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Can GOP find unity in crime?

Political consultant Arthur Finkelstein theorized some years ago that the Republican Party was, in fact, made up of three separate and distinct parties with but one issue, anti-communism, holding them and thus the GOP together.

Those three parties were social conservatives as represented by Jesse Helms, economic conservatives as represented by Jack Kemp, and foreign policy-national defense conservatives as represented by Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

Each of those three factions could find differences with one or two of the others (and often did) but it was compelling opposition to oligarchic collectivism that held the party together and made it, for most of the 1970s and all of the 1980s, the political majority in America.

With the collapse of Soviet communism – some say, due to Ronald Reagan’s staunch policies – came the irony of the American voter in 1992 not having to consider for the first time in more than 40 years a presidential candidate’s ability to stand up to communist aggression, which played to Bill Clinton’s advantage and to George Bush’s detriment.

Many in the GOP remain firmly convinced that George Bush’s broken tax pledge and appearing to not care about the American economy led to his defeat. But it was also the collapse of communism that contributed to his loss in 1992.

The party today remains approximately the same. But due to the deterioration of the foreign policy wing of the GOP, the social conservatives, though not larger, seem more influential. This was witnessed by the 1992 Houston convention where the Bush campaign actually had a good foreign policy story to sell (to wit: Desert Storm) and a good economic story to tell but did not do so. The media and thus, the American people, came to believe that social issues were all the GOP was about.

Of compelling interest to the GOP today should be the effort by Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party to steal the crime issue, which, for Republicans, could become the new “anti-communism” and therefore the new glue to hold together the party, including the growing libertarian (read anti-big government) faction within the party.

Historically, crime has been a GOP issue. Democrats were seen in their alliance with the American Civil Liberties Union, their opposition to the death penalty, the defense of Vietnam protesters and the like, as being “soft on crime.” After all, Richard Nixon ran on “law and order” in 1968 and Ronald Reagan talked about freedom consistent with “law and order.”

The danger for Republicans is that Mr. Clinton is making progress on this issue. Call it cheap symbolism, but his anti-crime rhetoric is hitting home with people weary of crime and all its symptoms.

However, the GOP can bring this issue back home if it rejects the rhetoric of Sarah Brady, Mr. Clinton and others and take a page out of the book of George Allen’s campaign for governor of Virginia.

John McLaughlin, Mr. Allen’s campaign pollster, saw early last year in his polling that Mary Sue Terry, the Democratic nominee for governor and the sitting attorney general, would win the Virginia election unless that group of voters most concerned with crime could be convinced that the issue was not gun control but crime control

The research also indicated that voters saw her version of gun control, a waiting period, as ineffective, and Miss Terry’s strident attacks on the National Rifle Association as a gimmick. Further, they thought a five-day waiting period wouldn’t do anything to stop crime, but they did believe that having more cops on the street, tough sentencing and reducing recidivism were real solutions. They also expressed a high degree of support for Virginia’s existing Instant Check Program.

Consequently, Mr. Allen hammered away at the failure of the criminal justice system, the frightening statistics about repeat offenders. And by Election Day, that group of voters were firmly in Mr. Allen’s camp, thus delivering the election to the GOP.

The Republican National Committee just held its winter meeting here and it should remember that no GOP candidate ever lost on the gun control issue despite the handwringing by the Washington intelligentsia.

Too many in the GOP offer too much “me tooism” as it is. So if they want to once again become the political majority in America and thus the governing majority, they ought to reject Mr. Clinton’s and the Democrats’ solution to crime and come up with their own. They must devise a set of ideas and goals that the American people will support. Anti-crime can be the new anti-communism for the Republican Party. But it requires the same will as the party had in opposing communism.

Craig Shirley is president of a Washington public relations and political consulting firm.

LOAD-DATE: February 20, 1994

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

Copyright 1994 The Washington Times LLC All Rights Reserved

Killer rabbits, Hollywood haircuts

Little things often mean a lot. Killer rabbits, repeated head bumpings on the door of Air Force One and now, $200 haircuts.

People’s lives in general and our elected leaders specifically are often judged by seemingly small, insignificant and yes, sometimes silly things. In 1968, George Romney would have lost the GOP presidential nomination to Richard Nixon anyway, but he neither helped his effort nor his desire to ever be taken seriously again when he suggested that American generals had “brainwashed” him during a tour of Vietnam about the military effort in South East Asia.

Jody Powell has cited the “killer rabbit” incident as the critical point after which Washington and the American people never took President Carter seriously again.

Gerald Ford may have been the most star-crossed president in American history as a result of literally stumbling performances on stairs, innumerable head bumpings in the White House pool and hatchway pratfalls on Air Force One. Don’t think this image of buffoonery didn’t contribute to his loss to Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Inner-directed men like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had an aura, a presence, and authority and yes, an innate judgment that allowed them to avoid the silliness that befell Presidents Ford and Carter and now is befalling Bill Clinton. Someone once said that a leader has a physical, intellectual and moral presence. Clearly Presidents Kennedy and Reagan possessed such endowments and were seen as leaders. Mr. Clinton, as a result of his problems, is not seen as a leader today.

But history is repeating itself in more than one way. The American people correctly perceived Messrs. Ford and Carter to be weak men and they may now be arriving at the same judgment about Bill Clinton.

Ironically, compounding this president’s problem is Hillary Rod-ham Clinton. Like Presidents Carter and Ford, Mr. Clinton is married to a strong-willed and intelligent woman with ideas of her own. Unfortunately for the current occupant of the Oval Office and like Messrs. Ford and Carter, a dynamic is being created that sets him up for a “lose lose” situation.

If Hillary looks good, Bill looks bad. If Hillary looks bad, Bill looks worse. Lest we forget, buttons were mass-produced in 1976 and 1980 that proclaimed “Betty’s Husband for President” and “Rosalyn’s Husband for President.” This perception only encouraged the American people to think of those presidents as weak men. Whatever else happens between now and 1996, we’ll see buttons stating “Hillary’s Husband for President” and, even worse for Mr. Clinton, “Hillary for President.”

Presidents who are seen as weak or vacillating or silly people – as Messrs. Ford and Carter can attest to – also invite gratuitous comments and criticisms. Johnny Carson and Jay Leno notwithstanding, (Have you seen Mr. Leno’s savaging of the president lately? And the roars of laughter this has met with?) already Mr. Clinton is reading columns and editorials suggesting ever so politely – from friends yet – on how he can “turn it around.” The next step in six months will be academicians and editorial writers opining that the job of president is just too big for one man.

The tendency of all the president’s men in these situations is to lash out at the media, sometimes not too intelligently. To say Paul Begala and James Carville have been appalling in interviews is an under-statement. And their overreactions are only exacerbating Mr. Clinton’s problem, because they’re taking what should be something minor and makes it bigger.

For example, Mr. Begala’s comments in The Washington Post last Friday to the effect that there are larger issues facing America than Bill Clinton’s $200 haircut misses the point. Of course there are, but much of what we judge people about and especially our presidents is anecdotal and not always of earthshaking import. Nonetheless, this is how life often works, and telling The Post to “get a life” is not particularly constructive nor helpful for future relations.

The problem for Mr. Clinton is, like the problems that beset Presidents Ford and Carter, that if he is perceived as weak and silly, then so too are his legislative programs and political views that then may end up endangering the Democratic Party as a whole. Bill Clinton is falling, and the only question now is whether he can get up.

Craig Shirley, an adviser to George Bush from 1985 to 1987, is president of a Washington-based political consulting firm.

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

GRAPHIC: Cartoon, …AW, THIS IS GREAT, CRISTOPHE!… AND HILLARY THOUGHT HER HAIRCUT WAS NEWSWORTHY!, By M. Shelton/The Orange County Register (1993)

Copyright 1993 The Washington Times LLC All Rights Reserved

Right, wrong…and equivalency

Recently, a Washington commentator on one of those “cry talk shows” suggested George Bush was not morally superior to Bill Clinton because Mr. Bush chose to serve in World War Il and Mr. Clinton chose not to serve in the Vietnam War.

And now, some so-called “experts” have sharply criticized George Bush for wondering about Mr. Clinton’s conduct during his student days at Oxford, including organizing anti-American protests and going to Moscow at a time when the Soviets were supplying arms to the North Vietnamese.

Of course, other Americans visited the Soviet Union during those tense dates of the Cold War. But not all of them stepped out of line for military service and, thus, forced some other young men to go fight for their country. And if they did, they’re not running for president of the United States.

Dan Quayle hit the nail on the head Tuesday evening when he asked the American people if they can trust Mr. Clinton. Can a man who would so cavalierly play with the truth about his past be trusted with the future with the rest of us? No one is suggesting Bill Clinton is a pathological liar, but his problem is the truth is just another option.

Today in our popular culture, the phrase, “moral equivalency” has come into vogue. The concept is mostly offered and supported by people who, in fact, either don’t have a moral compass nor do they believe our society should. But, as one news commentator once asked, did Moses come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Suggestions? In fact, our Constitution and our laws both civil and moral are designed to protect freedom while also limiting certain behaviors.

But if nothing is wrong, if nothing is morally inferior, then why does our society promote achievement and public service? Surely Mother Theresa, because of her lifetime of commitment to the poor of Calcutta, is morally superior to Sister Souljah whose “music,” produced for profit, unnecessarily inflames racial tensions. Surely Marva Collins, who has done so much educating the inner city youth of Chicago has a greater claim on moral superiority than Ivan Boesky.

In fact, a unique quality of America is the historical belief that public-spiritedness and dedication to one’s country and community are not only admirable attributes, but desirable as well. It’s no accident that nuns, police officers, firefighters, and soldiers and sailors, are held in high regard by our society.

The outstanding success of the Boy Scouts of America and other youth organizations is due in no small part to the fact that they teach behavioral absolutes and that morality is not mutable. Parents want what they teach at home reinforced by other adults and institutions. It may be fashionable to allow homosexuals to be Boy Scout leaders, but most parents don’t want their sons used in a behavioral experiment.

Despite the fact that government, at all levels, has stepped in and created all sorts of social programs that have directly undermined many forms of private charity and volunteerism, we still instill in our children in our homes, schools and churches that we are not simply unto ourselves, but in fact, are part of a society where our contributions are helpful to the greater good.

Moral equivalency suggests that slothful living, or robbery or promiscuity or noneffort are neither better nor worse than effort, achievement, responsibility, upright civil behavior or just plain good citizenship. If this is so, why bother educating our children? Why bother trying to help the truly less fortunate to help themselves. Why do we “keep score” in all aspects of our lives and not just sports?

Despite what we are told by certain elements of the news media, the entertainment community and the educational establishment, the American people in fact believe there is a distinction and a difference between right and wrong.

To suggest that someone who avoided the Vietnam War while contriving to protect his “political viability” is the moral equivalent of someone who went off to fight in the noble effort to stop communist aggression in Southeast Asia or the totalitarian aggression of the Empire of Japan is simply nonsense. There is no Cabinet-level Department of Draft Dodging.

During the Houston Convention, Ronald Reagan said we are all equal in the eyes of God but that, more importantly, we must be equal in the eyes of each other. With apologies to our former president, I would qualify this.

Most people simply don’t believe that a murderer is as equal in the eyes of God as a priest. They certainly aren’t in our system of justice. Nor should they be.

Is George Bush superior in the eyes of God to Bill Clinton because Mr. Bush chose to risk his life by answering the call of his country? Maybe not. But in the eyes of the citizens of our country, those who sacrifice and volunteer or risk their lives for a larger cause are arguably better citizens and better people.

Craig P. Shirley has worked in government and on campaigns at the gubernatorial, congressional and presidential levels. He heads Craig Shirley & Associates Inc. an Alexandria public relations firm.

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

Copyright 1992 The Washington Times LLC All Rights Reserved

Bush must fight for right

While Bush administration officials and the members of the Republican establishment downplay the chances of Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire and beyond, GOP primary voters may be thinking something quite different.

From 1985-87, my responsibility was to develop conservative support for Vice President Bush by recruiting individuals and creating opportunities where Mr. Bush could showcase his conservative credentials. I support Mr. Bush again. But ignoring the threat is akin to “know-nothingism” and those who are running Mr. Bush’s campaign had better come to terms with the facts, quickly.

First, many in the Bush camp are spinning the notion that Mr. Buchanan is another John Ashbrook. And like Mr. Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972, Mr. Buchanan will go nowhere against Mr. Bush. This is a wholly wrong analogy and, for Mr. Bush, dangerous on its face by unnecessarily downplaying Mr. Buchanan’s chances. If Mr. Buchanan exceeds low expectations, he will have done “better than expected.” In the game of politics, expectations, though not everything, are nonetheless important. Perceptions drive money, volunteers and how the media reports on your campaign.

But more to the point, the analogy is incorrect because Mr. Ashbrook was a relatively unknown congressman from central Ohio. Mr. Buchanan, on the other hand, has had years of exposure to the voting public, especially Republican primary voters.

Further, Mr. Nixon had a longstanding relationship with the Republican right going back to his personal campaign against Alger Hiss. Mr. Nixon was chosen for vice president in 1952 by Dwight Eisenhower precisely because Eisenhower recognized that he needed to reach out to conservatives.

In 1968, Mr. Nixon ran as a conservative for president. And though some conservatives felt betrayed by President Nixon, as they did by Ronald Reagan once he became president, no conservative primary challenger to either ever stood any real chance because both had longstanding positive relations with the GOP right. Mr. Bush quite simply does not possess the personal relationship with conservative voters that both Mr. Nixon and Mr. Reagan did.

Second, the analogy lacks credibility in terms of the power and capabilities of the state parties. In 1972, GOP state parties, by and large, were active, vital organizations that could muster support for Richard Nixon.

Today, most state parties are ineffectual and frequently in debt, which affects their ability to turn out volunteers and voters.

Third, in 1972, there was no Federal Election Commission imposing state-by-state limits on what a presidential campaign could spend. Richard Nixon could spend whatever he needed to “blow away” John Ashbrook. Now, everybody must operate under the same limits if they choose to accept matching funds from the FEC presidential fund.

Yet most people in politics know money is not everything. One must offer a compelling reason to be for or against a candidate running for office. As the November elections proved, Harris Wofford could be outspent by Richard Thornburgh by $2 million in Pennsylvania and still win. Why? Because ideas and issues matter.

In New Jersey, GOP candidates for the state legislature were outspent, collectively, by $2 million dollars by their Democratic counterparts. And yet the legislature went from being Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican. Why? Because the Republicans opposed the massive tax increase engineered by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. They communicated to the voters that, they, the Republicans, were against higher taxes and that the Democrats were for higher taxes.

Politics is not a science. It is an art form. Yet in politics B follows A and, in fact, is usually caused by A. Thus if Mr. Bush is to squelch the Buchanan challenge, he must first recognize the serious nature of the challenge and then come up with ideas and issues to deal with it.

For example, Mr. Bush says he supports the line-item veto but wants a constitutional test. Unfortunately, the only person who can initiate a constitutional test is George Bush himself. Mr. Bush should identify just one item in the federal budget and strike it out. My favorite example is one from two years ago when there was a grant to study the average length of a stewardess’ nose.

Mr. Bush should simply strike out the most offensive item and ask the Supreme Court to rule. The Democrats, predictably, will attack the president, thus appear to be defending wasteful spending of the taxpayers money. If the court rules against Mr. Bush, he’s still won politically by appearing to fight for the American taxpayer. If the court rules that, indeed, a president does have the right to veto spending programs, he wins on a policy level and political level. What does this have to do with Pat Buchanan? Nothing. That is precisely the point. Mr. Buchanan is reduced to just another cheerleader for Mr. Bush.

Additionally, Mr. Bush should come to terms with the 1990 Budget Agreement. Rather than defend it, he should simply say he was wrong, that he’s sorry and it will never happen again. The American people and especially GOP primary voters not only want to hear this, they need to.

Campaign advisers will vehemently disagree with this, but consider the following: In recent memory, one cannot recall more elected executives going down to defeat precisely because they said they wouldn’t raise taxes and then either did so or appeared to do so. Maggie Thatcher, Kay Orr, Jim Blanchard, Bob Martinez and others were driven from office because they opened up character questions about themselves by altering their position on taxes. It’s better for Mr. Bush to deal with it now and frame the terms of the debate rather than allow Mr. Buchanan and then his Democratic opponent to deal with the issue as they would like.

As for the “vision thing,” the single unique quality of America and our culture is that we believe in the future, that we can make a better life for our children, that we can solve our problems and that there is nothing we should either fear or fail to confront.

Ronald Reagan’s greatest contribution to America, as president, was revitalizing our hope for the future. We lost it under Mr. Nixon and Jimmy Carter. The American people do not want to hear that their president cannot lead them to solve the problems of our nation. They want him (or, in the future, her) to speak of, “the shining city on a hill.”

Other issues are “on the table” to take advantage of, including isolationism and Mr. Buchanan’s opposition to stopping Saddam Hussein. Specifically, what would the cost of home heating oil be in New Hampshire today if Mr. Bush had not moved against Saddam before Iraq occupied Saudi Arabia? Does Mr. Buchanan’s protectionism extend to oil imports that New Hampshire depends on?

Mr. Bush will defeat Mr. Buchanan. But he should also recognize that the Buchanan challenge is meaningful. Those same people who worked passionately for Ronald Reagan and then George Bush are the very same people who are now taking a close look at Pat Buchanan. Mr. Bush can keep the GOP right. But he first must recognize that it’s worth fighting for.

Craig Shirley, a Washington political consultant, worked for George Bush from 1985 to 1987, organizing conservative backing for his 1988 campaign. Mr. Shirley supports Mr. Bush for re-election.

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

Copyright 1992 The Washington Times LLC All Rights Reserved

COLUMN RIGHT/ CRAIG SHIRLEY;GIVE BUCHANAN AND THE RIGHT THEIR DUE; IF BUSH IS TO SQUELCH THE CHALLENGE, HE MUST FIRST RECOGNIZE ITS SERIOUSNESS AS A THREAT.

While Bush Administration officials and the members of the Republican Establishment downplay the chances of Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire and beyond, GOP primary voters may feel something quite different.

Many in the Bush camp are likening Buchanan to John Ashbrook, saying that, like Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972, Buchanan will go nowhere against Bush. This analogy is wrong and dangerous for Bush because it downplays Buchanan’s chances. If Buchanan exceeds low expectations, he will have done “better than expected.” In politics, perception is reality. Perceptions drive money, volunteers and the type of media your campaign gets.

But more to the point, the analogy is incorrect because Ashbrook was a relatively unknown Ohio congressman. Buchanan has tremendous visibility and recognition among voters.

Furthermore, Nixon had a longstanding relationship with the Republican right, going back to his personal campaign against Alger Hiss. Nixon was chosen as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate precisely because Ike recognized that he needed to reach out to conservatives.

In 1968, Nixon ran for President as a conservative. And though some conservatives felt betrayed by President Nixon and then by President Ronald Reagan, no conservative primary challenger to either stood a chance because both had longstanding relations with the GOP right. Bush quite simply does not possess the personal relationship with conservative voters that Nixon and Reagan did.

Second, the analogy lacks credibility in terms of the power and the capabilities of the state parties. In 1972, GOP state parties were active, vital organizations that could muster support for Nixon. Today, most state parties are relatively weak and frequently in debt, which affects their ability to turn out volunteers and voters.

Third, in 1972 there was no Federal Election Commission imposing limits on what presidential campaigns could spend. Nixon could spend whatever he needed to “blow away” Ashbrook. Now, everybody must operate under the same limits if they want matching funds from the FEC.

Yet most people in politics know that money is not everything. Voters must be motivated to vote. As the November elections proved, Harris Wofford could be outspent by Richard Thornburgh by $2 million in Pennsylvania’s Senate race and still win. Why? Because voters are motivated by issues. Where a candidate stands on the issues matters.

In New Jersey, GOP candidates for the state Legislature were outspent, collectively, by $2 million by their Democratic counterparts, and yet the Legislature went from being Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican. Republicans opposed the massive tax increase engineered by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio and effectively communicated to voters that the Democratic legislators supported higher taxes.

Thus, if Bush is to squelch the Buchanan challenge, he must first recognize its serious nature and then come up with winning ideas and issues.

In addition, Bush should come to terms with the 1990 budget agreement. Rather than defending it, he should admit that he was wrong, apologize and never let it happen again.

Campaign advisers will vehemently disagree with this, but consider the following: In recent memory, one cannot recall more elected executives going down to defeat precisely because they said that they wouldn’t raise taxes and then either did so or appeared to do so. Margaret Thatcher, Kay Orr, Jim Blanchard, Bob Martinez and others were driven from office because they opened up character questions about themselves; they altered their position on taxes or appeared to do so. It’s better for Bush to deal with it now and frame the terms of the debate.

As for the “vision thing,” the single unique quality of America and our culture is that we believe in the future. Reagan’s greatest contribution to America was revitalizing our hope for the future. But hope stems from opportunity and opportunity stems from economics, which means that Bush should embrace a real and meaningful tax cut now.

Bush will defeat Buchanan, but he should also recognize that Buchanan’s challenge is meaningful. Those same people who worked passionately for Reagan and then Bush are the very same people who are now taking a close look at Buchanan. Bush can keep the GOP right. But he first must recognize that it’s worth fighting for.

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

TYPE: Opinion

Copyright 1991 The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times

 All Rights Reserved