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Reagan agenda losing steam? Never! says Buchanan

By Charlotte SaikowskiStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 30, 1986


PATRICK Buchanan bristles at the suggestion that the Reagan agenda is running out of steam. The White House director of communications quickly opens a drawer and searches for a ``big, long sheet'' spelling out future agenda items. Not finding it, he grabs a White House note pad.

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``Let's go over the whole thing,'' he says, and begins scribbling, underlining each notation for emphasis.

``Coming up to 1987 -- first you have two summits coming up in foreign policy and you have the possibility of an arms agreement. . . . Second, you have the situation in Central America. . . . El Salvador right now is approaching what can be called a victory. The big question in this term is what will be the outcome in Nicaragua when Ronald Reagan leaves in 1989.''

The ardently conservative Mr. Buchanan, a speech writer in the Nixon administration and a former columnist, warms to the thought of what the President can still do to foster ``the movement.''

In the federal judiciary, he says, ``the possibility exists that Ronald Reagan can reshape the US Supreme Court into the next century.'' If the President can get two more conservatives on the court, he suggests, ``Roe v. Wade [the decision upholding a woman's right to an abortion] will be overturned, pornography will no longer be considered protected by the First Amendment, you would have decisions on prayer in the public schools, you'd have decisions on quotas, you'd have decisions on court-ordered busing, affirmative action. . . . The whole church-state issue would be decided.''

``In other words, there could be a `counterreformation' launched by a Rehnquist court against the excesses of the Warren court. . . .''

In terms of legislation, Buchanan races on, the White House is looking at the reform of welfare and the whole area of health insurance.

But if the Republicans lose the Senate this fall, Buchanan concedes, this would be a serious setback. ``The window of opportunity on Capitol Hill could narrow to the point where it was almost closed,'' he comments.

There is no hiding the passion of Buchanan's conservative beliefs. He is a fervent advocate. Although his ideological sails are at times trimmed in the highest White House councils, he views the Reagan presidency as the beginning of a new era of conservatism.

``Look where we've come from,'' says Buchanan, harking back to Barry Goldwater and the defeat of 1964. ``Ronald Reagan has given a really quantum jump to the movement. . . . There were things that were said about us before that can never be said again because of Ronald Reagan. . . . We're a presence in the room now. We've been invited in now.''

Life for Pat Buchanan since White House chief of staff Donald Regan appointed him to the job 17 months ago has not always been easy. As director of communications, Buchanan oversees the President's stable of speech writers, relations with the news media outside Washington, and liaison with various constituency groups, who are brought into the White House to hear and disseminate the President's views.

But his undiluted ideological fervor has often created internal clashes with more-pragmatic presidential aides. When the President was preparing for his European trip last year, a speech prepared under Buchanan's direction was criticized by Robert McFarlane, then national-security adviser, as being too confrontational toward the Soviets. The speech was toned down.

The most recent flap arose over the reported firing of speech writer Bently T. Elliott. According to news reports, Buchanan's efforts to keep Mr. Elliott and, later, to give the job to speech writer Peggy Noonan were turned down.

Asked about the dissension and his role at the White House, Buchanan says he's ``pretty satisfied with what I've done'' and ``pleased with things right now.'' ``We've had some bad problems, you read about them,'' he remarks. ``But I don't care to go into the family quarrels. That's all over and been written about to death.''

As for perceptions that the Reagan administration is riven with conflicts and confusing signals on such issues as the SALT II treaty, Buchanan argues that disagreements in the Carter administration were even more profound. ``Carter in the third year just about shot half the Cabinet,'' he retorts.