THE RELATIONSHIP between George Bush and American conservatives has always been a complex one, at times a marriage of convenience and at times a shotgun wedding.
Now, with the encouragement and support of leaders of grass-roots conservatives across the nation, Patrick Buchanan has entered the New Hampshire primary against Bush. Consider that a divorce.
George Bush spent most of his career opposing conservatives. In 1965, he blasted "right-wingers" as "extremists" who cost him votes in his U.S. Senate race the previous year. As a congressman, he called for a tax increase; he voted for gun control, for the creation of a bureaucratic monstrosity called the Consumer Protection Agency and for the Family Assistance Plan that would have dramatically enlarged the welfare rolls.
As a Senate candidate in 1970, he was endorsed by socialist economist John Kenneth Galbraith and was defeated when the "religious right" voted for his Democratic opponent, Lloyd Bentsen. When Richard Nixon wanted to replace Bob Dole as Republican national chairman because Dole was "too conservative," he picked Bush. When Bush was being considered for the vice presidency in 1974, many conservatives lined up behind Nelson Rockefeller "as the better alternative for the sake of the country," according to columnist Jules Witcover.
As a presidential candidate in 1980, Bush claimed that it was "impossible to stop the growth of government," called Ronald Reagan an "extremist," supported federally funded mass transit and federal funding of abortion, opposed the Kemp-Roth tax cut and called supply-side economics "voodoo." As vice president, he derided conservative activists as "all hat and no cattle," and he was honored as "man of the year" by the liberal Ripon Society.
Then, in 1988, under the skillful guidance of campaign manager Lee Atwater, Bush styled himself as the ideological heir to Ronald Reagan. He was the man who would continue the Reagan Revolution. "Read my lips: No new taxes," he promised.
But as president, Bush raised taxes to the highest level in history. As Newsweek reported, he has been "presiding over the re-regulation of American industry . . . Bush's agency heads have lTC revived dormant bureaucracies. Free-market conservatives are fuming." At the Interstate Commerce Commission, employees held "a ceremonial burning of Adam Smith ties," according to the Journal of Commerce. Spending has increased three times faster than under Jimmy Carter and seven times faster than under Reagan.
President Bush, elected on a promise to reduce litigation and red tape, supported the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act revisions and the quota bill -- all but declaring war on small business in America. He backed the continued funding of pornography by the National Endowment for the Arts, opposed repeal of the catastrophic illness tax on senior citizens and supported the congressional pay raise, even forbidding his party's candidates from making that an issue. He backed the Butchers of Beijing and lied about it. He ridiculed Boris Yeltsin, opposed Baltic independence and supported Mikhail Gorbachev against democratic reformers in the old Soviet Union.
Unlike Ronald Reagan, who demonstrated his commitment to a Big Tent GOP by appointing Bush supporters to key positions in his administration -- including White House chief of staff -- Bush -- has sought to purge the administration of Reaganites. From New Hampshire to Mississippi, his and his staff's interference in internal party affairs has caused deep resentment.
Conservatives cannot stand by idly while George Bush de-Reaganizes America. If they did nothing, they would tacitly accept blame for Bush's policies, for the collapse of the Reagan Recovery and for the chaos conservatives sarcastically call the New World Order. Or, worse, they would allow former Klansman David Duke to depict himself as the leader of American conservatives; most of the national news media will gleefully assist Duke in that effort.
Grass-roots conservatives, who provide the GOP with the bulk of its ideas, its issues, its money and its volunteers, no longer feel that they have a stake in the Bush administration. Without Pat Buchanan in the '92 race, conservatives would sit on the sidelines as a pseudo-conservative Klansman, a country club Republican president and six or seven liberal Democrats debate the issues and set the national agenda.
Conservatives expect that Buchanan's candidacy will energize their movement, fill grass-roots activists with a sense of purpose and get them back on the playing field to support not only Buchanan, but GOP candidates for Congress and state and local office as well. Bush supporters have noted contemptuously that conservatives have no choice but to support the administration; conservatives have "no place else to go." The Buchanan campaign gives them a new home.
Richard Viguerie is chairman and Steven Allen is 1/2 communications director of United Conservatives of America, in