Self-Styled `Conservatives' Hardly Peas in a Pod Social Agendas Set Contenders Apart

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THEY REPEATEDLY call themselves conservative, as if to do so is magic. But the label masks stark differences on immigration, trade, abortion and more by the top Republican presidential candidates.

As they go national in the crush of primaries through March, Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole and Lamar Alexander will be preaching some similar ideas: a busted-up federal bureaucracy, the transfer of powers to states and, somehow, lower taxes.

But some rhetoric will sound more in harmony than it is. What they wish would happen with families, schools and morals sets them apart.

Buchanan, the upstart winner in New Hampshire, is uniquely ferocious in attacking the trade agreements Alexander supports and that Dole, as Senate majority leader, had a large hand in bringing into effect.

Alexander, who had a moderate record as Tennessee governor, stands alone against further curbs on legal immigration, against federal abortion restrictions, and for some environmental programs.

Dole has a public service record so long, varied and nuanced he can draw on aspects useful to him - while leaving himself open to attack.

Here are positions of the GOP trio on some issues dividing them:

Abortion

Alexander - Says states have the right to restrict abortion, and should do so. But "the federal government should not be involved at all - should not condone, encourage, fund or prohibit abortion."

Buchanan - Favors constitutional amendment against abortion and has not specified exceptions for rape or incest. He'd stop federal abortion financing.

Dole - Supports constitutional amendment to restrict abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, but has been unclear on how hard he would push it.

Education

Alexander - Proposes $1 billion "GI Bill for kids" so poor and middle-income parents can send children to public, private or religious schools of their choice. Led Education Department during Bush administration. He now would close it.

Buchanan - Favors school-choice vouchers but only if no government strings are attached. Would abolish Goals 2000, which ties a portion of federal school aid to national standards.

Dole - Favors school-choice vouchers, says schools must teach Western tradition and U.S. achievement. Voted for creation of Education Department and later against it.

Entitlements

Dole - Says Medicare should continue to be federal responsibility but Medicaid should go to states. Played key role in Social Security reforms that taxed a portion of benefits for high income recipients, scaled back cost of living increases, and put system on sounder footing.

Alexander - Would give states responsibility and block grants for Medicaid and Medicare.

Buchanan - Has criticized congressional Republicans for trying to weaken Medicare. Rules out raising Social Security payroll taxes. …