Writings Reveal Feisty Side of Forbes: Opinionated Prose Often Contradictory

Article excerpt

Steve Forbes, the publisher-turned-politician, has put down a long paper trail, longer and more colorful than those of his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination.

But this trail, littered with contradictions, has been largely ignored by the buzz over his one-note tax-reform campaign.

He backs aggressive diplomacy and decisive military response, wants rigid term limits for Congress, opposes most government regulation, advocates school choice with subsidies to private education, and says moral revival and "getting God out of the closet" will rejuvenate the nation, including its underclass. He would overhaul adoption procedures, though adoption regulations are mostly formulated by the states.

"You can't have economic growth without values such as thrift, trust and a willingness to take risks, to impart education, to give a sense of right and wrong," Mr. Forbes told talk-show host Rush Limbaugh in an interview last summer.

Hundreds of his magazine columns, interviews and speeches reveal a feisty and opinionated range of views that occasionally seem contradictory but are never timid.

Some conservatives, looking at the long paper trail in his own magazine, read it with far less enthusiasm than he does and conclude that Mr. Forbes is only a sometime conservative. William Pascoe, the political director of the American Conservative Union, notes that Mr. Forbes opposed Ronald Reagan's nomination in 1976, supported the Equal Rights Amendment and the return of the Panama Canal to Panama, and opposed much of the Reagan defense buildup.

Six months into the Carter administration, Mr. Forbes wrote that "businessmen should stop the whining and support the fundamental soundness of this administration." He urged a $1.50-per-gallon increase in the federal tax on gasoline.

Most irritating of all to the social conservatives, perhaps, he supports allowing homosexuals to serve in the military forces.

Mr. Forbes has seesawed on the issue of the balanced budget and tolerating illegal immigrants. He says children who are in the United States illegally should not be denied public-school education, as California's Proposition 187 would do.

He opposes affirmative action and quotas. He proposes novel health insurance ideas that he says would increase individual control.

Despite his evangelical stance on family and moral issues, however, he shows no religious affiliation in his biography. Sometimes he goes beyond blunt - twice he accused director Tom Korologos and the bipartisan Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy of allying themselves with "militarists, extreme nationalists and anti-Semites" in changes they wanted to make in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

He sharply criticized the decision to abandon a relay transmitter in Israel in favor of one in Kuwait and, in a column on June 5, 1995, said halting broadcasts into the old Iron Curtain region would "help Russia's anti-Semites."

A favorite adjective is "wacko." He described Pat Robertson, the television evangelist, as "flaky." He evoked Nazi "jackboots" to describe President Clinton's "regulatory reign of terror" in formulating the administration wetlands definition.

"Its definition of wetlands is so expansive and elastic that a suburban lawn would qualify after a rainfall," Mr. Forbes wrote in October 1994.

He has reversed himself on certain issues. In 1993, he called Mr. Clinton the most isolationist president in 60 years for his policy in Bosnia. "We will someday pay a fearful price in blood and treasure if we abdicate our responsibilities," he wrote in arguing that the United States should meet Bosnian expectations that it would intervene.

But two years later, when Mr. Clinton sent in 25,000 ground troops as part of a NATO force to assure the peace deal there, Mr. Forbes denounced the decision with ferocious bluntness. …