Someone is going to say to Pat Buchanan...

SOONER OR LATER

November 27, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SOONER OR LATER someone is going to say to Pat Buchanan, if they haven't already, what every editorial writer, columnist and commentator has heard at least once in his life.

That is, in his particular case, "George Bush has been running the country. You've never run anything but your mouth."

Which is true. As a newspaper and television opiner, Buchanan, if he runs seriously expecting to win, would be trying to go where no pundit has ever gone before.

This is as it should be. Explaining things is one important skill, and managing things is another.

We don't always get it right. Sometimes we splain things no better than Ricky Ricardo. On the other hand, sometimes presidents manage things no better than Lucy. But we should stick to our job, and public officials should stick to theirs.

I never miss a George Will column. I read every word. But I wouldn't sleep very well at night if he were president of the United States, or field manager of the Orioles, for that matter.

Buchanan may claim precedents. It is true that Ronald Reagan signed a syndicated twice-a-week newspaper column in the 1970s that he probably did not write himself. And he gave a five-days-a-week radio commentary that he apparently did write himself. But he was hired to do those after he had been governor of California for eight years. He was a celebrity journalist. He rode politics into journalism, rather than the other way around.

Another right-wing Republican who wrote a syndicated newspaper column also was nominated for president once. That was Barry Goldwater. I don't consider him a precedent for Buchanan, either, and for the same reason. His elective office won him his column, not vice versa. Before he was elected a

senator from Arizona he was an underwear designer. I am not just kidding. You could look it up.

Senator Goldwater didn't exactly write his columns. I edited syndicated columns for another newspaper when Goldwater's first came out in 1960. My boss heard Goldwater's three a week were ghost-written. He asked me to check. I asked the syndicate and was told that Goldwater "wrote the nouns and pronouns" (as I recall it), and a professional journalist wrote the rest. I could believe it. Barry was a "me Tarzan, you Jane" kind of guy in those days. More precisely, he was a "me conservative, you stinker" kind of guy.

Which brings us back to Pat Buchanan. If he runs, I'd be surprised if he got even the low-ball estimate he has given as a goal for a primary race against George Bush in New Hampshire -- 15 percent. And if he were by some miracle actually to win an election and face the prospect of running something other than his mouth, I'm sure his reaction would be what another conservative pundit, William Buckley, said his would be if he had won a New York mayor's race he entered in 1965 as a protest. "I'd demand a recount," he said.

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