COLIN POWELL

Colin Powell has decided not to run for the presidency or any other elected office in 1996. Listening to his press conference, I learned that he generally favors what the Republican party is trying to do, intends to join it, but that he disagrees with some of the items on its agenda. Specifically, I have heard him say he believes in some form of gun control, a woman's right to choose, and limited affirmative action. I both applaud his decision not to run and his views, which brings me to the reason I wrote this article: it is the Republican religious right and extremely conservative factions who care solely about gun control or abortion that make me distrust the GOP so much. Colin Powell apparently did not like them much, either.

Senators Bob Dole and Richard Lugar both are decent, able men who have served America long and honorably. Either of them is capable of assuming the presidential role, and both are social moderates with compassion for people and the knowlege necessary to get the system working. The United States has fundamental social and economic problems that desperately need attention and correction. The bottom 20% of America's wage earners and a majority of our underclass are in merciless trouble. If we cannot adjust our economy so that they share a greater piece of the pie, America is faced with social anarchy, and the unthinkable, a revolution, is highly probable.

Of little help are the Democrats and Bill Clinton, who mean well, but lack the votes to pass any legislation that might really help, even if they conceived it. But Dole, Lugar, and other announced candidates are faced with the devilish problem of placating or appearing to placate the far right, whose views I believe don't coincide with their own. Practically speaking, the well-organized, relatively affluent, and vociferous far right holds them hostage.

So far, the only declared Republican candidate who does not appear to be willing to pander to the far right is Senator Arlen Specter. He gives the appearance of being a man who means what he says, but his Jewish ancestry is unfortunately going to make it difficult for him to amass broad support.

My concern is if status quo politics flows unimpeded for another year, the man selected for the Republican nominee will never be free of the dismal death embrace of Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and other ultra-conservatives motivated and buttressed by unshakable confidence in the correctness of their religious beliefs. It is not that these people are bad. To the contrary, they are very good, but their litmus test on abortion, which is fundamentally a choice between two evils, renders compromise on the issue impossible.

Democracy requires good-faith compromise to make it work effectively, and the country cannot function when one side or the other attempts to legislate a message carved in stone from God.

The Jewish lad who assassinated Rabin said he was carrying out the will of God, as did the Jewish settler who shot more than thirty Muslims in a mosque. John Wilkes Booth probably felt he was obeying God's word when he shot Lincoln, as did those who recently murdered two doctors that performed abortions at clinics. Among true believers, a few lacking stability undergo a metamorphosis. They become zealots who will not abide by reason or ethical values. It does not take many such people acting on divine inspiration to throw a country into chaos.