Down, Pat

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:09

    "The John Anderson?" Buchanan asked.

    Yes, the caller said, confirming he was indeed the last Republican presidential candidate who bolted from the party to run as a non-Republican. He then blasted Buchanan's anti-internationalist foreign policy views.

    In 1980 Anderson, a liberal/moderate Republican congressman from Illinois, left the GOP in the middle of the primaries when it became obvious that the party was going to crown conservative champion Ronald Reagan as its nominee. His followers waged petition campaigns across the country and placed Anderson on the presidential ballot in every state. He participated in the debates with President Carter and Reagan and collected seven percent of the vote. In the years since then, he's been an elder statesman among those aiming to break up the national political duopoly.

    But Anderson doesn't see Buchanan as the hammer to smash that system. These days?when he is not teaching at Nova Southeastern Law School in Fort Lauderdale and fulfilling his duties as president of the World Federalist Association?Anderson is working to steer the Reform Party away from Buchanan. "As much as I want to see the present power structure challenged," he tells me, "it can't be with Buchanan with his absolutely misbegotten views." (Anderson is an advocate of an international rule of law; Buchanan's most chilling nightmare is world government that impinges upon American prerogatives.) Since the Buchanan flurry began, Anderson has repeatedly spoken with Lowell Weicker, the former Republican senator and former independent governor of Connecticut, urging Weicker to try for the Reform Party presidential slot. "You can't stop Buchanan with nothing," Anderson says. He reports that Weicker would like to have the nomination but isn't yet committed to putting in the time, energy and resources required.

    It would be an arduous task for Weicker, or any other Buchanan foe. The Reform Party will only automatically qualify for the presidential ballot line in 21 states. The nominee must do the work necessary to make the ballot in the other states. "It's a little bit daunting," says Anderson. "You have to have someone in each state to coordinate a petition drive effort. It takes a lot of sweat-equity. You can pay for that. But it would be pretty expensive."

    Weicker can't match Buchanan in this organizational regard. How many troops does he have? Anderson acknowledges this: "Weicker's base is Connecticut, and that's a small state." And he's not all that popular there. Moreover, Weicker's name recognition is high only among the most insomniac C-SPAN junkies. Surely, the stop-Pat movement needs someone with more firepower. What about Jesse Ventura's effort to recruit Donald Trump for a thwart-Pat candidacy? "I see them faltering and going down this ridiculous path of putting out the Trump trial balloon," Anderson says. And regarding a Trump candidacy, Anderson won't jump on that circus train: "Trump is obviously a man bent only on self-aggrandizement," he says. "I don't know if he ever said a word that has embraced the principles that a new party should have. And I'm also concerned about the growing inequality between the bottom quintile [of Americans] and the top one percent and I don't know if that has ever occupied his thoughts. As for foreign policy, outside of planning his trips to Paris on the Concorde, I don't know if he's given that much thought, either."

    The 2000 election presents "a golden opportunity for a third party to emerge and be credible and give the Democrats and Republicans some competition," notes Anderson. Yet the Buchanan raid on the Reform Party?and the Trump talk?threatens to trivialize or marginalize the third-party movement. It's time for the Reform Party to shove Ross Perot off the stage and, in a sense, grow up. Buchanan and Trump do not represent political maturity.

    Anderson is a wishful thinker, something of a yesterday-politician, but a noble one. He has no clout within the Reform Party, just respect in certain of its quarters. Yet his wish to stop Pat is shared by a portion of Reform Party members (but not the Perot wing) and by nonmembers who would like to see more political choices, but not the choice represented by Buchanan. All their opposition will mean nothing if they cannot find a brawny Buchanan-buster. Anderson realizes that Weicker is not well equipped to slay Pat the Nativist Dragon. But Anderson (like the other anti-Buchananites) can't think of any other serious contender to send into battle: "I don't know who that person could be," he notes with a sigh. "If there's someone out there, I wish they'd let me know."

    Bradley Fakes Left? Are liberals falling for Bill Bradley? Friends of the Earth endorsed Bradley, who as a senator often fought lonely environmental battles against water and mining interests. (The group spurned Al Gore, who wrote a bestselling enviro book and whose greenness earned the tag "Ozone Man" from George W. Bush's father.) The National Association for Socially Responsible Organizations, a do-good liberal outfit, also came out for the former New Jersey senator. Over at my home base, The Nation, an editorial (in which I did not participate) drooled over the potential of Bradley the Progressive. On the campaign trail, Bradley has, in his abstract and laconic manner, talked up the issues that juice up progressives: childhood poverty, racism, the need for universal health care. His gun control stand has been stronger than Gore's. He's not shy in assailing the institutional corruption that pervades Washington, advocating campaign finance reform. (His halfway-there proposal for partial public funding of congressional elections only covers general elections, not primary contests.) Bradley's against mandatory minimum sentencing and has called for ending the disparity in sentencing for those busted for powder-cocaine offenses (mainly white people) and those arrested for crack-cocaine offenses (mainly black people). He's a cheerleader of global capitalism and an ardent free trader enamored of the corporate-friendly World Trade Organization and NAFTA-like trading accords, yet has remained friendly to union stiffs, urging changes in labor law that would render it easier to organize. All in all, not an inconsequential collection of liberal stands.

    The question is, where was this Bradley during his 18 years in the Senate? He's not pulling a total reverse-course?he was an ally of enviros when he was in Washington, and he did decry the sleazy campaign finance system?but he also voted for Reagan's budget cuts and opposed a move to make income tax rates more progressive. He voted to aid the thuggish Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. When Hillary Rodham Clinton was peddling her Rube Goldberg health care plan, Bradley fiddled around with moderate Republicans to concoct a bipartisan plan, which never fully materialized. He was not known as a champion of the poor. He did give a few speeches on the Senate floor warning that racism was an untreated sore on American society; but he offered little leadership in doing anything about it.

    The cynical interpretation is that Bradley realizes what the most junior political analyst knows: You can't beat Al Gore among Democratic primary voters by running to the Vice President's right. And Bradley needs to have some policy differences with Gore, otherwise he's only left with his I'm-a-better-and-more-decent-guy-who-didn't-grow-up-in-Washington argument. When politicians break with their past, there's reason to be suspicious, to wonder whether opportunism or principle is in the driver's seat. (See Pat Buchanan.) Maybe Bradley has "grown." He's promised to start releasing policy proposals that will make good on his liberal?not his word!?rhetoric. The specifics of his health care plan will be telling. Still, even if it's a solid proposal that insures all at a reasonable cost, there's still cause to inquire: Senator, why now? Why did you not pitch this when you had the power? Should his policy details actually match his progressive-sounding pronouncements, liberals might be right to team up with Bradley, but they should do so warily.