Tough-talkin' Pat plays Dixie

Reform Party hopeful Buchanan's mix of barbs and bombast finds a ready audience down in Clinton country.

By Suzi Parker
Published November 17, 1999 10:00AM (EST)

The last time Pat Buchanan journeyed down here to Arkansas was 1966, when White House sex scandals stayed safely behind closed doors and nobody could even imagine a mess like Watergate.

But on Monday, Buchanan finally returned to the state now known as Clinton's playground, spreading his message of one nation under God and throwing in a shot at the evils of sexual liberation for good measure.

First, the would-be Reform Party candidate visited the Central Arkansas Christian School where he spoke to 800 high school students. Later, he spoke to about 100 supporters at a book signing fund-raiser at the Embassy Suites Hotel -- part of his money tour through Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma this week.

"I'm applying for a job held by an Arkansan," Buchanan joked to the students.

Buchanan used familiar sound bites to address his switch from the GOP to the Reform Party: "I'll have to body slam Jesse Ventura," though not "literally," Buchanan stated, in describing how he would be putting the Reform Party leader in his place.

The TV commentator/candidate said he is campaigning on two main issues: war and peace, and communist China. No one ever said Buchanan discusses warm and fuzzy issues, of course, and no one said he sticks to just two.

Buchanan's war and peace agenda ranges from Serbia to isolationism to immigration to embargoes and sanctions. It's all under the rubric of "America First" -- that the U.S. is losing its identity to a melting-pot madness, that immigrants are rapidly changing the face of America, and stealing its chances to have liberty and independence.

It's simple, really. According to Buchanan, the world is going to hell in a hand basket and he is the guy to save the day. Apparently he intends to do this by denouncing Europe's "superstate" and demanding that the U.S. close its borders to any further immigration.

"We should take our young men and women in the armed forces out of foreign countries and put them on the borders that count, along California and Texas," preached Buchanan.

He also ranted and raved about Monday's decision by the Clinton administration to support China's entry into the World Trade Organization in exchange for China's commitment to open up its markets to U.S. exports.

The students at the private Christian school clapped when Buchanan told them that "We gave her [China] $60 million in surplus from us and they use it to persecute Christians, build weapons targeting Taiwan and build missiles targeting the U.S." This is standard stump stuff from Pitchfork Pat, and it played well down in central Arkansas.

If Buchanan was in the White House, he said, the agreement between China and the WTO would never have been consummated. His plan? To bring in the Chinese premier -- he didn't mention his name and therefore couldn't get it wrong -- for a stern Oval Office lecture.

He says that he'd wag his finger and tell the Chinese to "stop harassing our friends on Taiwan, stop pointing missiles at my country and stop persecuting Christians, or you've sold your last pair of chopsticks in any mall in the United States of America."

Standard sound bites all, but Buchanan clearly enthralled these students with his tough talk. They cheered his fantasy about dealing with China, and they laughed when he said Bush and Gore were identical twins, just running on separate high-dollar tickets. They clapped when he said the Department of Education should cease to exist, and that vouchers should become the way of life for America's school children.

"You don't need some guy in sandals and beads in Washington telling you what to do with your education," said Buchanan, without identifying who exactly this latter-day hippie he was describing might be. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, perchance? Probably not.

The students' questions appended a smidgen of comic relief to Buchanan's overheated oration. Laura Moser, 16, asked a stunning first question that shocked Buchanan speechless. She asked how Buchanan could guarantee he "wouldn't follow in Bill Clinton's footsteps."

"I've never been asked that before," said Buchanan, red-faced. "There's never been nobody like Bill Clinton. Back in New Hampshire in 1992, I admired how he stood up, took his medicine and fought back." But then, Buchanan said, the president did some "shameful things." Finally, he recovered his poise enough to say that, if he is elected, he will "set a leadership that this generation can be proud of."

He never did answer Laura's question, though.

In answer to another question, Buchanan said he would put Supreme Court justices on the bench who will reverse the Roe v. Wade decision and turn abortion control over to the states. More cheers and applause from the students.

Buchanan stayed long after the final bell rang, expounding on his policies for the next century to a handful of students, all of whom pledged they would tell their parents to vote for him.

Later that evening, Buchanan met 100 supporters at the Embassy Suites (at $50 a head) to sign copies of his revisionist history, "A Republic Not an Empire," and to chit-chat about his view of the state of the world.

He delivered his lecture in Oprah/Liddy style, roaming in front of his audience with a mike on his tie, rattling off a litany of what Americans should beware of in the next century -- global bureaucrats, the "dark age" of nation-states, big money in politics, superduper pensions for the likes of Clinton, Gore and even Newt Gingrich.

"Newt will get $3-4 million in a pension," said Buchanan. "Of course, he'll need it for the alimony ..."

Buchanan's choicest cuts, however, were saved for the Clintons. He said his wife Shelly couldn't make his appearance because she was "looking at a Senate seat up in New York."

Buchanan told his supporters that he's already seeking a vice presidential candidate, preferably a anti-abortion Democrat and possibly a woman.

Buchanan referred to his real competition -- the powerful Ventura wing of the Reform Party, which backs billionaire Donald Trump -- only in passing. "It will be a robust competition," Buchanan said. "And as for that tax of Trump's, let's see him give up 14 percent of his wealth first and then we will believe him."

Those who paid $50 to mingle with Buchanan apparently left satisfied that he has a good chance to prevail over Ventura, Gore and Bush, not to mention all of those foreign leaders that George W. couldn't name a few weeks back.

Just one thing: He might want to work up a little better response to young Laura Moser's question, just in case it pops up again somewhere down the line.

Suzi Parker

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas writer.

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Bill Clinton China Hillary Rodham Clinton Immigration