Waning Cry from the Right
Trying to tap voters' anger, Patrick Buchanan has turned off as many as he's turned on. That neatly sums up his world view: 'Them or us'
As the world has changed, so, too, have Buchanan's loyalties. When the cold war raged, there was no greater interventionist. But with communism in ruin, he opposed the gulf war. "It is simply not natural to have thousands of troops around the world," he says. And while he winks and says "America first" as he sees some fellas carrying imported beer, Buchanan's not playing it for laughs. He wants to thwart illegal immigration from Mexico with an armed "Buchanan trench." As president, he would threaten Japan with import tariffs even if it meant higher prices. "Americans have an obligation to be more than just consumers," he says. He hails humanitarian aid to foreigners in trouble as an "American tradition," but a President Buchanan would end all foreign aid to governments. And he cheers all nationalist movements: "If the Scots want to disassociate, let 'em."
It's not surprising that Buchanan sees nationalism as healthy pride--an extended network of loyalty, really--rather than dangerous chauvinism. To him, the world is an extension of the ethnic neighborhoods of his youth in 1950s Washington, D.C. Few men in their fifties sport sweat shirts with their high school's name. But when Buchanan takes a once-around-the-block jog at the behest of a television crew on a bitter New Hampshire morning, his chest carries the name Gonzaga, the parochial school that shaped him. Buchanan's childhood has approached log cabin lore. The third of nine children, he grew up in a family on an upward trajectory. William Buchanan, an accountant, could afford a Cadillac. But as the Buchanans moved up, their Catholicism never waned. Their home life was a cross between G. Gordon Liddy's "Will" and "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" William Buchanan would warn his children of the power of the Almighty by passing their hands over a flame and saying: "Imagine that for all eternity." Conservatism came with dinner; Pop's icons included Senator McCarthy and Spain's Francisco Franco.
Besides a brief stint at liberal Columbia, Buchanan never strayed far from the company of conservatives. After graduate school, he penned editorials for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In 1965, Nixon hired him as a speech writer as he planned his political resurrection. Years later, after meeting with Hafez Assad, Nixon wrote in his diary that Buchanan and the Syrian dictator not only had the same high forehead but the same kind of "brain and determination and smarts." Through Nixon's final days, Buchanan was the conservative true believer. He urged Nixon to make Ronald Reagan his 1968 running mate, and he penned Spiro Agnew's media-bashing phrase "instant analysis"--something that viewers of Buchanan's TV debate shows know he now offers in abundance.
Nixon memos. Documents in the Nixon archives reveal Buchanan's them-or-us worldview. He urged Nixon to fire J. Edgar Hoover lest Nixon lose the 1972 election and leave the choice of FBI director to his successor. He feared Hoover himself would be "chewed over by the jackals of the Left." Buchanan condemned critics of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, where 67 blacks were gunned down by white police in 1960, in a memo to Nixon that declared: "The operative concern here is not humanitarian in character at all; it is racist and ideological. Blacks murdering blacks by the scores of thousands in Central Africa is of less concern to the U.S. liberal press, the U.N. and the African states than a few South African whites mistreating a couple of blacks in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique or Angola." The memos show Buchanan's "regular guy" style as he urged that Nixon bring Elvis Presley to the White House because the King could "pop for some loot for us" if he were named to an antidrug commission. He got a laugh from Nixon once by arguing that the president's phrase "liberal asshole" was redundant. Buchanan the jokester once asked a woman staffer: "Can you give me a brief listing of all the good things we have done for the weaker sex?" Race was a familiar refrain, whether it was Buchanan's reference to Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as "the house nigger of the Politburo" or his touting of school vouchers as "a long-needed break for working people--white--not simply the blacks."