to tyranny."

Forbes envisions a maieutic candidacy: Bring about a rebirth of freedom by asking smart, tough, unsettling questions.

(His campaign announcement featured 20 rhetorical questions in the span of 63 sentences.)

Ask him what his party should do about abortion and he says the GOP should move one step at a time toward outlawing it: Ban partial-birth abortion; pass parental-consent laws; restrict abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy; outlaw fetal tissue research -- and supplement these efforts with a concerted mission to persuade people that abortion is murder. He wants the party to acknowledge its intramural disputes on the issue, but not to stop advocating a Human Life Amendment.

He has adopted equally unequivocal stances on other key issues: Privatize Social Security. Let workers decide where to invest two-thirds of the money they contribute to the system. Let voters pick between a flat tax and the status quo. Encourage the use of medical savings accounts. Push school choice. Ax the International Monetary Fund. Abolish quotas in favor of "affirmative opportunity." Promote free trade. Don't pussyfoot: Draft a free trade agreement with Japan. Beef up the military. Deploy a missile defense system.

These positions are familiar to most conservatives. But Forbes has a few surprises in store. One is the idea of an "Amerodollar" as the common currency of the American continent. By transforming the greenback into a continental currency, the United States could stabilize the regional economy and dwarf the Euro.

Another shocker: Forbes has nabbed a lot of Pat Buchanan's old supporters.

Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center, explains: " I think Steve is electable. I don't think Pat -- God bless him -- is. The most important trait to me is that I don't see the politics of cowardice in this man. I see a man who is guided by statesmanship. ... I don't want to see any more Bill Clintons."

Forbes isn't a career politician, but he is stinking rich. He inherited a family business and lifted it to new heights. He has met nearly 100 heads of state and regards many fellow magnates as friends. This makes him interesting in ways other candidates aren't. He's a plutocrat without pretense. He's a member of the establishment who loves to shake the foundations.

For now, the central curiosity is whether his no-compromise, no-previous-experience candidacy will succeed. Seasoned pols like to preserve wiggle room. Not Forbes. He will discipline Republicans in 2000 by talking in absolutes.

His handlers would be well advised not to handle him. Let Forbes be Forbes: intellectual breadth, good humor, goofy gestures and all. When he's on, he's good. Consider a couple of mots from our conversation.

Of congressional Republicans, he said: "They're all prisoners of the ‘in' box. And they're scared. When something comes up, they say, 'What's Clinton going to do to us?' They go into a pre-emptive crouch. There are vapors in this town. It makes you wonder where the EPA is when you need it."

Of himself, he barked out one of those dreary rehearsed bits: "I'm running to do something, not be something."

And when asked what he would do if other candidates stole his issues -- as many have done with the flat tax since 1996 -- Forbes smiled impishly and said: "I'll congratulate them for coming along. It will prove that remedial education works."


03/15/99: Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...
03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate