SHOCK OF THE REAL
suffering through the coltish George W., the anemic Forbes,
the pathetic Quayle, the eunuch Bauer, and the harridan Dole,
the sheer power of it was enough to electrify the disinterested,
the cynical, and even the liberal media. In the wake of that
parade of automatons, it was a kind of shock to see a real
human being stride onto the stage and give voice, in the language
of ordinary Americans, to the deeply-held yet inchoate feelings
of the crowd. All stood in awe of Pat, the incomparable orator,
his voice resonant with sincerity and regulated by almost
perfect sense of timing. No one who was listening could have
mistaken him for an ordinary politician. Buchanan is no politician,
as the results of the Iowa straw poll and three presidential
runs make clear. He is an intellectual, an ideologue,
and his campaign embodies a cause, whereas a politician, almost
by definition, is his own cause.
political evolution from a Cold War conservative to an America
First nationalist is the kind of biography I would love to
read, or perhaps write; suffice to say here that he is almost
single-handedly responsible for the rise of a noninterventionist
tendency among conservatives. His brave and unflinching opposition
to the Gulf War and his writings on the subject threw down
the gauntlet to the neoconservative globalists and opened
up new vistas for the American Right. In his breathtaking
essay, "America First and Second, and Third,"
[reprinted in Owen Harries, ed., America's
Purpose: New Visions of U.S. Foreign Policy; San Francisco,
CA: ICS Press, 1991, pp. 23-34], he takes on "the democratist
temptation" that lured us into two world wars and would
yet ensnare us in a third if we let it. The Soviet
empire had hardly begun to topple when he advocated US withdrawal
from Europe and wrote: "As the United States moves off
the mainland of Europe, we should move our troops as well
off the mainland of Asia." In Korea, "US troops
should be taken out of the front line" and "if Kim
Il Sung attacks," he asked, "why should Americans
be the first to die?"
THE COLD WAR TO 'AMERICA FIRST'
good question, and one asked by many of his Old Right forebears,
whose legacy he consciously and quite deliberately invoked
by raising the old slogan of "America First." When
Truman bypassed Congress and did what FDR has never dared,
sending US troops overseas by his own command and under his
own authority, it was the remnants of the old "isolationist"
conservatives who raised a hue and cry. These were what was
left of the original "America Firsters," the so-called
isolationists who opposed US intervention in World War II.
America First, as Buchanan well knew, was the slogan of the
greatest and certainly the largest antiwar movement in American
history: the America First Committee (AFC), founded on the
eve of World War II as a last-minute effort to prevent the
US from being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the conflict.
An alliance of old-style liberals like John T. Flynn, socialists
such as Norman Thomas, and conservative businessmen such as
General Robert E. Wood, of Sears and Roebuck, the AFC grew
to some 800,000 members, organized in chapters nationwide,
militant and readily mobilized. In coming together against
the New Deal and Roosevelt's war, this broad coalition of
conservatives, nationalists, progressive Midwest Republicans
and disillusioned liberals became, in time, the Old Right,
the "isolationist" descendants of today's Buchananites.
Old Right was Senator Robert A. Taft, in politics; in literature,
H. L. Mencken; among the magazines, George Herbert Lorimer's
Saturday Evening Post, and of course the daily newspaper
of this movement, its geographical and editorial center, was
Colonel Robert R. McCormick's Chicago Tribune, the
flagship of the Old Right. In harking back to this tradition,
Buchanan incurred the wrath of the neoconservatives, who were
roused to such a rage that they compared him to Lindbergh,
the man they had succeeded in smearing as a "Nazi sympathizer."
SMEAR THAT DIDN'T STICK
smear may have stuck to Lindbergh all those years, but it
didn't stick to Buchanan. Instead of cringing, Buchanan faced
down his accusers, fought back and won. Pat's invocation
of Israel's "amen corner" in the US as a major cause
of the Iraq war was perceived by almost no one as evidence
of "anti-Semitism," as his critics alleged, but
only as a simple statement of fact.
taking on the Smear Brigade, and rescuing the legacy of the
original America First movement from the libels of the court
historians, Buchanan's great achievement was to effect a fundamental
realignment on the Right. Separated out from the political
hacks, neoconservative ex-Trotskyites, and professional Cold
Warriors who made up the conservative movement in America,
a new breed of noninterventionist "America Firsters"
was born. This was almost single-handedly Buchanan's achievement,
and that spirit burst forth in Ames, last week, as he raised
the old banner of noninterventionism and spoke out against
the phony "victory" in Kosovo with his usual eloquence:
AT HIS BEST
let me talk about this recent war in Kosovo. What is our party
doing, cheering Mr. Clinton on in an illegal, unconstitutional
war that destroyed a country that had never attacked us and
in a region of the world the Balkans where we
have never had a vital interest? What are we doing, embracing
against that war for other reasons. We had no vital interests
there and Serbia had not attacked us. I believe it was launched
in part by Bill Clinton to cover up the latest disgrace in
the Oval Office!
I oppose that war for another reason. I don't believe the
man who launched that war, Mr. Clinton, is fit to be the commander-in-
chief of the armed forces of the United States.
got our armed forces spread all over the world, my friends,
some places under UN command. They're defending borders in
Korea, in Kuwait, in Kosovo. What we need to do is rebuild,
re-arm and replenish that military and bring them home. And
if you want to defend a border, why don't they try defending
the southern border of the United States of America!"
is American conservatism at its best: respectful of national
sovereignty, mindful and even jealous of it's own, and ruthlessly
skeptical of all foreign entanglements. The roar of the crowd,
not all of them Buchananites by any means, in response to
this nationalist-"isolationist" credo was deeper, and more
authentically raucous than the preppy "rah rah rah"
of the Bushies and the dweeby fireworks-and-balloons that
punctuated a good third of Forbes' halting speech. It was
a sound like thunder, full and deep-throated, rolling and
building like a wave rising out of the human sea of faces.
must have stricken the Bushies with terror, just as much as
it enthralled the conservatives. For one panicked moment,
they must have thought: is it really him again, our
nemesis and conscience, risen once more?
was almost enough to make me throw caution to the winds. Even
when I disagreed with him, the eloquence and the carefully
wrought words of a writer and orator without peer were nearly
enough to make me run up the old banner of Buchananism, and
run out to join the Buchanan Brigades. But once the emotional
impact of the speech wore off, a number of questions immediately
arose. First and foremost was how the author of such well-written
denunciations of globalism could have embraced it so militantly
in the first part of his speech. To those who took
his earlier writings and pronouncements seriously, and who
expect some sort of consistency in their intellectual leaders
and ideologues, if not in politicians, it is baffling to hear
AT HIS WORST
is part of our party doing embracing the policy of groveling
and appeasing of Communist China with Most Favored Nation
trade treatment that gives Communist China a $60-billion trade
surplus every year with the United States?
me tell you I've got a different policy in mind. I've got
a different policy in mind. If Mr. Zhou Rongli had come to
see me in the Oval Office as he saw Bill Clinton, I would
have told him, sir, you're going to stop persecuting Christians,
you're going to stop bullying our friends on Taiwan, you're
going to stop pointing missiles at us, or you're going to
have sold your last pair of chopsticks in any mall in the
United States of America.
just we're just getting there. You know, the Chinese
Communists are all whining and complaining. They said, we
don't know how your American missile hit our embassy in Belgrade.
You know, the Chinese Communists said that, but if the Chinese
Communists don't know how our missiles work, who does? They
stole every secret we got under Bill Clinton."
if Serbia has not attacked us, then neither has China. And
if the Balkans are not vital to America's national interests,
either because of its proximity to Europe or our commitment
to the NATO alliance, then how vital is Taiwan to those same
interests? Buchanan was outraged by the Kosovo war
and his critique resembles nothing so much as that of the
Chinese government, which denounced the US/NATO campaign as
an imperialist attack on the concept of national sovereignty.
Buchanan, too, denounced the NATO forces as an "imperial
army." In spite of all the guff about "Communist"
China, Buchanan is too smart to believe his own rhetoric:
he knows that nationalism, not the dead dogma of Marxism-Leninism,
is what moves the doddering Chinese hierarchs to "whine"
and "complain" about the bombing of their embassy.
Are the Chinese embassy personnel who died in that "accidental"
bombing any less victims than the thousands of Serbians and
others who were slaughtered by NATO's bombs and all
because Clinton was having another bimbo eruption?
even more pertinent question is: would Buchanan really go
to war with China over Taiwan? He is uncharacteristically
vague on this subject. But if he questions why Americans ought
to be the first to die if the North Koreans invade South Korea,
then why is Taiwan any different? But this is just the first
of a whole series of questions that conservatives, particularly
admirers of Buchanan, must begin to ask themselves. Buchanan
himself once wrote that, with the end of the Cold War, and
the dissolution of the Soviet Union, no enemy can stand against
us, and asked: "Who is left? The corrupt, bankrupt China
of Deng Xiaoping? It will not survive the decade." How
does this square with Buchanan's current position?
answer is: it doesn't But the China issue is "hot"
on the Right, these days, and a good part of this China-bashing
has to be opportunism. It is sadly misplaced, on Buchanan's
part, for almost outdoing him in the China-bashing department
is Gary Bauer, the former head of the Family Research Council.
Bauer is a sanctimonious popinjay who manages to combine all
the most unpleasant aspects of American conservatism
its belligerent militarism, its thin-lipped priggishness,
and its undisguised demagoguery in one singularly unattractive
package. Bauer is pushing many of the same projectionist themes,
with none of Buchanan's baggage, and the former's victory
over the latter in Iowa was a painful blow. With Buchanan
in the race long before Bauer, one has to wonder what motivated
the former head of an obscure Washington Religious Right thinktank
to plunge into a purely symbolic presidential bid except,
perhaps, a desire to split off a key section of the Buchanan
OUTSIDER AT THE CORONATION
there is a pro forma quality to the other conservative
contenders for the GOP nomination. Sure, Forbes is spending
millions and will spend millions more, and Bauer is energetically
pursuing his little crusade (probably to the bitter end).
But these all seem like competitions for chips and influence
in the campaign we all know is coming, the triumph of the
Bushies and the inevitable unity-mongering that has already
become the main theme of the Bush campaign. In this crowd,
Pat is an outsider. It is hard to see either him or his followers
reconciled to the coming coronation.
was an elegiac quality to Buchanan's speech, as if he were
resigned in advance to what he and everyone else knew the
outcome of the Ames auction was going to be: the party would
go to the highest bidder. But before it did, he would have
his say, and not only that but issue a warning, to the victors
and to his followers alike:
proud and honored to be here. And I've had a long, good career
in politics, and I just thought tonight that I would want
to leave with a thought that I remember reading in Teddy White's
book that Jack Kennedy said. He quoted Lincoln in the final
days final days of his campaign in 1960 when he came
out on the porch in some place in Connecticut, and he quoted
Lincoln. And I want to say this especially to my wonderful
folks over there in the brigades. He said, I know there is
a God and I know he hates injustice. I see the storm coming
and I know His hand is in it. But if there is a place and
a part for me, I believe that I am ready."
GIANT AMONG PYGMIES
ready for what? What this says about Buchanan's future as
a presidential candidate, in or out of the Republican Party,
seems entirely obscure. He could go either way either
retire completely from the political scene, or else choose
some third party route and lead his followers into a new phase
in their political evolution from Goldwater conservatives
into "America Firsters." Whatever course he takes,
his impact on the American political scene is bound to be
substantial. The word is that he is working on a new book,
to be called A Republic, Not an Empire, a disquisition
on American foreign policy. Perhaps we will have to wait until
the Buchanan campaign runs out of steam, and he finishes his
book, before we get an answer to the above-mentioned questions.
In any case, what Ames confirmed, beyond doubt, was Buchanan's
stature; standing next to the likes of Bush II, Dole II, and
the rest of the zoo, he was truly a giant among pygmies.