Buchanan thanked William Safire, Alan Dershowitz and Chris Matthews for the attacks that pushed the book onto the bestseller lists. He clearly relished the tussle, noting triumphantly that two months ago he was merely a back-of-the-packer in the Republican contest who had no idea how he was going to promote his new tome. Now, beaming in the crossfire of television lights, Buchanan boasted he was running first in the polls in the Reform Party and was receiving "more attention than anytime in my life." He even proudly related how a limo driver recognized him: "I know you. I know you. You're the guy who wrote the Hitler book!" And Buchanan belly-laughed when L.A. Times political writer Robert Shogan jokingly cried out, "Sieg heil."
While talking with Buchanan's chief fundraiser?who was touting his candidate as the antidote to the same-old-two-party model?I sympathized with the fundraiser's smash-the-status-quo sentiments, but voiced disagreement with his boss on a host of issues. "Such as?" his wife interrupted. All the social issues, I replied: gay rights, school prayer, abortion. "Have you ever seen an aborted 23-week-old fetus?" she shot back. I politely said that I had seen all the photos, had gazed at my infant daughter in utero courtesy of sonogram technology, and that this was clearly not an argument in which either one of us would persuade the other.
But she'd already locked and loaded: "If you haven't seen a 23-week-old fetus in person, then you don't know what you are talking about. I'm tired of hearing about the Holocaust when there is a genocide of infants going on right now." As for gay rights, she asked how I would feel once the gene determining a predisposition toward homosexuality was discovered and people began aborting fetuses possessing that genetic ingredient. "Then you'll see all those gay rights guys backing Pat on abortion," she declared.
I came up with an excuse to disengage and moved on. Just as I escaped the anti-abortion rant, a sixtysomething man I didn't know read my name tag and accused me of being prejudiced against Christians. He said that years ago I'd written "that article" about Oliver North in which I'd assaulted the colonel for being a Christian. I had no idea to what he was referring, and told him I'd written several pieces on North, including a profile during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate run in 1994. My complaint with North, I said, was that he was a convicted Iran-Contra felon, a lying religious-right ringleader, a Constitution-shredder who'd managed a secret (thus illegal) war in Central America during which he supported a band of rebels that committed torture and other human rights abuses. That's all. "You used the word 'Christian' as code," he shouted at me. I have nothing against Christians, I said; I married one. "Don't give me that," he went on. "You're against Christians."
I left him at that point and chatted a few minutes with Pat's sister and former Equal Time cohost, Bay Buchanan, who was all geared up for her brother's defection from the Republican Party. It was obviously an all-but-done deal, and she gleefully reported she would be running his Reform presidential campaign, displaying not a whiff of reluctance about saying goodbye to the Grand Old Party.
The highlight of the evening was when I stumbled into a conversation between Jude Wanniski, the former Wall Street Journal editorialist and Reagan-era, supply-side tax-cuts evangelist, and John Lofton, a religious-right commentator. (Promotional material for Lofton's newsletter proclaims, "Support Your Local Calvinist!") Wanniski, for some reason, was defending Louis Farrakhan, maintaining the Nation of Islam leader was neither a racist nor a nut but a sincere "man of God." Wanniski said that he'd reached this judgment after watching 100 hours of Farrakhan videotapes and having met with him several times. Lofton was flabbergasted.
Yes, right-of-center politics has gotten interesting. Wanniski?the Reaganaut who was one of the first to encourage flat-taxer Steve Forbes to run in 1996 and then served this year as a tax-cut-adviser on Dan Quayle's team?is now talking up Farrakhan and informally advising Buchanan, who has struck an alliance with African-American pseudo-Marxist Lenora Fulani (who has her own anti-Semitism problem), who heads a wacky political cult that's infiltrated the Reform Party.
After Lofton walked away, I asked Wanniski why he wasn't in Forbes' corner. After all, supply-siders and flat-taxers inhabit similar turf in the conservative cosmos. I could not have anticipated his answer: He told me his main beef is that Forbes ignored Wanniski's 1996 advice to put John Sears, Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign manager, in charge of his own effort and instead placed his campaign in the hands of "white supremacists." Honestly: This former Reaganomics guru talked about the Forbes crew as if they are no different from David Duke. He then added that while most white people are benign white supremacists, Forbes' handlers (now and in 1996) seem to be more prejudiced than your average whitey. I never did get an explanation of why he believes this, but I wouldn't mind seeing the headline: "Buchanan Adviser Calls Forbes Campaign Racist."
A few days before the Buchanan event, The Washington Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove reported that several prominent Washingtonians would not be attending the gathering. Perhaps that's why Grove was cold-shouldered by Buchanan at the event. Indeed, Buchanan failed to draw much of the media elite. John McLaughlin showed and provided a supportive slap on the back. Brit Hume of Fox News Channel was there. John Sununu, another former from-the-right host of Crossfire (last noticed helping Quayle with his presidential campaign) paid his respects. Editors of conservative magazines The American Spectator and Human Events were in attendance, but I spotted no one from Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard. (Kristol had been enthusiastically bidding good-riddance to Buchanan for weeks.)
Buchanan has caused something of a split in the conservative movement: The neo-neocons, led by Kristol, want to drum him out of the right and their Republican Party; the classic cons are more forgiving, even if they don't support Buchanan's bolt from the GOP. Political opportunists, like George W. Bush and the leadership of the Republican National Committee, begged him to stay, not on principle but because they feared he might swipe votes from the Republican standard-bearer.
Buchanan's most sympathetic ally of late, Pat Choate, was at the shindig, too. Choate's a pro-labor, anticorporatist policy wonk who ran for vice president with Ross Perot in 1996 and has been Buchanan's leading advocate within the Reform Party. The two agree on opposing corporate-friendly trade pacts like NAFTA. But liberal-minded old friends of Choate had confided to me that they can't understand his bonding with Buchanan, so I asked him how he could've saddled up with a fellow who has uttered hateful and denigrating remarks about minorities, AIDS sufferers and women. Choate tried to make sense of it for me. He said he's pro-choice and a supporter of gay rights?two standpoints Buchanan would deem blasphemous?but that he was happy to work with both Buchanan and Fulani because each agrees on the pressing need for "political reform." Only if various ideologues join together, Choate asserts, will there be a chance to threaten corporate-dominated politics-as-usual. Given that the Republican-controlled Senate that day was once again torpedoing the most modest of campaign finance reform measures, it was hard to argue with him, but, I noted, putting Buchanan in charge was too high a price to pay for discomforting the Washington establishment. "We'll have to keep talking," Choate said with the smile of one who believes he has found the answer.
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