Two months after his presidential campaign creaked to a close, Patrick J. Buchanan stepped Monday night onto a stage that he had wanted to call his own and pledged his loyalty to his former foe, George Bush.
And he did it in signature style, with a wincing, rambunctious, rollicking address that lionized his Republican allies and lanced his Democratic enemies.
In an archly drawn comparison between the two men still vying for President, Buchanan made sure that the thousands of activists gathered in the Astrodome for the first night of the Republican National Convention knew he had little taste for a certain Arkansas governor.
“George Bush was 17 when they bombed Pearl Harbor. He left his high school class, walked down to the recruiting office and signed up to be the youngest fighter pilot in the Pacific War,” said Buchanan.
“And Mr. Clinton? When Bill Clinton’s time came in Vietnam, he sat up in a dormitory in Oxford, England, and figured out how to dodge the draft.
“Which of these two men has won the moral authority to send young Americans into battle? I suggest, respectfully, it is the patriot and war hero, Navy Lt. j.g. George Herbert Walker Bush.”
Rapturous, the delegates on the convention floor broke into a chant: “Where was Bill?”
The address of the 53-year-old former television commentator touched heavily on what he saw as the strengths of the Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations and did not mention their difficulties.
While he spent eight months as a presidential candidate scoring President Bush for his handling of the economy, Buchanan referred only briefly to the nation’s economic state--when he gave former President Reagan credit for the “longest peacetime recovery in U.S. history” and when he pleaded with delegates to remember the suffering citizens he had met in his campaign.
His brief presidential candidacy--which began in the snows of New Hampshire and foundered once he left the confines of that economically ravaged state--was prompted by what Buchanan considered to be Bush’s departure from traditional conservative tenets on taxes and social issues. But on Monday night, Buchanan’s criticisms were visited upon Clinton and his partisans alone.
“Like many of you last month, I watched that giant masquerade ball up at Madison Square Garden, where 20,000 liberals and radicals came dressed up as moderates and centrists in the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history,” he declared, referring to the Democratic National Convention.
He targeted Clinton for supporting abortion rights and gay rights and savaged Clinton’s wife, Hillary. In doing so, he repeated earlier Republican criticisms that have been rejected as inaccurate by the Clinton campaign and have been denounced as distasteful by the President’s wife, Barbara.
“Elect me and you get two for the price of one, Mr. Clinton says of his lawyer-spouse,” Buchanan declared. “And what does Hillary believe? Well, Hillary believes that 12-year-olds should have the right to sue their parents, and Hillary has compared marriage and the family as institutions to slavery--and life on an Indian reservation.
“Well, speak for yourself, Hillary,” Buchanan added, pointing his finger mockingly at the television cameras. “This, my friends, this is radical feminism.”
Immediately after the remarks, Barbara Bush, sitting in the President’s box along with Buchanan’s wife, Shelley, pursed her lips. Nonetheless, by the time Buchanan finished, he received a standing ovation from Barbara Bush and the rest of the attendees, including Buchanan’s potential competitor in 1996, Vice President Dan Quayle, and his wife, Marilyn.
For all of the armor he dons for political battle, there is more than a little emotion in Buchanan, and it came to the surface in words of praise for Reagan, his political mentor, and for the men and women who had powered his own campaign.
With a litany of praise that ranged from gentle to fiery, Buchanan paid tribute to Reagan as “one of the great statesmen of modern time.”
“It is said that every President will be recalled in history with but a single sentence. George Washington was the father of his country. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the Union. And Ronald Reagan won the Cold War,” he said.
“Most of all, my friends, Ronald Reagan made us proud to be Americans again. We never felt better about our country and we never stood taller in the eyes of the world.”
And Buchanan grew almost tender as he referred anecdotally to supporters troubled--although he did not say so--by the economic woes that have confounded Bush’s campaign.
“They share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams. These are the conservatives of the heart,” he said pleadingly. “They are our people. We need to reconnect with them. We need to let them know we know how bad they’re hurting.”
Much talk has centered in this convention on Buchanan’s plans for 1996. But the former candidate, who is recovering from heart surgery, made clear Monday night that his goal for now is the reelection of President Bush.
As he opened his speech, he sought to immediately lay to rest any concern that he would not be an enthusiastic member of the President’s reelection team.
“The primaries are over, the heart is strong again, and the Buchanan brigades are enlisted--all the way to a great Republican comeback victory in November,” he said.