Buchanan at Bay

It appears that this time around convention viewers won't be treated to a prime-time floor speech by Pat Buchanan, one of the Republican Party's most effective orators. That may be a loss to fans of politics looking for something to enliven an otherwise predictable event. But it's probably a gain for Bob Dole supporters.

More than a few GOP loyalists remain convinced that Mr. Buchanan's fiery "culture wars" speech of four years ago went a long way toward defeating George Bush. It gave the GOP conclave a distinctly right-wing flavor. The candidate's traditional move back toward the center, against a resolutely centrist Democrat, was thus made more difficult.

This year, against that same Democrat, Bill Clinton, Republican Party officials are even more concerned about getting boxed to the right. They already face some problems in that regard, with tensions over the abortion platform plank not ruled out and with a large percentage of their delegates representing the religious right.

Moreover, Republicans have been scurrying to avoid the "extremist" label that Democrats have busily tried to pin on them every time a Contract With America measure passed or Republicans started talking seriously about getting control of entitlements like Medicare.

So Buchanan won't have an opportunity to hammer the values issue, or excoriate free-trade agreements, or poke fun at the United Nations. At least not courtesy of the party. Nor is he going to have a veto on the vice-presidential choice; Dole alone will decide whom he wants on the ticket.

But Buchanan's issues will be heard. They are shared, after all, by many of the charged-up delegates who will be heading for San Diego the week after next. Some may agree that the offer to Buchanan of a 15-second spot in a video rather than a live speaking slot was indeed an "affront," as the still-active candidate's sister and campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, asserted.

But Buchanan has few actual delegate votes in his pocket, and some of his issues - such as tax relief - will be incorporated in Dole's positions. The convention will probably go pretty much according to script.

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