The Presidential Debatezzzzz
Jude Wanniski
January 12, 2000


Try as hard as I can, black coffee and all, I cannot stay awake during these interminable presidential debates. The only thing that puts me out faster is watching the Swan Lake ballet. The Republican candidates who still are standing all agree they are going to cut taxes, build up the military to face down the imminent threat from China, save Social Security with a lockbox, and appoint Supreme Court Justices who will respect the right to life. By now, it is so thoroughly conceded that Gov. George W. Bush has the GOP nomination in his own lockbox that he already can retreat on his "So help me God" pledge he will cut taxes. He now tells the Creator that he "intends" to cut taxes. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the favorite candidate of NYTimes columnist William Safire and everyone else who wants to go back and finish off Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, had a teeny chance of winning the New Hampshire primary because he is so honest. So honest that he told the voters there he intends to tax the rich and give to the middle class. So honest he says he will release all the Senate records of how he took from the rich and delivered for the upper class. Steve Forbes, who swore on a stack of recently acquired Bibles that he would never run negative TV spots against Bush, has spent another million or two on TV spots positively warning the voters of Iowa that the Texas governor cannot be trusted to keep his word. On the Democratic side, Al Gore and Bill Bradley continue their running argument on whose health-care plan will cover more gays in the military, who will be more committed to global warming, and who will close more tax loopholes that favor Texas oilmen to hire more gay and lesbian school teachers who are soon to be married in Vermont. Zzzzzzzz.

It really does not seem to matter out of this mix who winds up succeeding Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. I'd hoped Bill Bradley would resist the temptation to run as an old lefty and become a genuine growth candidate, which would put some daylight between him and the Veep. Bradley still may win the New Hampshire primary and a few others, but the Democratic organization no longer seems as worried and interested in him as it was several weeks ago. It now begins to look like the re-run of the 1996 race, when there was a tacit agreement between the two major parties to let the Democrats retain the White House and let the Republicans retain the Congress. With Bush the almost certain GOP nominee, it becomes more likely the Democrats would stick with the organization choice, lose safely with Gore, and capture the House of Representatives.

The difference between 2000 and 1996 is the possibility that as the Reform Party nominee, Pat Buchanan would inspire a populist coalition that could propel him into genuine contention. Unlike Ross Perot's two Reform races in 1992 and 1996, where he did as well as he did without any attempt to build a coalition, Buchanan is going about it with considerable intelligence. The national news media, which for the most part reflect the unipolar paradigm of the two major parties, so far have treated Buchanan as an eccentric. Yet his two most recent major speeches may outline enough common ground with the populist left and right to conceivably win in a three-way election. One pledges an end to global economic sanctions, the other denounces the concept of globalism as it is being quietly embraced by our political establishment. As distasteful as you find the idea of a Buchanan presidency, I urge you to read the two speeches, which you can find at his website:

I rather like the concept of a world federalism, one government for the whole planet. But I do think we carefully should think about it for another 50 or 60 years and perhaps set a goal of 2100 to ring it in. The idea of open borders and free trade and transfers of America's sovereign powers to international bureaucracies located somewhere in Euroland may appeal to our Political Establishment, the multinational corporations and banks that are beginning to consider themselves as being stateless, and their candidates for the presidency. As the demonstrations in Seattle over the World Trade Organization's nibbling at sovereignty indicated, ordinary people are not all that sure they are ready to level the playing field to that extent. These are the big issues that should be central to the presidential debates, but they are inconvenient. They would be even more inconvenient if Buchanan got into the presidential debates with Bush and Gore/Bradley.

In order to get from where we are to where the Political Establishment would like to go, our Constitution already has been trampled underfoot. The President can sign executive orders to avoid having unpleasant debates occur on the floor of the House and Senate. We will observe the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty by executive order. We will expand NATO as the military arm of the new American empire without amending the 1949 NATO Treaty to permit offensive operations wherever our President wishes to bomb. We will follow the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the letter, by executive order, even though it has failed to win Senate ratification. (And we will keep an innocent Chinese-American computer scientist in solitary confinement, without bail, on trumped-up charges that he mishandled classified or even unclassified papers he was working on -- because of policy decisions growing out of the Clinton executive orders on the CTBT.) We will continue to bomb Iraq by executive order whenever the Iraqi government looks like it will violate a "no fly zone" in its own sovereign territory, a "zone" we have unilaterally imposed on it, by executive order.

As long as all major-party presidential candidates agree the commander-in-chief can do whatever he damn pleases, the focus of the national debate remains on whether or not six-year-old Elian Gonzalez should be returned to his father in Havana. (Gore and Bradley agree the courts should make the decision. The family-oriented, small-government Republican candidates for the most part want the Federal Leviathan to keep the boy from the embrace of his communist dad. Go figure.) It would be nice if we could have the candidates debate monetary policy. It is one of the most important levers of power available to government and our central bank can cause governments to topple with a Greenspan sneeze. Steve Forbes is the only candidate who understands the issue but his advisors have told him to forget about it, so he does. It would be nice to have the major candidates taking sides on the sovereign powers of the evil empire -- the International Monetary Fund -- and whether it should continue to act as the collection agent for the multinational banks. According to Bob Novak, though, Bush seems to think only the "nuts" want to restrain the IMF. (Novak makes the point in his new book, Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000, which really is a cry of frustration with the big snooze in the Republican Party.) This brings us back again to the Reform Party, which could not have come into existence if the major parties were functioning as the Founding Fathers intended. Ross Perot appeared in 1992 because both parties indicated they were content with the status quo on national direction, especially tax and budget policies. The oligarchs who run the country and the national media really don't care whether Gore or Bradley or Bush or McCain win in November. The only way their applecart is upset is if Buchanan kicks it over, which is why they have to keep him out of the spotlight and the debates. He knows what he is doing and will start kicking when the time is to his liking. Meanwhile, we can all go back to sleep.