WORLD

OPEN SEASON ON BUSH

THE CONSERVATIVE MESSAGE OF SELF-STYLED PIT BULL PATRICK BUCHANAN IS TAKING HOLD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

HILARY MACKENZIE January 27 1992
WORLD

OPEN SEASON ON BUSH

THE CONSERVATIVE MESSAGE OF SELF-STYLED PIT BULL PATRICK BUCHANAN IS TAKING HOLD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

HILARY MACKENZIE January 27 1992

OPEN SEASON ON BUSH

WORLD

THE CONSERVATIVE MESSAGE OF SELF-STYLED PIT BULL PATRICK BUCHANAN IS TAKING HOLD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

Inside Moana's, a 50-seat wood-panelled diner just across the street from the redbrick, early-American-style Exeter Town Hall where President George Bush spoke last week, the mood was spirited. One year ago, proprietor Michael Minnon, now 39, had two cooks, two waitresses and a dishwasher. But since the recession took root in New Hampshire, Minnon and his real estate agent wife, Paula, 41, do most of the work themselves. They cook the $4.70 daily specials (tuna-pea wiggle and hamburger hash) and they can afford to keep only one full-time waitress, who earns the minimum wage, $2.51 an hour, and tips. Minnon, whose FrenchCanadian ancestors left Thetford Mines, Que., in the early 1900s and settled in New England, recites the names of patrons from Wang computers and the slumping construction industry who no longer drop in for a $5 breakfast. “Pat Buchanan is saying the right things,” said Minnon. “Someone has to get the economy going.” His mother, Moana, said that she agreed. “I’ll vote for Pat Buchanan in the primary to straighten Bush out and scare the hell out of him,” she said. “We’re the first primary and we’re telling him to get his act together or he won’t be president.”

Republican Patrick Buchanan, the 53-yearold conservative columnist and self-styled pit bull of the American right, has become a potential spoiler in New Hampshire’s Feb. 18 primary—one of the most important contests in the 1992 presidential election year. Since 1952, no Democrat or Republican has been elected president who did not first win New Hampshire’s primary. Underscoring the importance of the vote, Bush made a whirlwind 12 hour swing through the recession-ravaged state, where the unemployment rate has soared to seven per cent from 2.5 per cent in 1988 and bankruptcies in 1991 totalled 3,848, the highest in the nation.

A new statewide poll found that only 46 per cent of Republican voters said that they will support Bush in the primary—a loss of 13 percentage points in three weeks. But Bush pledged to jump-start the flagging economy with a package of measures that he will outline in his Jan. 28 state of the union address. Shedding his presidential posture, Bush tried to cast himself as a man of the people who understands the problems of a once-thriving state that has fallen on hard times. “Message: I care,” he told the packed audience at the Exeter Town Hall.

But many people in the handpicked audience appeared skeptical. “I don’t think we’re headed in the right direction,” said University of New Hampshire student Eric Grégoire. “Bush is on cruise control.” Analysts say that view is increasingly common among hard-hit New Hampshire’s 1.1 million citizens. Declared William Schneider of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute: “People are angry at Bush. They were waiting to hear him say, ‘I’ll do something.’ ” On the other hand, Schneider said, “Buchanan’s message is a cry from the heart of thousands of New Hampshire voters: ‘For Christ’s sake, do something.’ ”

Buchanan concedes that he has little chance of defeating Bush in the primary. But the latest New Hampshire poll shows him closing the gap. Thirty per cent of Republicans said that they support Buchanan. And he could serve as a lightning rod for a broad-based protest movement against the increasingly unpopular incumbent. Armed with a simple but powerful 10-point plan to “put America first, make America first and keep America first,” Buchanan has been campaigning tirelessly through the small, conservative New Hampshire towns where voters have humbled presidential front-runners in the past. His isolationist, anti-government, anti-tax stand forms what Schneider calls a “coherent set of ideas that expose Bush as someone with no ideas and no policy platform.” Buchanan’s conservative approach finds particular favor in a state that has no sales tax or state income tax.

Buchanan developed his political philosophy as a youth. He was the third of nine children in a comfortable suburban Washington family whose strict Irish Catholic patriarch revered now-legendary right-wingers, including Senator Joseph McCarthy and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Educated by Jesuits, Buchanan was the valedictorian of his high-school class. But he was given a oneyear suspension from Georgetown University in his senior year for fighting with two policemen who had stopped him for speeding.

After graduating from Columbia University’s school of journalism in 1962, Buchanan joined the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat, where he developed his sledgehammer prose and belligerent rhetoric. In 1966, he became an executive assistant at Richard Nixon’s New York City law firm and later, as a speech writer, helped him win the 1968 presidential election. Three years later, he married Shelley Ann Scarney, a receptionist in the Nixon White House. Buchanan left politics in 1975 to become a syndicated newspaper columnist, putting his journalism career on hold in 1985 to serve as communications director in Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Disarmingly charming in private, the public Buchanan revels in baiting his audience and staking out positions that other candidates dare not. He has vigorously defended white-minority-ruled South Africa and unabashedly protested the hunting down of Nazi war criminals. AIDS, he once said, is “nature exacting an awful revenge on the poor homosexuals.”

At Woodsky’s Restaurant in downtown Manchester last week, Buchanan delivered a fiery speech to 55 Queen City Rotary Club members. He attacked Bush as “a globalist on foreign trade” and a “man of government” who refuses to stand up to the Democratcontrolled Congress. Brandishing a full-page advertisement in the fiercely conservative Manchester Union Leader, in which he pledged not to raise taxes if elected, Buchanan said that “George Bush broke his word,” adding that the President “put this economy in the Dumpster.”

Buchanan’s solution to the economic crisis is to reduce taxes and government spending and to balance the budget. He promises to freeze the Canada-U.S.-Mexico free trade talks while protecting American businesses from competition from Mexico, which he says has an unfair advantage because of low wage rates and few environmental-protection restrictions. And despite polls that show that a majority of Americans want universal statefunded health care, he characterizes the Canadian example as “an utter disaster.” In an interview with Maclean’s last week, Buchanan said that he knows little about Canada’s health-care system. “I’m not that knowledgeable about the details, but it’s on the road to the British system,” he said. “And I don’t think the United States should go in that direction.”

At the Rotary Club in Manchester, several members of the audience expressed disagreement with Buchanan’s isolationist and protectionist foreign-policy ideas. But accountant Dennis Ryan, for one, said that Buchanan could not be dismissed as a pugnacious, right-wing ideologue. He added: “His simple, straightforward, back-to-basics message is something people want to hear.” That assertion will be dramatically tested next month when trendsetting New Hampshire voters kick off the 1992 election season.

HILARY MACKENZIE in Manchester