Buchanan's tough-guy background bears scrutiny

MIKE ROYKO

February 26, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

The city of Washington is crawling with reporters. After lawyers, bureaucrats and crack dealers, journalism is probably the most common trade in our capital.

Many of them are investigative reporters, who know how to dig through musty heaps of governmental records in search of an amazing fact.

So I'm surprised that none have bothered to look into one of the most intriguing incidents in the life and times of Pat Buchanan, who has temporarily given up the loud-opinion business to become a presidential candidate.

In interviews, Buchanan has said he used to be quite the two-fisted brawler. And he sounds proud of it.

This has been confirmed by some of his old college chums, who said Buchanan was ready and eager to duke it out with anyone who dared give him some lip, or even those who didn't.

This tough guy side of Buchanan probably impresses some people. But it might make others smirk. It would depend on who they are.

To the Woody Allen types, the big-shouldered, steely-eyed Buchanan might seem like an intimidating figure. To the Woody Allen types, even Danny DeVito would be scary.

But to a steelworker, let's say, or a fireman, or a furniture mover, the thought of Pat Buchanan as a toe-to-toe slugger could be amusing.

That's the variable in being a two-fisted brawler. It all depends on where you do your brawling and with whom.

Considering Buchanan's background, I doubt that he jumped off the bar stool in any shot-and-beer joint to take on guys with bottle scars on their faces and skull tattoos on their arms.

He grew up in a wealthy household in a suburb of Washington and went to schools that aren't known for the ferocity of their student bodies. In some Chicago schools, young men tote guns. If Buchanan's schoolmates were fast on the draw, it was with credit cards.

The military is a good testing ground for brawlers. Many a tooth has been dislodged out behind the barracks or enlisted men's club.

But Buchanan, as much as he loathed the Viet Cong and thought we should wipe them out, was afflicted with an aching knee, so he sat out that war. (Fortunately, his knee has recovered, and he can now jog the equivalent distance of a dozen rice fields. Better late than never, I always say.)

So after college, he alternated between careers as a pundit, a White House aide, a pundit, a White House aide, a pundit and now a candidate.

Washington journalism and White House speech writing: Those aren't environments known for broken noses, cracked knuckles, fat lips or chewed off ears. The weapon of choice is a verbal stiletto in the back.

So I've always wondered about Buchanan's record as a brawler. Who's he fought? My goodness, his regular TV adversary was the squeaky-voiced Michael Kinsley. Although Kinsley admits to lifting weights, he doesn't seem the type who would swagger into Stash and Stella's Polka Saloon and say: "Hey, beer-belly, you're sitting on my favorite stool." Stella might deck him.

Which brings me back to the question about Washington's investigative reporters.

Buchanan, in boasting about his tough-guy exploits, says he once was arrested for picking a fight with two cops. That's right, not one cop, but two.

On the face of it, that's impressive. However, Buchanan, to the best of my knowledge, has never provided any specifics or details.

When he was simply a TV shouter, this omission didn't matter. But now that he's a presidential candidate, the public has a right to know more.

The first question that comes to mind is, what kind of cops were they?

Having been around Chicago cops all my life, I know that picking a fight with two of them might not be something you'd want to talk about, except maybe to the nurse who sticks the tubes in your arms. Anyone who chooses to engage in fisticuffs with two Chicago cops would go through life wincing and groaning at the memory.

So somewhere there must be records, police reports, court documents, that could give us insights into Buchanan's ferocity or lack of same, when he engaged in this memorable brawl. At least it is memorable to Buchanan, since he's mentioned it so many times. The two cops might still be around. Or if they're retired, they can be tracked down.

It would help us judge the candidate's character. The report might say something like: "The subject was restrained by the riot squad after knocking two officers unconscious for having failed to salute a passing flag." Then we would know that he's a genuine hard case.

On the other hand, it could say: "The subject tried to pull the hair of Officer Jones and was put weeping into the back of the squad car, where he promptly fell asleep and remained so until his father arrived with bond money." And we would know that he's more of a hardship case.

If Buchanan campaigns in Chicago, maybe I'll ask him for specifics. I hope the question doesn't make him mad enough to fight.

Just in case, I'll bring along a couple of pillows.

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