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The Ollie North Vote

NO one can accuse Senate minority leader Bob Dole of having a problem with party loyalty. So, when evaluating the recent victory of Lt. Col. Oliver North in Virginia's Senate Republican primary, we take seriously the views of Mr. Dole, and Virginia's own incumbent Republican senator, John Warner, who find very little commendable in Mr. North's candidacy. They are concerned about a candidate whose persona and rhetoric are already divisive in the GOP and in Virginia. To what end?

Dole must wonder if his party's position in the Senate can be well served by a man who not only lied to Congress under oath, but who then managed to portray these lies as the height of virtue because they served the cause of ``democracy.'' Sadly, history shows it was democracy itself that was subverted in the Iran-contra affair, where North and zealous colleagues created a hidden stratum of government answerable only to itself.

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Oliver North campaigned in Virginia pretty much as the heroic patriot that he came across as during the Iran-contra hearings. He is a rough and ready outsider, a Marine who will single-handedly storm and capture Capitol Hill and restore virtue and truth to the American political way. He is against the ``imperial Congress,'' the ``liberal elite,'' the ``Washington crowd,'' the ``ranting and raving powerbrokers.'' Like Dan Quayle, to whose approach his own evangelical populist appeal might be compared, he is for family values.

If this were a Frank Capra movie, North could be a star. But it is not all so simple. North is parlaying his dubious celebrity status into an attack-style campaign that capitalizes on voter anger. Yet other than his full-metal-jacket rhetoric, engineered by expensive media consultants, some of whom cut their teeth working for Lee Atwater, it is hard to see that North has coherent programs or positions.

What is served by this divisiveness? It is possible to be for two-parent families, halting crime, drug-free schools, and yes, telling the truth, without whipping up an angry, negative campaign.

North's antigovernment sentiment is ironic, given that his principal income has always derived from his association with government. Washington needs reform. But if the country should have learned anything during the 1980s, it was that government does not improve by being attacked and run down. Dole seems to understand this. We hope others do as well.

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