Sure, a political party doesn't haveto live up to its name. The German Democratic Republic, after all, was East Germany under the communists. In Mexico, the Institutional Reform Party (PRI) has been the protector of that nation's state of high corruption for the better part of a century. But it sure helps — and this election year the Reform party has a chance to begin living up to its very purposeful name. There is perhaps an equal chance that the infant party will turn instead down the path that leads to the electoral deep dungeon where all hot-air revolutions go to die.
Radical or Reform?
The Reform party is split between those who relish the taste of populist bile in their mouths and those who believe the party can one day gain the influence to help fix what is broken in American politics. The first half has hailed pundit-cum-politician Pat Buchanan with a lusty come-aboard; the latter group, led by grappler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura, has begun to throw candidates at the would-be GOP ship-jumper, in the hopes that someone else — anyone else — will carry the Reform flag toward higher political ground, and not downhill. Someone who will help keep the party from becoming a mockery of its name.
Ross Perot had it half right; he wanted to fix American politics but chickened out, sacrificing his credibility for a protectionism that went out of style and for love of his own ego. The better half of Perot's posse spawned Jesse Ventura; the failed half degraded into the acid populism that is the stock-in-trade of Pat Buchanan. It plays well in iconoclastic New Hampshire, and with farmers and union men, but if a party aspires to one day leave the fringe in the cause of reform, it is a poison pill. Buchanan is no reformer; he is a radical by convenience and a scavenger by nature. Why would he change the system that has paid him the salary of the limelight — on TV and in bookstores — as a rabble-rouser for hire? Besides, times are too good for an agrarian uprising anyway; those who are simply disenchanted with the system far outnumber those who truly despise it. Buchanan claims to want to change what government does; his call to arms is that the government does wrong. Ventura's is only that the government does too much for itself and too little for everyone else, and on top of that does it poorly.
Now Buchanan, who makes such a fine meal of the scraps of the Republican and Democratic feast as a pundit — but precious little as a wannabe pol — wants to switch. The battle is on for the soul of Ross Perot's brainchild, and the question being asked by the more serious elements in the Ventura camp is whether Pitchfork Pat has a reformist bone in his body. "I haven't heard his political reform agenda," Minnesota Reform party chairman Dean Barkley told the Washington Post. "I still see him having that abortion issue and that social agenda on the front burner, and I still say if he continues to do that, he's not going to sell well with a number of the people in the Reform party."