You might call it the story of two U.S. Navy Vietnam veterans and one brawling bigot. Last week, one of the sailors took a stand against the bully and gave us a glimpse of that rarest of things in politics an act of real integrity.
The other swabbie is yet to be tested.
And now, as Paul Harvey would croak, the rest of the story. Republicans havent often been heroes in this column, but U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a long-shot candidate for president, is one. Want credentials? The man spent five years as a POW in Hanoi; he was badly injured and gruesomely tortured, but refused to use his admiral fathers clout to win early release ahead of other American prisoners.
He came home, paid his dues, served in the House and moved up to the Senate, where he has won high marks and respect for common sense and legislative skills. Though deeply conservative, he opposed letting the monopoly networks have their way with the coming digital spectrum. (He lost, natch.) But he has continued, almost alone, to try to live the high ideals his party pretends to believe in.
"Maybe we ought to remember the principles of the founders of our party," an exasperated McCain said when asked why he, nearly alone among Republicans, took a stand for meaningful campaign finance reform. "Maybe we ought to remember the obligations we incur when we govern America," he told his fellows, explaining why he wanted to get tough with the merchants of death who run the tobacco industry.
Then last week he did something truly important. McCain drew a significant moral line in the sand by which we can measure everyone in politics today.
What he did neither took brilliance nor should it have been very hard at all. He told the truth about Pat Buchanan, a man whose candidacy for anything could only happen in an idiot-culture, talk-show nation. Buchanan is nothing but a nasty ex-speechwriter hired to cater to the darker impulses of Richard Nixon. At 60, he proves the truth of Albert Camus proverb: After 40, every man is responsible for his own face.
Buchanans face is a weak, double-chinned parody of the dark Irish bully, filled with xenophobia, racism and scarcely veiled anti-Semitism. The last two elections, he ran in GOP presidential primaries, largely to boost his talk-show career. In Michigan, he made thinly veiled "anti-NAFTA" attacks on foreign workers; local Republicans kicked his butt.
Now, however, he is making news again. First, he has a new book out, A Republic, Not an Empire, in which he betrays his true sentiments with astonishing openness. Hitler, whom he deeply admires, was no threat to the United States, well, at least not until he declared war on us, says Buchanan, who clearly would like to have seen Hitler conquer Russia and be the "master of Europe."
This isnt that surprising. Earlier, he blamed the Jews for the Gulf War. He has said he opposed settling "Zulus" in Virginia, where he now lives.
And now, Pat the Bully is close to bolting the Republicans and seeking the nomination of the Reform Party, H. Ross Perots old vehicle.
That makes sense in a talk-show nation: Cant get a CBS gig, jump to cable. Dubya Bush already has been anointed the GOP standard-bearer, barring discovery of a dead woman or live boy in his bed, and if he falters, the nominee wont be Pat. But he might have a crack at the Reform spot; it got enough votes in 96 to be guaranteed millions in federal funding, and will be on every states ballot.
So when Buchanan started making bolt-the-party noises, John McCain said thats great. Leave us. Anyone sane might think that all mainstream Republicans would be thrilled at losing this embarrassment. Who in the hell would want to be in the same party as an admirer of Adolf Hitler?
Well, George W. Bush, thats who. Hes been begging him to stay.
The other pseudo-candidates Elizabeth Dole, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes, etc. mouth similar sentiments, or are silent. What this means, to be brutally honest: They evidently fear they cant afford to lose the Nazi sympathizer vote, and that Buchanan as a third-party candidate might take enough votes away from the GOP to elect a Democrat.
That shows who and what they are.
Now, however, comes the next act. Nobody who knows Ross Perot should be really surprised that he reportedly likes Buchanan. He is obsessed with lesbians, calls blacks "you people" and once tried to prevent EDS workers from wearing jeans on their own time. But he is yesterdays stale brush-cut.
Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former Navy Seal, is the straw that stirs the drink, now. Based on his entertaining autobiography, I Aint Got Time to Bleed, his vision is entirely different; he wants a party tight-fisted on economics and liberal on social issues.
Thats not what the pseudo-fascist puritan Buchanan stands for. Ventura says he wants Donald Trump or Lowell Weicker to be Reforms presidential candidate. Aint gonna happen. There may be only one man who can save Reform from degenerating into a vehicle for one more know-nothing, and he looks good in a feather boa.
Its your party, Jesse baby. And it, too, has absolutely no time to bleed.