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Pat Buchanan's return

By Godfrey Sperling Jr. / February 26, 1985



THE current tempest in the Washington teacup centers on Pat Buchanan, President Reagan's new communications chief. Mr. Buchanan is an honest man who speaks his mind -- and he is of a staunchly conservative and hard-line persuasion. He won't go out of his way to bash the media, the fears of many of the White House corps to the contrary. He simply won't be cowed by them, and that includes several reporters who delight in trying to push public servants around.

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In dealing with the press, Buchanan will likely soon remind people of Dwight Eisenhower's press secretary, Jim Hagerty. On their first get-together after Mr. Hagerty's appointment, President Eisenhower bore down hard on his new aide. But the unflappable Hagerty stood right up to Ike. Whereupon, as the session ended, Ike flashed his famous smile and said, ``You don't scare easily, do you?'' And from that time on the Eisenhower-Hagerty relationship was a close one, cemented in mutual respect.

Buchanan, too, does not scare easily. So the veteran bashers of government servants among the press had better watch their step in dealing with him.

But the stir in Washington focuses more on Buchanan's possible influence on the President than it does on how he may dance with the press. It will, of course, be presidential spokesman Larry Speakes who will be dealing, as he has for the past four years, on a daily basis with the White House media. Mr. Speakes is the de facto press secretary. And he seems even closer to the President and more in command of his job than before the recent top-level personnel shake-up.

Liberals, in particular, think that Buchanan, out of the sheer drive of his personality, may well become the dominant ideological force in the White House. They believe he will be very close to Reagan -- and that he will thus be positioned to make sure that Reagan holds to a conservative position in domestic matters and a hard-nosed stance in dealing with the Soviets.

Indeed, Buchanan hasn't come on board in this administration just to hold his hands on his lap and take orders. Even as just a youngster in the Nixon administration, he soon rose above the role of being a speech writer into being brought into discussions of strategy and policy. One can be certain then that he will be speaking out -- and that he will be heard.

But what Buchanan-watchers are overlooking is that he is also a proven team player.

There was never any indication that Buchanan knew anything about Watergate. But he did remain loyal to President Nixon as long as he possibly could.

So, too, will Buchanan be loyal to this President. As a columnist he has expressed reservations about Reagan. He would out-Reagan Reagan in being tough with the Soviets. And he would doubtless want bigger cuts in domestic social programs than Reagan has been seeking -- and will finally approve.

Also, no single individual, including Buchanan, is going to have that much impact on this President. Reagan shapes his own course which -- as Jim Baker and Mike Deaver and others have pointed out again and again -- is more pragmatic than philosophical.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.