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Buchanan Accepts a Disputed Reform Nomination

By Thomas B. Edsall, The Washington Post,
13 August 2000

LONG BEACH, Calif., Aug. 12 –– Patrick J. Buchanan accepted one of the Reform Party's two disputed presidential nominations today with a promise to lead a "party that will defend America's history, heritage and heroes against the Visigoths and Vandals of multiculturalism."

"There has to be one party willing to drive the money-changers out of the temples of our civilization," Buchanan said.

Buchanan, who won both mail-in ballots and the floor vote at the official party convention while a splinter of the party convened two blocks away and nominated John Hagelin for president and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Nat Goldhaber for vice president, is favored to prevail when the Federal Election Commission decides whether he or Hagelin will receive the $12.6 million federal subsidy that goes with the nomination.

But even if Buchanan is awarded the money for his campaign, as one of the nation's most prominent proponents of hard-edged social conservatism, he faces a daunting task in his bid to establish right-wing populism as a continuing force in American politics.

Not only do large pluralities of the electorate hold unfavorable views of Buchanan, and not only has this onetime challenger of President George Bush and Robert J. Dole fallen to 1 or 2 percentage points in public polls, but a prosperous economy and low unemployment create infertile territory for a politician seeking to mobilize resentment against immigration, free trade and globalization.

Buchanan and his running mate, black conservative Ezola Foster, see an opening created by the stances of Republican nominee George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore in favor of immigration and free trade. These shared stands leave anti-immigration, anti-free trade views largely unrepresented by either major party. In Europe, the pro-immigration and internationalist stands of the major parties have created an opening for a surge in right-wing political strength in several countries, including Austria, Norway and Switzerland.

Buchanan's poor showing in the polls and his inability to gain traction in the Republican Party during this election cycle before he quit to join the Reform Party suggest that he will have a harder time selling his populism of the right than in his past political bids.

And political scientists suggest that the booming U.S. economy is very different from Europe. There, continued high structural unemployment has combined with the opening of borders under the European Union to produce more immigration and to intensify native resentment, a perfect political climate for populist, anti-immigration appeals.

"There is not going to be much to work with when the unemployment rate is at 4 percent," said Gary Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego. In California, which was a hotbed of anti-immigration sentiment in the early 1990s when its economy was worse off than the rest of the nation's, has made a huge comeback, he said. "Buchanan will have a much harder time in this state," Jacobson noted.

But Buchanan is undeterred. In a speech to cheering delegates tonight, Buchanan described the fundamental assumption of his campaign, that "beneath our surface prosperity, there is a deep anxiety among our people, a foreboding within our people."

Buchanan's acceptance speech amounted to a probe into the anger and discontent of his target constituencies, testing a wide range of themes including abortion, foreign imports, the failure to protect American borders while troops get shipped to "Kosovo, Kuwait and Korea," racial preferences and his claim that the United States "has begun to behave like the haughty British empire our fathers rose up against."

Buchanan and Foster signaled that they intend to look to the twin issues that have helped drive European right-wing parties to new heights of power and political success: immigration and a call to protect cultural, political and ethnic "sovereignty."

"American sovereignty is extremely important," said Foster, the nationally unknown Los Angeles civic figure who was a major local supporter of Proposition 187, the California initiative to bar state services to illegal immigrants. "What issue will mean anything if we lose our sovereignty?"

Today, in his acceptance speech, Buchanan declared: "We will reclaim every lost ounce of American sovereignty. I will lead this country out of the WTO [World Trade Organization], out of the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and I will tell Kofi Annan: 'Your U.N. lease, sir, has run out; you will be moving out of the United States, Mr. Kofi. I want to be polite, but if you are not gone by year's end, I will send a few thousand Marines to help you pack your bags.' "

To block illegal immigration, Buchanan declared: "When I become president, all U.S. troops will come home from Kosovo, Kuwait and Korea; and I will put them on the borders of Arizona, Texas and California; and we will start putting America first."

Buchanan intends to stress that the Republican Party, which four years ago approved a platform that had an anti-immigration tilt, is now pro-immigration.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) denounced "those who want to reform immigration laws by saying that walls are for cowards," Buchanan said, countering with the story of Teresa Murray, an arthritic 82-year-old who lives in McCain's state in the town of Douglas on the Mexican border.

"She was confined to her home. Around her small house is a chain-link fence. On top of that fence are rolls of razor wire. Every door and window of that little home had bars on it, and Ms. Murray's two pet dogs are dead, killed by thugs who threw meat over the fence with cut glass in it. This lady sleeps with a gun on her bed table because she has been burglarized 30 times. Senator McCain, go down to Douglas and tell Teresa Murray that fences are for cowards," Buchanan said.

On free trade and sovereignty, Buchanan is seeking to capitalize on exactly the same opening left by the Democrats and Republicans. "What are we fighting for? To save our country from being sold down the river into some godless new world order," he said in his speech. "There has to be one party that will stand up for our sovereignty and stand by our workers and stand by those folks who are being sacrificed on the altar of the global economy."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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