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Ralph Reed is Calling the Shots - No Wonder Bush is 'Flying Under the Radar'
Steven Jonas

Ralph Reed, the former political director of the Christian Coalition, used to talk about "flying below the radar." Reed's idea was to have his political operatives work at a level that would be inapparent to the media and to all of their opponents except those at the local level. Sometimes, even at the local level, running for positions like member of a school or planning or library board, Christian Coalitionites would try to disguise their positions before the election so that the voters would not know what their true intent was.

Of course, this strategy is quite a commentary on what the Coalition's policies were (and are) and how popular the outfit thought (thinks) they would be with the voters. They just didn't want to risk telling the voters what they truly stand for. (Pat Buchanan did, and look what happened to him!) And in many cases, it happens that that estimation was correct. If a Christian Coalitionite happened to win (and many did at one time or another across the land, "flying below the radar"), their intent would of course, come out after the election. The happy result in many cases was that Reed's original estimate of just how popular their positions would be if broadcast was correct. Many turned out to be one-termers.

Well, are we now seeing something of a parallel with the old Reedian policy with George Bush? Presidential candidates can hardly fly beneath the radar, at least as far as the media are concerned. Presidential candidates can hardly be inapparent. But if the media don't do their job - and the evidence is quickly accumulating that they certainly did not in Bush's case - such candidates can do a very good job of making sure that a whole set of policies they plan to implement won't become apparent.

During the campaign, it is quite obvious that George Bush developed Stage II of "flying beneath the radar" when it came to policy. With the cooperation of a lazy (at best) media, he developed the political equivalent of the Stealth Bomber (one that can fly through radar without being detected by it), what could be called the "Stealth Candidacy."

What Bush is really about is obvious in his cabinet choices, and in his first acts, from discharging the usually non-political director of the Food and Drug Administration to the immediate re-institution of one of his father's bones for the Religious Right, the infamous "global gag rule" denying international family planning funds to groups which support abortion rights overseas. (The discharge of the FDA director also seems to be abortion-policy-related; she presided over the approval of the abortifacient RU-486 after only 10 years of study for safety and efficacy). Of course, Bush never talked about these things on the campaign trail. And it was obvious that he instituted a temporary gag rule on his core, base Right-Wing supporters, from Delay to the Religious Right.

But the agenda was there. As revealed by Skipp Porteous of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, Bush made one speech to the national coordinating body of the Republican Religious Right, a group called the Council for National Policy, which includes all manner of right-wingers from Lott and Delay to the heads of every significant radical right-wing organization except those that are blatantly Nazi and openly pro-violence.

Funnily enough, although Presidential candidates usually want to get every word they say out into the public domain, the text of this one speech turned out to be completely inaccessible. But one can be sure of what Bush said. One can be sure that there were plenty of private assurances to the Republican Religious Right too. And while Bush talked during the campaign about "reaching across party lines," and etc. ad nauseam (thankfully, while he's surrounded with Daddy's men and women, he dropped Daddy's "big tent" slogan), there is the reality of the Bush cabinet choices. Their political content need not be reviewed in detail here. But the appointment of John Ashcroft says it all about what Bush's social polices, not mentioned during the campaign and never poked into by the media, really are. It is obvious that what we had was The Stealth Candidacy.

And now, one wonders, having seen the first Stealth Campaign, do we now face a "Teflon II" presidency. You will recall the Reagan Administration, the most corrupt since that of Harding (who was also a "nice guy;" he even gave a whole closet in the White House to Nan Britton). But none of the law-breaking scandals, including the worst, the impeachable offense of "Iran-Contra," ever stuck to Reagan. Nevertheless, at least you knew where you stood with Reagan on policy. At least in the broad strokes, he told you what he was going to do, and then with cooperation of a lily-livered Democratic Congress, he went and did it.

It remains to be seen if Bush, who also comes across as a "nice guy," "just folks," a bit dumb (but some Americans are very comfortable with that characteristic), can now disassociate himself from his policies as implemented, just as he managed to avoid talking about what they would be during the campaign. However, these policies are anathema to the majority of American voters, just as much at the national level as they proved to be in the case of the Christian Coalitionites at the local level. Let's hope and (for the believers among us) pray and certainly work for the same end-result that occurred for so many of Ralph Reed's candidates who "flew beneath the radar:" one term and out!