He’s such a thug. He’s a Capitol Gangsta, a right-wing cable mugger with a beer-hall grin. He’s a musket-waving rabble-rouser who’s manned the culture war’s barricades. He’s a conservative blunderbuss in an age when, as apostate nut-job Democrat Zell Miller lamented to Hardball host Chris Matthews, the art of the duel has been lost. Unless you’re a pundit, that is.
Yes, it’s Pat. Buchanan. And as an example of how crazy this world has gotten, he’s actually making some sense these days in a new book, Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, $24.95).
Part of the reason is that he’s one visible “mainstream” pundit who’s so far to the right that his political analysis often jibes with the far left, certainly on trade, corporate globalism, and the dangerous immorality of America’s neo-imperialist agenda. Remember, this former presidential candidate and staffer in the Nixon and Reagan White Houses marched in the streets to protest the WTO in Seattle in 1999. Not as a sea turtle, but arm in arm with those muscular Teamsters whose living-wage jobs are being outsourced. Buchanan is an unrepentant protectionist, a pugnacious patriot, and (unlike most lefties) a great talking head on TV.
Lately, his talk has focused on exposing the extremism of the Bush administration and its “breach of faith” with old-fashioned American conservatism. He has also been one of the most vocal critics of Bush’s foreign policy and the war in Iraq. The Republican “war party,” he writes, has hijacked the American agenda. Not only are we violating the ideals of our founders by seeking enemies abroad, but the current administration has bought into “messianic globaloney” (former Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s term) that will lead us, like Rome, to our ruin. Dubya is like Lyndon Johnson on steroids, but worse, a traitor to his party.
In this book, Buchanan writes with simplicity and historic sweep—it reads like one of those old Lowell Thomas travelogues, taking us on a tour from “Katmandu to Kurdistan,” “Marrakech to Mosul,” “Morocco to Malaysia” (Buchanan adores alliteration). He also tracks the Republican party’s shift from “humility” to “hubris.” Instead of taking care of America first, we’ve become global cop, global CEO, and global missionary of democracy. In so doing, we’re gutting America of its strengths by shipping jobs overseas, de-industrializing the heartland, going deep into hock through the deficit and foreign debt, and expanding government while at the same time ceding sovereignty to the United Nations, WTO, and transnational corporations that have no loyalty to any country, least of all ours. This, he says, is “economic treason,” a line that echoes John Kerry’s accusations about “Benedict Arnold CEOs.”
We are also playing into the terrorist’s hands, Buchanan says of our ignorance of Islamic fundamentalism. He also blames America’s imperial ambitions, the war in Iraq, and the conflation of our interests with Israel’s: “We are not hated for who we are. We are hated for what we do. It is not our principles that have spawned pandemic hatred of America in the Islamic world. It is our policies.” The book cites a recent overseas poll revealing that 65 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable view of bin Laden (and we wonder why we can’t find him?); 71 percent of Palestinians trust him to “do the right” thing—presumably meaning more car bombs. We have spread fertilizer on terrorism’s soil.
Meanwhile, at home, Buchanan blasts the neoconservatives for betraying the conservatism embodied by Robert Taft, Barry Gold- water, and Ronald Reagan. He points out, correctly, that many are former Cold Warriors and Scoop Jackson Democrats who believe in a big-stick foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. But their 21st-century twist is wanting to convert the world to our self- serving definitions of freedom and free trade, regardless of how other cultures want to live.
Backed up by American economic and military might, this is the reasoning that’s created the Iraq debacle—aided, of course, by the neocons’ most pliant tool. Of Dubya, Buchanan quotes former Jackson staffer and leading neocon Richard “Prince of Darkness” Perle: “The first time I met Bush 43, I knew he was different. Two things became clear. One, he didn’t know very much. The other was he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much.”
And you thought Reagan was a dummy. This is the blank slate on which Perle and the neocons have rewritten the credo of the Republican party.
While Buchanan hits bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye in his imperial critique, his view of America is not unlike bin Laden’s when it comes to cultural issues. Bad enough that apple-pie American kids should be exposed to “America’s neopagan culture—alcohol, drugs, abortion, filthy magazines, blasphemous books, dirty movies, hellish music,” but now we’re leading good Islamic children astray, too! No wonder they hate us.
Then there’s immigration, Buchanan’s old nativist bugbear. He wants the U.S. military to stop those brown hordes at the border; the melting pot is fine so long as everything cooks slow and turns out white. Yet this view is consistent with the kind of tribalism common to both the far right and far left: an acknowledgement that people have the right to be different, but also that some will choose to be very selective about the company they keep. It’s an “us and them” world, and best to keep it that way.
In the end, for all his wonderful Bush-bashing, for all his bombast about the downfall of the Republican party and traditional American conservatism, the fact that Buchanan has said he’ll still vote for Bush over Kerry is somewhat deflating. Because it means that despite all the talk about economic treason and damaging fiscal and imperial policies, none of these trump the fact that Bush is still on the “right” side on “God, gays, and guns.” Which is itself a sad commentary. If the stakes for America are so huge, why let religious difference, gay marriage, and gun control stand between saving the republic and the fall of our nascent empire? Such are the dilemmas of tribalism and, worse, fundamentalism, wherever it is.