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Jewish World Review March 22, 2000 /15 Adar II, 5760

Roger Simon

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Afraid of Pat? -- THE LAST TIME I saw Pat Buchanan it was in late October and he was announcing how the Republican Party was no longer worthy of him.

He was standing in a hotel ballroom in a Washington suburb, and he was facing a huge battery of TV cameras and scores of reporters.

"As John F. Kennedy said, sometimes party loyalty asks too much, and today it asks too much of us," Buchanan said, using the imperial "us." "Today, candor compels us to admit that our vaunted two-party system is a snare and a delusion, a fraud upon the nation. Our two parties have become nothing but two wings on the same bird of prey."

Which was pretty tough talk, I think you will agree. But what had the Republican Party done to so anger Buchanan?

Well, in a meaningless straw poll in Iowa a few months before -- meaningless because all it really measured was how easily people could be bribed into getting on a bus and going to the straw poll -- Buchanan got only 7 percent of the votes.

Following the straw poll, Buchanan continued to do poorly in national polls, and he was looking for someone to blame.

At first, I figured he might blame himself. I figured he might call a press conference and say: "Unlike 1996, when I actually won the New Hampshire primary, this time my campaign does not seem to be catching fire. Perhaps I am flawed as a messenger. Or perhaps people don't really understand why I wrote a book saying we might have been better off not fighting Hitler in World War II. In any case, I have nobody to blame by myself."

But Buchanan did not say any of these things. Instead, even though it was months and months before actual Republican voters would cast votes, he decided to switch to the Reform Party.

"Candidates of ideas need not apply," Buchanan said, "as both parties -- both parties! -- seek out the hollow men, the malleable men, willing to read from teleprompters speeches scripted by consultants and pollsters to whom the latest readout from the focus group is sacred text."

John McCain was happy that Buchanan was leaving the party, but George Bush was not. After Buchanan's views on Hitler were published, McCain had said there was no room for those kind of views in the Republican Party.

Not so George Bush. "I don't want Pat Buchanan to leave the party," Bush said. "I think it's important, should I be the nominee, to unite the Republican Party. I'm going to need every vote I can get among Republicans to win the election."

Not exactly a profile in courage, but very practical.

Bush wanted Buchanan to stay in the party, where Bush could beat him, instead of going to a third party where Buchanan would draw votes away from Bush, which well might elect Al Gore in the fall.

In any case, Buchanan did bolt the Republicans for the Reform Party, where he now appears unopposed for the nomination and the $13 million the taxpayers of America will give him to run his campaign.

There is one problem, however. When the Republican and Democratic nominees get together in the fall to debate -- assuming they both agree to do so -- there is no guarantee Pat Buchanan will be invited.

In fact, he probably won't be. And that is because the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was formed by the Republican and Democratic parties to oversee the face-offs, has declared that only candidates who have gotten an average of 15 percent in five national polls will be invited.

The purpose of this is to keep the debate field from getting too crowded and to have only "serious" candidates debate.

Buchanan says this is completely unfair, and he held a press conference Monday to announce he was filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

In keeping with his new reduced status, the press conference took place in a tiny meeting room that had only 18 seats for reporters, but he did attract nine camera crews, which indicates there is still some interest in Buchanan or else it was a very slow news day in Washington.

"The criteria (of the debate commission) is unfair, unjust, undemocratic and un-American," Buchanan said. "Without the debates, there is really no way the Reform Party can win the presidency, and that is unjust."

I don't know how successful Buchanan will be with his complaint because, in reality, the Republican and Democratic candidates are not bound by the debate commission. They can debate whomever they want.

Al Gore, I would guess, would love to have Buchanan in the debates so Buchanan can get a lot more publicity and take away even more votes from Bush.

Bush, I would guess, would not want Buchanan in the debates for the same reason.

Buchanan said if he loses before the FEC, he will file a federal lawsuit. And he if loses there, he will go "to the court of public opinion."

An alternative would be for him to win over at least 15 percent of the American public with the brilliance of his ideas.

So, in other words, Buchanan better hope either his complaint or his lawsuit works.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate