On a blustery fall day in 1967, a 23-year-old law student walked into an office on New York's Fifth Avenue looking for work. Ushered into a rabbit warren of offices, he entered a cramped cubicle as his coatless interviewer stood up to greet him.
Then it was down to business: rapid-fire questions, skeptical looks and reactions giving no clue as to how the eager applicant was doing. Withering Socratic dialogues dominated law school and proved no more pleasant in this less-formal setting.
That was my first introduction to Patrick J. Buchanan. At age 29, the former St. Louis Globe Democrat editorial writer was executive assistant, traveling companion, speech writer and press secretary to Richard Nixon for his return from the political wilderness.
He thought I, from leftish Columbia University, was a Rockefeller spy. And I thought my interview had not gone well. Pat was quick-witted, brainy and politically savvy. I feared I had come off as an uninformed twerp. But because I was volunteering and my first job would be an innocuous one answering correspondence, Buchanan punched my ticket into national politics.
After Nixon's successful 1968 presidential campaign and my completion of law school, I eventually ended up as a Buchanan staffer. Even after a reassignment, I continued to share an office suite with Pat until the dismal denouement of Watergate ended our days at the White House. We went off in different directions but remained friends and fellow warriors from that contentious era.
In the Nixon White House, Pat was a conservative conscience and frequent dissenter--always respectful but never the sycophant. Flying back with the president from his historic trip to mainland China, Buchanan refused to write the speech defending the results of the summit. To Pat, Taiwan had been betrayed, and he would not be a party to it.
Throughout the time I have known him, Buchanan's devotion to his political principles has ranked second only to his close-knit family. Thus, his potential candidacy as a Reform Party presidential nominee does not surprise me, especially since the Reform Party nominee will receive $13 million in federal funds to fuel a campaign, and rough head winds make a Republican Party nomination improbable. Even today, I believe he is driven solely by the passion of his views and not by ego.
But Buchanan's rationale for abandoning the Republican Party--that it has become a "Xerox copy" of the Democrats and that America has a "single party system masquerading as two parties"--won't stand the test of scrutiny.
When one ponders the differences between the dominant philosophies of the two political parties, there is, at this banquet, a sumptuous feast.
The mainstream of the Democratic Party relishes raising taxes, better to grow the government and aggrandize its voting constituencies. They think nothing of swallowing up the lifetime estates of hard workers to replace the slop that's been gobbled out of the government trough.
Democrats are the chief defenders of taxpayer dollars lavished on the odious "art" dished out under the aegis of the National Endowment of the Arts.
Democrats prefer appointing judges who have lived life on the left, favor government over individuals, give criminals breaks they don't deserve and trample private property rights.
Liberals nit-pick adequate defense spending. They were the first to want to cut and run in Vietnam. The Democratic Party was the principal home of those who admired the Nicaraguan Communist Danny Ortega and his Sandinista thugs over the freedom-fighting Contras.
The Democratic Party arguably has become the wholly owned subsidiary of teachers unions that have cowed weak liberals into opposing any school choice that could rescue minority children from the worst government schools.
Democrats defend preferences and quotas; they see the ACLU as allies, not adversaries; they voted robotically in unison to save a corrupt president from impeachment. And if you are a human being versus some exotic endangered rat--Democrats are more likely to bet on the rat.
On each of these points, mainstream Republican philosophy and government are at odds with Democrats.
Pat Buchanan may have many reasons to run on the Reform Party ticket, but the premise that there are no differences between the two major parties doesn't fly. Pat, ask yourself: would Ronald Reagan have offered clemency to political terrorists responsible for over a hundred bombings and several deaths?