WHAT ABOUT PAT? Well, I’ve spent the last two days sifting through e-mails from people criticizing me for criticizing Pat Buchanan. Apparently Pat is a victim. Apparently I am a fool. Apparently Pat’s position couldn’t be clearer.
You see, poor Pat is being misunderstood. He says things about Hitler, and people don’t understand his nuance. He says things about the Jews, and “those” people just hear what they want to hear. He says things about the Holocaust, and people can’t break through their own hang-ups to get the real point. Of course, Pat could say two or three short declarative sentences and clear most of this up, but he refuses to do it.
But let’s just put all that aside. Too many good people like the man — and he is very likable — so let’s just put a little wall around the things he says and refuses to say about these uncomfortable topics.
There are some questions that even the Pat-is-being-martyred crowd should concede are fair.
Is he a conservative? A lot of people are trying to make the case that he isn’t a conservative anymore. They point to the fact that on most matters of public policy he’s got a lot of Leftists on his side. He’s against immigration. The strongest anti-immigrationists are on the environmental Left. He’s for industrial policy. The only place you can say “industrial policy” and not get laughed out of the room is in faculty lounges and liberal think tanks. Buchanan always wants to give peace a chance, and wants America to abandon its commitments around the world. That is a central tenet of the John Lennon, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda Left.
But Pat’s no Leftist. His reasons for all of these things couldn’t be more distant from the Left. But of course that doesn’t make them any more right. Pro-lifers should recognize this intellectual dynamic. If abortion is murder, then who cares what the motives are? Well, if industrial policy is counter-productive and bad for America, who cares if your reasons are from the Left or the Right?
The truth, though, is that he is a conservative, a very old kind that has been dormant for decades, if not centuries. Conservatism has had two great internal arguments which resulted in internal transformations. Pat seems to borrow from the losing side of both.
The first came after the French Revolution. The two most prominent intellectuals to denounce Thermidor were Edmund Burke — the indisputable father of American-style conservatism — and Comte Joseph de Maistre — the last great defender of Old World conservatism. Like Pat, de Maistre was a brilliant essayist and spokesman for nostalgia. A devout monarchist and nationalist, he despised the notion of universal humanity. “Now, there is no such thing as ‘man’ in this world. I have seen in my life French, Italians, Russians…But as for ‘man’ I declare that I have never met one in my life; if he exists, it is entirely without my knowledge.” When you listen to Pat, it’s not hard to hear him talk in this language of Right-wing identity politics. Is it such a stretch to imagine Buchanan saying: “I have seen in my life white Americans, black Americans, black female Americans, gay Americans – but as for ‘American’ I declare that I have never met one in my life…”
The second great transformation of conservatism came in the days after World War II. While conservatives saw that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was evil, they practiced Buchanan-style isolationism. In 1940 William F. Buckley Jr. was a member of America First. He even named his first sailboat “Sweet Isolation.” In 1944, Russell Kirk — author of the Book of Genesis for modern intellectual conservatism, The Conservative Mind — favored bringing the boys home as quickly as possible for fear New Dealers might use the war economy to turn America into one giant TVA.
What changed things was the fight against fascism, and the reports from former communists about the evils of Communism. The Right realized it had to fight Communism at every level — military, diplomatic and ideological. (Former commies — and later National Review editors — James Burnham and Frank Meyer were in favor of maintaining conscription at near wartime levels to prepare for the inevitable battle with the Red Menace. They would later write about how nuclear war was preferable to “collectivist slavery.”). The Right created an ideology that was consistent. It championed human liberty and free enterprise — guaranteed through limited government — respect for institutions like the Church and what Burke called “the little platoons” of free association.
Pat doesn’t seem to like the transformation brought about by World War II and the Cold War. Which may explain why he is trying to rewrite the history and logic of both.
So yes, he is a conservative, but he’s been left behind. He is a conservative in the same way that a Stalinist or Fabian is still a Leftist. He is behaving like a man emerging from a time capsule, a ronin without master or landmarks to guide him.
His confusion about the times and his own considerable vanity have contributed to the candidate we see today.
Buchanan now makes trade the central theme of his campaign. You know, it’s funny. I get somewhere between a dozen and a hundred e-mails a day from liberals complaining about: Bill, Hillary, etc. But maybe one out of a thousand ever mentions the word “trade,” and that’s usually in the context of the White Slave Trade in the intern pens at the White House.
This is a very strange time to be worried about trade. After all, these are the fat years. This unprecedented prosperity is largely due to the President he worked for. Surely he believes — as he should — that this is a Reagan boom?
Well, you know, Reagan was a free trader. Buchanan bristles at this, citing some head-banging negotiations with the Japanese as a sign that Reagan was opposed to free trade. This is what the social scientists call “mining the data” — the equivalent of picking the few cashews (mmmm, cashews) out of a bowl of mixed nuts and saying look, it’s a bowl of cashews. Reagan gave hundreds of speeches in favor of free trade. He made lowering tariffs one of the two or three central themes of his administration. “Tariffs,” by the way, is just a fancy word for taxes — which conservatives believe in lowering.
Why doesn’t it bother him that not a single person from the two Administrations he worked so tirelessly for thinks protectionism works? Why doesn’t it bother him that it is mostly Left-wing greens, crackpot socialists, and union shills who make his arguments? Why doesn’t it bother him that there is no evidence to support his views?
And if he doesn’t want to give Reagan the credit, well, he’s left with Presidents Bush and/or Clinton as the chief architects of the current boom. Lord knows he doesn’t want to go there. He could also admit that most Presidents have very little influence over a $7 trillion economy. But then, why the hell is he running?
Some cynics say that maybe his bid for the Reform nomination has to do with the $13 million in Federal matching funds he’d get to play with. But when asked about that, Pat gets his Irish up and says “I don’t think anybody that knows Pat Buchanan believes he ever got into politics because of money.” That’s cute and clever — and profoundly dishonest. Nobody is accusing Buchanan — already a millionaire — of lining his pockets, and he knows it.
Instead they are saying that he is willing to jettison his party so he can get money for his campaign he couldn’t raise honestly from Republicans. (If Pat’s message is so important, after all, why is he doing so badly?) But it’s not just his party he’s jettisoning, a little self-respect has to be going along with it. How else to explain his cozying up to the party of Jesse Ventura and Lenora Fulani? Ventura is a cathouse-visiting, pro-choice, pot-smoking, feather boa-wearing libertarian. Pat hates libertarians more than he hates neocons or other groups it is allegedly unfair to say he hates.
And Lenora Fulani — good golly! She’s a Marxist borderline Scientologist nut. But, according to Tucker Carlson in the Weekly Standard, Pat had the most delightful lunch with Lenora at the Essex House Hotel in Manhattan just the other day. Is it as a matter of principle that Buchanan can feel at home in the party of Ventura and Fulani but feel lost in the Party of Bush, Quayle, Bauer et al.? I don’t think so.
Indeed, if it were a matter of principle and not the money which fuels his vanity, why won’t Pat run for the nomination of Howard Phillips’s Constitution Party? Buchanan and Phillips see eye-to-eye on everything. The Constitution Party (formerly the National Taxpayers Union) is pro-life, anti-foreign intervention, anti-immigration and so on. The only thing the Constitution Party doesn’t have is $13 million.
COMING SOON The Couch Review of West Wing.
AND…. Don’t forget to check NR’s Pat Watch [Link defunct], update 9/21/99.