February 3, 2000
Absence of the War Issue
wish I could share
Justin Raimondoís essential optimism that Pat Buchanan will
be able to make war and interventionism a viable issue at some point
during the current election season. I have, well, issues with Pat.
I disagree with some of the stands and attitudes he has taken in
regard to trade, immigration and international relations. I question
the political wisdom of devoting a book with the marvelous title
Republic Not An Empire more to intellectually respectable
(even if imperfect) revisionism about World War II than to current
conflicts; he was sure to be attacked as a "Hitler-lover"
by people with no guilty conscience about never having cracked the
book. And I wonder whether switching to the Reform Party was such
a hot idea. But if Pat really could make foreign policy a live issue
during this election campaign I would forgive a great deal. Foreign
policy deserves to be one of the paramount issues of this campaign,
not only because of Clintonís goofy aggressions but because the
United States has still not had the all-options-open national conversation
about foreign policy that should have transpired when communism
died as an aggressive force that had to be reckoned with. None of
the major-party candidates has done more than mouth platitudes about
the importance of continuing to lead. If Buchanan could even widen
the range of acceptable options he would perform a signal service
to the country.
have little doubt that Buchanan would be an effective and forceful
advocate for a foreign policy with which I might not agree in all
particulars but which would be less dangerous than our present muddle.
Whether he will have the chance to make a case in a way that a significant
proportion of the American people will have a chance to hear it
and consider it thoughtfully is another question. The presidential
debate commission, a creature of the two major parties since it
was ripped from the barely-better League of Women Voters some years
ago, has already taken steps to keep the debates a cozy two-party
affair. The preliminary proposal (letís hope itís not a final decision
but it will take pressure to change it) to limit the participants
to those who have at least 15 percent support in the polls is nicely
calculated to take advantage of the chicken-and-egg-dilemma minor
parties always face.
Ross Perot have received 19.7 million votes, almost 20 percent of
the total, in 1992 if he had not participated in televised presidential
debates? I seriously doubt it. Mere participation in the debates
is a necessary validation for some voters. A third-party candidate
who did participate especially a forceful debater like Buchanan
would get a big boost in the polls and probably in the final election
results. One who is excluded might never reach the magic 15 percent.
The establishment knows this full well.
suspect that if Harry Browne, still the likely Libertarian Party
candidate, who should be on the ballot in all 50 states (a more
rational criterion than poll results) participated, he would get
a big voteóthough probably less than a Buchananóif only because
he would seem to many to be the only adult on the stage.)
other problem for Buchanan could be Donald Trump and the Jesse
Ventura wing of the party. I still have a hard time taking The Donald
seriously as a candidate. His ignorance of political issues is massive
and his legendary self-absorption is likely to turn voters off.
But he has said that he is prepared to spend a substantial chunk
of his own money to stop Buchanan.
might not take a tremendous amount of money, if it were intelligently
deployed, to secure the Reform Party nomination. There are plenty
of political operatives with enough savvy to help The Donald spend
his money intelligently (although there are probably more who would
be more expert at simply spending it and raking off a good portion
for themselves and itís unclear whether Trump knows enough about
politics to tell one from the other.) Jesse Ventura, for all his
clowning, seems to have a certain amount of political savvy, or
at least good instincts, and he is said to be opposed to Buchanan
getting the Reform nomination.
donít keep close tabs on internal Reform machinations. It may be
that Trump will be no more than a temporary freak show and Buchanan
will get the nomination with little trouble. But at this point it
seems far from a sure thing that he will be the nominee. If he is,
establishment forces, which will control the debate format, will
do almost everything in their power to see to it that he doesnít
participate in televised debates. The last thing they want is a
forceful and intelligent exposition of a non-imperialist foreign
policy presented to the American people in prime time in a format
in which so many Americans are conditioned to taking the participants
with some degree of seriousness.
Buchanan is denied the Reform nomination, of course, that will leave
up for grabs the question of where real conservatives if there are
any will go. Besides being all Wilsonian interventionists, none
of the apparently viable Republicans is even close to being a Reaganite
limited-government conservative. Bush has gone out of his way to
criticize those who think the government is too big. If he has any
conservative instincts (and itís possible) they are subsumed by
the need to appear compassionate and the essential Bush-Rockefeller
orientation, combined with a disinclination to take any stand the
media might find too upsetting. Even the New
Republic recently ran a Jonathan Chait piece on McCain crowing
that "This Man is Not a Republican." Weekly Standard
neocons seem to love him and his TR attitude, however. Assuming
that neither Steve Forbes nor Alan Keyes has a serious chance at
the Republican nomination, where do conservatives go if Buchanan
doesnít get the Reform nomination? Itís difficult to believe they
will simply disappear, although they might well sit this one out.