Politics & Policy

Hell On Sunny Day; Standing Pat


Yesterday, several hundred people typed “23456yghjk,c” after their foreheads smacked the keyboard trying to make their way through yesterday’s G-File. Hundreds of others got about half way through and then decided that perhaps it would be more interesting to staple their nostrils shut. And some people actually read the whole column, only so they’d know precisely what they’d say to me when the life started to flicker out of my eyes.

My apologies. Yesterday was a really awful day. My computer kept crashing. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing. The couch was calling out to me. The Pope refused to release the documents I was requesting. The forces of Mordor were mounting on the border. The U.S. announced it was going to honor Peru’s extradition request. I found all the socks I ever lost in my entire life, all at once. I confirmed my suspicion that rats and squirrels are in fact the same animal, but for public-relations purposes they switch uniforms at sundown — which is why you never see rats during the day and you never see squirrels at night. Geraldo called, asking if I had any extra butt fat I’d be willing to inject into his forehead. I ate a bug. It didn’t die. My webguy told me his prison nickname.

And while I couldn’t help these distractions, I should not have let them get to me. Sorry about that. But you’ve got to remember — as I am now 3 days into my second year of writing a daily column — that what holds true for a million monkeys banging on typewriters, also holds true for 1 monkey banging on a typewriter a million times. Occasionally, my medication won’t kick in and all that comes out of me will be drivel. Nevertheless, I took two stabs at the awful column, on Friday and yesterday, and I only dug the hole deeper. So fuhgedaboudit. When some body-pierced freak has broken into your house and offered up your pug as a burnt offering to Zule, saying “I should have read those G-Files more closely” won’t do a thing for you.


So back to the news. It looks like Pat Buchanan is splitting. This will lead to no end of editors and headline writers making “It’s my party…” puns. It will also, according to every sharp-eyed political analyst and pollster, help Al Gore or Bill Bradley get elected.

Of course, the experts are probably right. In 1992 Perot stole slightly more votes from the Republican side of the ledger than the Democratic. Buchanan would take almost entirely from conservative voters. But the experts have been wrong in the past. They predicted that Democrats would hold on to the House in 1994. They predicted that impeachment would cost the Democrats seats in 1998. They predicted that Hitler would stop with the Sudetenland.

A while back I wrote a column about how George Orwell had a problem with people who make straight-line predictions. He believed it was a form of power-worship. George Bush is ahead in the polls today — therefore he will be ahead in the polls forever, is typical Washington thinking. The current thinking about Buchanan’s imminent departure strikes me as another example of straight-line thinking. Yes, Buchanan would take away Bush, or GOP, votes. But, you know, it’s funny; critics of George W. Bush have been saying that he’s too Clintonesque for months. But now, on the verge of his greatest opportunity to be truly Clintonesque, nobody is talking about it.

Remember what made Bill Clinton a formidable candidate in the first place? It was his ability to stiff-arm the Left. He criticized Sister Souljah for saying “Kill Whitey,” or something to that effect. This was considered the height of courage at the time. Bill Clinton was challenging the Left and black constituency of the Democratic party on their core principle, which was and remains, “Kill Whitey.” This is what made Clinton a different kind of Democrat.

He and Dick Morris did it by a process known as “triangulation.” This was a complicated way of borrowing your opponent’s most popular stuff, cutting it back by 10 or 20 percent (coke dealers do this with baking soda), and making it your own. This left your own left-wing base muttering “Welfare reform? Medicare reform? Whatever happened to “Kill Whitey?”

The underlying assumption of triangulation was that the Left base had nowhere to go, while voters in the middle were enticed to wander over to the Dark Side (this is entirely a Star Wars reference and I categorically deny it has anything to do with race). Bill Clinton could throw the Left some symbolic trinkets, but in the end they got screwed.

Well, what’s to keep George Bush from doing the same thing? If Pat Buchanan splits to the reformers — a party more populated by tinfoil heads than Pat realizes — Bush can seize the middle entirely. Most voters want to vote Republican, or conservative, when they vote for a president — but they don’t want to vote for an extremist. Fair or not, the average voter thinks Pat Buchanan is an Irish-Catholic ayatollah. A Bush or a McCain can use that to their advantage. How will Al Gore’s rants about Newt Gingrich and the extremist Right get any traction when Newt’s poolside with his new girl and Pat Buchanan has been “chased” out of the Republican party for being too right-wing?

(The sad truth is that Pat Buchanan is leaving the GOP because Gary Bauer is stealing his thunder. Bauer’s out there pounding the pavement and working the phones while Pat Buchanan is sitting in green rooms at Fox News). Both McCain and Bush are very appealing to Hispanics and cross-over Democrats. They’re pro-immigration while both the Buchanan brigades and a sizeable faction on the Left think newcomers will destroy the American way of life because they’re willing to clean toilets and wash cars to send their kids to college.

Meanwhile, the idea that Gore’s base is unassailable and invulnerable is nuts. People on the left will be watching a three-way race very closely. Jesse Jackson has been threatening to leave the party for 20 years. He’ll probably stay out , but who’s to say that someone else won’t see that the math in a three-way race is a lot easier. In a three-way you only need a third of the vote. In a four-way you only need a quarter. There are left-wingers out there who think grabbing a quarter is doable. This is not to say that a Buchanan bug-out wouldn’t hurt the GOP in the short run and maybe even in the long run. The point is that you can’t just change one variable and expect the rest to hold constant. I think Buchanan is wrong about a vast number of things. He is as articulate as he is anachronistic. Taft conservatism is rightly a thing of the past. But if he thinks there’s a need for a Taft party in the U.S., maybe he should go.


Reminder: Tune in this afternoon for the first annual NR Online list of the 100 most overrated people in America.


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