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In The Name Of Their Fathers

Never before in our political history have there been so many paternal ghosts – living and dead – hovering over a presidential campaign. Never before have there been so many candidates running so zealously in the name of their fathers.

Of course weÂ've all known for some time that given the two front-runners – one the son of a former Republican president and the other the son of a distinguished Democratic senator – the 2000 election promised to unfold as The Battle of the Scions.

But I, for one, expected both George W. Bush and Al Gore to make more of an effort to break free from the long shadows cast by their illustrious papas. Instead, each of them seems intent on asserting, over and over again, that their political hearts still belong to Daddy.

Consider, for example, BushÂ's reaction a few weeks ago when Pat Buchanan first revealed his plan to bolt the GOP to run for president as a Reform Party candidate, a shift that apparently has the tacit blessing of the partyÂ's founder and still-reigning guru, Ross Perot.

George W. bitterly denounced the move as an updated version of the anti-Bush ambush in 1992 when Buchanan challenged "King George" (as he labeled the president) in the Republican primaries and Perot ran against him in the general election.

Accusing Buchanan and Perot of inflicting a "death of a thousand cuts" on his fatherÂ's re-election bid that year, Governor Bush strongly implied that Pitchfork Pat and Ross the Boss were in cahoots then, and are still driven by a shared "personal vendetta" against the Bush family.

Even if he happens to be right about that, itÂ's hardly in his own best interest to reminisce about the Â'92 campaign which, after all, ended in a humiliating defeat for the Bush family. As a rule, generals prefer to re-fight only those battles theyÂ've won. Vice President Gore also seems determined to present himself as a blip off the old block.

An early Gore campaign commercial, which is now being aired in Iowa and New Hampshire, opens with a picture of a youthful Al Junior conferring with his father shortly before he lost his Senate seat in 1970. The voice-over narration begins with the words, "He saw his father defeated for the Senate because of his support of civil rights and gun control."

ThatÂ's all very noble and touching, no doubt, but the solemn display of filial devotion also serves to remind us that Prince Albert grew up in the lap of senatorial privilege.

ThereÂ's no shame in that, of course, but the main reason Gore recently moved his headquarters to Nashville was because he wanted to put some distance between his presidential campaign and the inside-the-Beltway elitism that has shaped so much of his personal and political life. Someone should tell the Veep that he canÂ't have it both ways.

Nor are Bush and Gore the only candidates who are playing the "like-father, like-son" game.

In his recently published memoir, Faith of My Fathers, Senator John McCain tlls the story of how he set out to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals.

Those footsteps led him to the U.S. Naval Academy and then to Vietnam, where he was a prisoner-of-war for 5½ years. McCain steers the reader to conclude that had it not been for the paternal strength of character and values he inherited, he would not have been able to survive the long ordeal of torture and captivity.

This stirring saga of three generations of war heroes quickly settled in near the top of the best-seller lists, and it has helped to give McCain the boost he needed to emerge as the most credible Republican alternative to Bush.

Somewhat less credible but still very much in the chase for the GOP nomination is Steve Forbes, yet another candidate with a famous father.

From his sire, Malcolm, Forbes inherited a vast fortune, the flourishing magazine empire that bears his name, a reverence for capitalism and a commitment to conservative Republican principles. But in other vital respects, there seems to have been a genetic breakdown.

Malcolm Forbes was a flamboyant adventurer who had a passion for flying around in hot-air balloons and wearing macho leather jackets as he raced his motorcycles across city streets and country roads at breakneck speeds. He also had plenty of glamorous friends, including Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he was linked romantically when he was in his late sixties.

By way of contrast, his white-bread sonÂ's idea of a spirited romp in the fast lane is to chair a seminar on the sublime virtues of the 17 percent flat tax, the holy grail of his political crusade.

ItÂ's true, of course, that not all the major candidates for the White House were "born on third base," as was once said of former President Bush, himself the son of a patrician New Englander – Prescott Bush – who served in the U.S. Senate during the Eisenhower years.

(The complete putdown comes to us from IowaÂ's feisty Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, who once noted that even though "George Bush was born on third base, he thinks he hit a triple.")

Regardless of how we may feel about Pat BuchananÂ's pit-bull rhetoric and controversial policy positions, we have to admit that he had to hit a triple to propel himself into scoring position in the arena of national politics.

But even though BuchananÂ's father, a Washington accountant, was neither rich nor famous, his iron-hard views and values had a profound influence on his sonÂ's political makeup.

Among other things, William Buchanan was an ardent isolationist – a true-blue America Firster – during the early years of World War II and his great hero on the world stage was the Fascist dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco.

This helps to explain why his son would make the provocative claim (as he does in his recently published book, A Republic Not an Empire) that FrancoÂ's fellow fascist – a guy named Hitler – posed no serious threat to American fredom. Like-father, like-son, indeed!

Another candidate who had to hit his own triple – or at least a long jump shot – is GoreÂ's tenacious challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley, who grew up as a bankerÂ's son on the banks of the Mississippi.

Although Warren Bradley never went to college, he was able to work his way up from menial jobs (such as "shining pennies") to become president of the state bank in Crystal City, Mo. An even more serious obstacle he had to overcome was calcified arthritis, a disability that made it impossible for him to bend at the waist or dress himself.

Yet as impressive a role model as Warren Bradley was to his son, the more piquant paternal figure in Bill BradleyÂ's life would have to be the father of his wife, Ernestine, a German refugee.

In fact, one possible way to induce Pat Buchanan to scrap his own campaign and throw his support to the former Knicks star and New Jersey senator would be to remind him that BradleyÂ's father-in-law served in the Luftwaffe during World War II.

Whatever the case, there seems to be little doubt that the candidate with the most potent daddy punch is George W. And if the polls are correct and he does go on to win the 2000 election, heÂ'll become the first presidentÂ's son to recapture the White House since John Quincy Adams emerged victorious in 1824, twenty-four years after his father was rejected in his bid for re-election.

And so, in an effort to strengthen that remote historical connection, let me leave you with this thought: If Adams fils had chosen to be formally addressed as John Q. Adams, he almost surely would have become known to his friends and enemies as Cue, just as Bush fils rejoices in being referred to, by his friends and enemies, as Dub-ya.

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