Spectators Again in 2004

Patrick J. Buchanan

June 2 2004

About George W. Bush, Americans seem to have made up their minds, and enough seem prepared to replace him that this election will be about John Kerry. And the forum where the nation takes the measure of Kerry will be the presidential debates.

These debates have often proved decisive. In 1960, JFK won by appearing confident, charismatic and the equal of two-term Vice President Richard Nixon in knowledge and communications skills.

In 1964 and 1972, presidents Johnson and Nixon, sitting atop mountainous leads, declined to give Goldwater or McGovern a forum. There were no debates then, nor in 1968, when neither Humphrey nor Nixon wished to share a podium with fiery populist George Wallace, who could siphon off millions of votes from either of them.

In 1976, Ford lost his debate with Carter and the election when he declared Poland free. But no candidate benefited more from debates than Reagan. The eruption of his Irish temper, when a debate moderator ordered his microphone cut off "Mr. Breen, I paid for this microphone!" ignited an explosion of cheering in that hall in Nashua, N.H., and vaulted Reagan to a two-to-one victory over George H.W. Bush, who had upset Reagan in the Iowa caucuses.

In the fall, Reagan's flippant "There you go again" to Carter's whining about what Reagan would do to Social Security convinced the nation to go with The Gipper. Against Mondale, Reagan removed the one issue Fritz had Reagan's age and mental acuity by his wisecrack, when pressed about it, that I have made up my mind that "I will not exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience."

In 1988, Michael Dukakis' subdued response when asked if he might support the death penalty if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered raised questions about whether he was too cold and bloodless to be president.

In 1992, Ross Perot was at 7 percent when let into the debates. From them, he vaulted to 19 percent of the vote, cementing defeat for President Bush, whose impatient glance at his watch during a debate seemed to suggest he was peeved that he had to be there.

In 1996, Dole lacked the charisma or charm of Clinton. Again, the presence of Perot meant Dole never got a one-on-one face-off. In 2000, Al Gore showed himself well-versed in policy but also a tiresome bore. For all his failings as a scholar and debater, George W. Bush seemed a likable fellow with a touch of Reagan in him.

Given the closeness of this year's election, the debates may well be decisive. Which brings me to the point.

While the nation will be given 4.5 hours of debate to measure Kerry against the president as both man and leader, they will not be offered a choice of destinies for America. For on the great issues, Bush and Kerry offer us in times that cry out for a new direction for this nation the same old, same old.

Both are interventionists. While Bush launched the war that is turning into a disaster, Kerry voted to give him a blank check to go to war. The president is open to sending more troops. So is Kerry. No voice in those debates will be heard to assert that it was a historic blunder to invade Iraq and that an early end to the U.S. occupation would serve the national interest.

Bush has approved the Sharon Plan for Israel's annexation of much of the West Bank. Kerry agrees. On amnesty for illegal aliens, they also agree. On the trade treaties that have cost America one in six manufacturing jobs since January 2001, Bush and Kerry both supported them all. Bush proposed both the Patriot Act and the vast expansion of federal power over education known as the No Child Left Behind Act. John Kerry voted for both.

While the president and Kerry disagree on taxes and Supreme Court justices, both support the United Nations, foreign aid, NATO expansion, NAFTA, GATT, the WTO, open-borders and free trade. Both are for bigger government.

Yet, on many of the issues above, a majority of Americans dissent. But these tens of millions will be like black Americans attending Major League Baseball games before Jackie Robinson. They will not see or hear one of their own make their case for what is best for our country, or represent the causes in which they believe.

In 2000, the co-chairs of the Commission on Presidential Debates were former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties. Their assignments: Keep third parties out of the debates. Keep the presidency in the hands of our ruling national party, the Republicrats. This year again, they will do their duty and, this year, again, the American people will be swindled. Our democracy is flawed, if not an outright fraud.


2004 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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