A picture hangs on my office wall that reminds of the glory years of the Reagan Revolution. It shows the White House team entry in the D.C. Nike Challenge from 1985. The six participants include Dick Hauser, then Deputy Counsel in the White House; John Roberts – newly confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then a young White House lawyer; and me, also a young White House lawyer. The captain of the “White House V-toes” was Pat Buchanan, at the time the Gipper’s communications director.
Whenever a visitor’s eye turns to the picture, I point to Pat and say, there’s the man who put Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court. Only the politically inclined get it: Pat Buchanan’s primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush in 1992 bled the incumbent and opened the door to Perot. Perot, of course, put Clinton in the White House, and Clinton put those justices on the highest court.
Buchanan fans sputter a lot when they hear this recounting of history, and many splendid arguments follow. They protest too much, the Pat people do, because of the impulse to disguise guilt with vigorous and emphatic denunciations. Facts, to quote Reagan quoting Lenin, however, are stubborn things. Buchanan wrought what he wrought, and honest accounting requires that the two Clinton appointees be credited to Pat’s legacy ledger. So much for the pro-life platform upon which Pat has long stood. There is no doubt that he sincerely believes in the platform – but there is overwhelming evidence that the unborn would have been far better off had Pat never launched a public career.
This history becomes relevant as the California recall vote draws near. Like Pat, Tom McClintock is a smart, talented and principled public man. Like Pat, Tom is supported by a legion of dedicated, energetic activists. Like the Buchanan campaign of 1992, the McClintock campaign of 2003 thinks it has momentum, a mirage created wholly by an elite media eager to wound a Republican front-runner. A decade ago, that front-runner was President Bush; these days it is Arnold.
And like the Buchanan campaign of 1992, the McClintock campaign of 2003 is playing the role of unwitting pawn of the Democrats to a perfection.
It will not be clear for some years what the real costs of the McClintock candidacy will be. The GOP is already damaged in California, but the real disaster will arrive only if Cruz Bustamante replaces Gray Davis, winning the second part of the California recall with a margin less than the total number of votes garnered by McClintock.
The die-hards ought to think about Breyer and Ginsburg as they launch rhetorical salvo after rhetorical salvo at Arnold. These attacks are very similar in tone and detail to those hurled by the Buchananites against the elder Bush in 1992. Whether they will result in the declaration as unconstitutional of such laws as a ban on partial-birth abortion remains to be seen, but Pat Buchanan clearly didn’t set out to destroy such protections with his candidacy of 1992.
But he did. What will the McClintock ledger show a decade hence?