Kingsley Amis famously suggested that Robert Conquest should call a revised edition of his pathbreaking account of Stalin`s purges The Great Terror, issued after material from Soviet archives had substantiated all Conquest`s arguments, “I Told You So, You F***ing Fools.”
A similar sentiment is appropriate to any consideration of Pat Buchanan`s career on this November 2, his seventieth birthday.
Buchanan has been right on all the major issues facing America since the end of the Cold War. As the Bush era comes to an end and the Obama era seems about to begin, it can now be seen that the Conservative Establishment`s failure to heed Buchanan has brought us to disaster.
I was lucky enough to get to know Buchanan by becoming involved in his political campaigns. I was privileged to head his campaigns in Ohio in 1996 and 2000. The highlight of any day spent on the campaign trail with Pat was the dinner at the end. Laughter, quips, and anecdotes drawn from Buchanan`s encyclopedic personal knowledge of American politics would flow freely.
The most memorable of these was probably the dinner a dozen of us attended in Manchester on the Saturday before Buchanan`s victory in the 1996 New Hampshire primary—the day before he gave his great “Peasants with Pitchforks” speech. Buchanan could sense he was going to win. His joie de vivre filled the room.
With Buchanan, though, there was no guarantee of haute cuisine. On one campaign swing through Ohio, we offered to take him to a number of fine local restaurants, but he opted for a Whopper at Burger King. For an hour or two, my friend and I sat with an immaculately dressed Pat and Shelley Buchanan as the standard crowd for a Saturday night in small town Ohio came and went, wondering how someone they knew from TV ended up in a booth at Burger King. But Pat Buchanan loves hamburgers, and he is no snob.
Indeed, I was always struck by the way he listened attentively to whoever he was talking to at any campaign event. He took a clear interest in touring factories and learning firsthand from those who worked there about how they did their jobs. Of course, humor was sometimes needed to deal with some of the eccentrics drawn to any insurgent campaign. Once, Pat promised a questioner concerned about “black helicopters” that he would shoot them down.
Whenever anything called to mind the memories of his youth, Buchanan`s joy was obvious. The Sunday before the 1996 Iowa caucuses, Buchanan sat in the front pew at a big Catholic church in Des Moines, silent through the modern hymns but showing surprised delight when the final hymn was announced, and then singing “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” with gusto. As the congregation joined Pat in belting out that great Catholic hymn, I knew that Buchanan was going to do well in Iowa—as indeed he did.
It is a profound tragedy for America that Buchanan`s many enemies succeeded in preventing him from winning the nomination that year. Now, recognizing the impending disaster, many of those neoconservative enemies have been predictably distancing themselves from Bush and McCain, even though Bush governed as the neoconservative president par excellence and McCain has long been a neocon favorite .. But not so long ago, leading neocons were penning books lauding Bush as “The Right Man“ and proclaiming the United States “Bush Country“ And The Weekly Standard has seen John McCain as the second coming of Theodore Roosevelt since the 2000 campaign.
Both Bush and McCain swallowed the neoconservative line whole. Both see the mission of the United States as using its blood and treasure to spread ““global democratic capitalism.” Both welcome the mass immigration that is radically transforming the United States. Both advocate subordinating American economic interests to those of the “global economy.” In short, neither views America as a real country at all, but as the embodiment of an abstract political creed—the “first universal nation.”
Buchanan long ago warned that allowing neoconservatives to set the agenda would be calamitous for conservatives. His warning was unmistakably vindicated when the Republicans lost Congress in 2006. And if the American electorate rejects Bush and McCain next Tuesday, it will be rejecting neoconservatism, pure and simple.
Of course, Buchanan opposed the Iraq War that has cast its shadow over Bush`s presidency. He foresaw that removing Saddam Hussein would greatly strengthen Tehran and that an occupation of Iraq would be both costly and deadly.
More generally, Buchanan recognized that the end of the Cold War meant that America must begin reexamining its global commitments and pursuing a foreign policy in line with the one recommended by the Founders—and that failure to do so would be costly. He even predicted that a terrorist strike on American soil was the likely result of our trying to dominate the Middle East, well before the horrific attacks on America on September 11, 2001. [Is Cataclysmic Terrorism Ahead, January 12, 1999]
Buchanan anticipated another reason Bush is so unpopular, and McCain`s campaign is foundering: the perception that the GOP is far more interested in the welfare of Wall Street than in the fate of the American middle class—a perception that grew only more acute as McCain flew back to Washington to support the massive bailout package engineered by Goldman Sachs alumnus Henry Paulson.
Even such a vehement Buchanan-hater as David Frum now largely agrees with Buchanan about the economic problems facing the American middle class, He noted in an article earlier this year that “Conservatives need to stop denying reality. The stagnation of the incomes of middle class Americans is a fact.” [The Vanishing Republican Voter, New York Times, September 5, 2008]
Frum wrote that among the reasons for this, and the concomitant growth of economic inequality in America, are “a great shift from a national to a planetary division of labor,” under which “Less-skilled Americans now face hundreds of millions of wage competitors,” and the “abundant low-skilled immigration [that] hurts lower America by reducing wages.”
But Buchanan recognized stagnant incomes and growing inequality as a problem beginning with his 1992 campaign for president. He described for the Republican delegates in Houston the people he had met campaigning who were hurt by that recession: “They are our people. And we need to reconnect with them. We need to let them know we know they`re hurting. They don`t expect miracles, but they need to know we care.”
Opening his 1996 campaign, Buchanan stated:
“Our American workers are the most productive in the world; our technology is the finest. Yet, the real incomes of American workers have fallen 20 percent in 20 years. Why are our people not realizing the fruits of their labor? I will tell you. Because we have a government that is frozen in the ice of its own indifference, a government that does not listen anymore to the forgotten men and women who work in the forges and factories and plants and businesses of this country.”
And again and again in his campaigns, Buchanan pointed to the same factors keeping incomes stagnant that Frum recognized in 2008—mass immigration and global free trade.
The sooner the rest of the GOP catches up to Buchanan, the better off it will be. As Paul Craig Roberts has shown, the only job growth occurring in America is in areas of the economy not subject to foreign competition, and what is justified today as “free trade” is really a form of labor arbitrage involving the replacement of Americans by foreigners whose only advantage is their willingness to work cheap.
Buchanan`s protectionism was widely denounced by “mainstream” conservatives during his runs for the presidency. But we can now see that these critics—almost all of whom lined up behind the trillion dollar Bush-Paulson Wall Street bailout, with NR editor Rich Lowry even chiding House Republicans who voted against it for being “irresponsible“—are the type who strain at gnats and swallow camels.
Rather than propose a panoply of new government programs to ameliorate economic inequality and income stagnation, Buchanan sought to go to the heart of the problem by removing two of its major causes: the cheap immigrant labor pouring into the country and the cheap foreign labor doing abroad the jobs Americans used to do here.
Buchanan`s protectionism was grounded in patriotism and the economic philosophy of Washington, Hamilton, Lincoln, and Coolidge, not in the crony capitalism that has come to characterize the GOP of George W. Bush—much less the corruption that sees so many former politicians and bureaucrats retire to lucrative work for foreign interests.
Buchanan also argued for a fence along the US-Mexican border to stop the ongoing invasion of America by illegal immigrants, as well as a moratorium on legal immigration to allow the millions who have come here since the Immigration Act of 1965 to assimilate. Buchanan`s support for the border fence was widely denounced. But it is now part of the Republican platform. Even John McCain said““By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I`ll build the goddamned fence if they want it.”
And for the survival of the American nation, let alone conservative politics in America, the fence cannot be built soon enough. On October 23, 2008, Larry Rohter reported in the New York Times that John McCain was being supported by an anemic 26% of Hispanic voters, despite McCain`s long history of pandering to Hispanics on immigration. Rohter also reported that Hispanics were flocking to Obama primarily because of his stance on economic issues, which is unsurprising, since lower income Americans of all races have long sided with the Democrats on economic issues. [ McCain is faltering among Hispanic voters] And since many GOP voters actually care about limited government, the GOP simply cannot outbid the Democrats in any battle for the affection of Hispanic voters. McCain is about to learn that his reward for years of warbling about the glories of diversity and multiculturalism is massive political rejection by the diverse themselves.
Of course, Buchanan`s contributions to American political thought are not limited to his political campaigns. He remains one of the most astute of columnists and commentators. The books he has authored, including The Great Betrayal, A Republic, Not an Empire, Death of the West, and State of Emergency, set forth the ideas that will help animate any revival of genuine conservatism after the debacle of the Bush years.
But Buchanan`s greatest strength is his loyalty to the beliefs that formed him, and his courage in defending them. What Buchanan did in his campaigns, by defending traditional morality and beliefs and arguing against mass immigration and globalism, was to take on both wings of America`s elite at the same time—the left-wing elite that gives lip service to displaced manufacturing workers but is really animated by its hatred for traditional morality and its desire to advance social radicalism; the right-wing elite that gives lip service to defending traditional morality but is really animated by its desire to advance the interests of transnational corporations and enrich its members.
Given the forces arrayed against him, it is not surprising that Buchanan failed to win the White House. But I am proud that I voted for Buchanan each time he ran.