Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Is the Buchanan Campaign Good for the Republican Party?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Is the Buchanan Campaign Good for the Republican Party?

Article excerpt

Yes: Buchanan is forcing the party to face and resolve key economic and cultural issues.

I don't think Pat Buchanan is going to be the next president of the United States. I don't even think he's going to be the Republican Party's nominee for president. But, unlike many of Washington's political and media elite, I think Buchanan is good for the Republican Party and good for the country.

It is not Buchanan and his attacks on the status quo that are hurting the party; instead, it is the often-dishonest and usually snide personal attacks on Buchanan by those of both parties who hate and fear him. For truth is that any time someone comes along with a strong philosophy of what government ought to do and where it ought to lead, and in the process shakes up the body politic of the country, the major parties and people in general benefit.

In a democracy, unless someone emerges to arouse them, the people often settle into complacency, finding that the easy thing to do is ride with the status quo. Therefore, it is good for the nation's well-being whenever a Buchanan or a George Wallace or a Gene McCarthy comes along to shake them up. Governments easily become arrogant, bureaucratic and corrupt and frequently need shaking up, even if it means recall elections and grand-jury investigations.

Parties, if they stay in power too long, become stodgy, inbred and bereft of energy and ideas. They also become corrupt. They benefit whenever a Barry Goldwater or a Ronald Reagan or a Buchanan appears to challenge the entrenched leadership.

In politics, as in government, seldom do members of the governing establishment revolt against the status quo. The fear of losing status and power is too great. As a result, changes brought about by insiders tend to be incremental, slow and self-serving. Boat-rocking is not something for which establishmentarians in either party are noted.

Thus, it is not surprising that, of the four leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Pat Buchanan is the foremost outsider, boat-rocker, political brawler and muckraker. Bob Dole certainly is not these things, nor does he want to be, even though early in his Senate career he won -- and eventually lost -- a reputation as Richard Nixon's hatchet man. Before dropping out of the race, Lamar Alexander wanted voters to believe that he was an outsider challenging the establishment with some vaguely explained new ideas, but his heart didn't seem to be in them and his flannel shirt didn't justify the pretense. Steve Forbes' idea for bringing about a revolutionary change in the way Americans are taxed is to talk positive and advertise negative. And even though Dole claims Forbes' negative spots have hurt him, in the long run the strategy has proved to be counterproductive.

Buchanan is different from the other three. Once the consummate insider, he deliberately has become the consummate outsider, both in his rhetoric and in the direction in which he would lead the nation. The man who worked for Nixon and Reagan still professes admiration for and allegiance to both of them. But the fact is, he has divorced himself ideologically not only from them but also from the current leaders of his party. Neither is he following in the footsteps of Barry Goldwater, a fiscal conservative but a near-libertarian on cultural issues.

Instead, Buchanan clearly has decided to build his philosophy around returning the nation to the days of yesteryear. A Buchanan bumper sticker could easily read: "Back to the Future." This would be a future in which American jobs were protected by tariff walls and border fences, in which morality was legislated and in which God was returned to a place of prominence in public life.

Whether this is practical, whether it can be done and whether a majority of the American people really want it remains to be seen. The point is, in preaching his philosophy and stating his objectives Buchanan is attracting a constituency that crosses party lines and that is scaring the bejabbers out of establishment Republicans and Democrats alike. …

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