Will The Real Pat Buchanan Please Stand Up?

I for one would like to know who is advising and running Pat Buchanan’s campaign. Whoever it is should be fired. If Pat really wants to be a player in this election he is going to have to make some big changes and make them really quick. Because if Pat continues down this road he will never break the 5% mark in November.

I write this not as a Buchanan hater, but as a Buchanan admirer. But my admiration does not cloud what seems to be obvious: Pat, you’re running a bad campaign. Pat, do you really think you are going to have an impact on the election, let alone win, when your campaign is built around foreign policy and a holy war against trade, two issues most voters don’t give a rat’s behind about?

This is not to suggest that those issues aren’t important. Indeed, keeping America out of foolish foreign wars that are none of its business is an issue of monumental importance. The “benevolent global hegemony” absurdness that comes from the crew over at the Weekly Standard coupled with the new militancy on the left to venture into countless foreign wars to end “hate” is something we should all fear. But, as was the case in Vietnam, the sad truth is that most Americans won’t look at this as a major campaign issue until we are actually bogged down somewhere losing countless American lives.

The trade issue is getting more play than usual this year with the debate over the WTO and normal trade relations for China. However most Americans don’t know what the WTO or GATT is and really don’t care. But if one took a look at Pat’s columnist archives since 1993, you’d see Pat thinks that international trade is the most important issue facing Americans. Pat has always been on solid ground opposing NAFTA and the WTO as the institutions do not promote real free trade, but instead promote big government and more bureaucracy.

As Congressman Ron Paul has said, “If one truly believes in free trade, one never argues a need for reciprocity or bureaucratic management of trade. If free trade is truly beneficial, as so many claim, unilateral free trade is an end in itself and requires neither treaties nor international management by politicians and bureaucrats. A country should promote free trade in its own self-interest — never for the benefit of someone else.”

But Pat has denounced trade in itself and for those of us who believe in a free-market economy, we have good reason to be alarmed. Pat even took his economic arguments so far as to devote a portion of his book The Great Betrayal to defending the very high Smoot-Hawley tariff, an absolute disaster which deepened and lengthened the Great Depression. He has since called free trade a “Faustian deal with the Devil.”

Pat even echoed socialist Ralph Nader’s call for private companies to pledge allegiance to the US government at their annual meetings, when they are supposed to be paying attention to their owners, the stockholders.

This type of rhetoric appeals greatly to trade unionists and those on the environmental left. Pat hopes to build a coalition of voters of both the left and right who are opposed to global trade and dreams of global nation building. But there is a problem with this. The zany left wing eco-freaks of the environmental left by and large have disdain for Buchanan. The vast majority of tree lovers will support Ralph Nader, not Pat Buchanan if they choose to abandon Gore.

Secondly, organized labor, which is bitterly partisan, will always blindly endorse Democrats no matter how often their chums in the Democratic Party stab them in the back. If the UAW and Teamsters were consistent they would endorse Pat, but they won’t. There is also no sign that rank and file members of the unions are going to flood the Buchanan Brigade, even though many union members are culturally conservative and share Buchanan’s economic views. Buchanan has even pledged to appoint James Hoffa to his cabinet at an anti-trade China rally last month. But even after all the friendly overtures to the Teamster and UAW types, Buchanan’s presence at the rally and speech wasn’t even mentioned in the UAW magazine Solidarity, which covered the event.

But what appears to have hurt Buchanan the most this election cycle was his failure to properly respond to the ridiculous criticisms hurled at him after the release of his book A Republic, Not An Empire. The critics, most long time Buchanan-haters, seized the opportunity to use Buchanan’s heretical claim on pages 261-267 that Britain’s unrealistic war guarantee to Poland was a mistake to further the charge that Buchanan was a “Hitler lover” and “anti-Semite” and now that he was “disgracing the legacy of our World War II veterans.”

The charges were absolute bunk and resulted in a stream of television appearances by Buchanan and op-ed pieces in the newspapers. But on these same television shows buffoons like Alan Dershowitz were foaming at the mouth and hysterically screaming about Buchanan’s “Fascism.” Buchanan’s reply was a that of a calm historian who greatly overestimated the knowledge of the same audience he was trying to sway in his favor. What Pat probably didn’t realize is that most of the viewing audience had no idea what on God’s green earth he was talking about, but they surely understood the hysteriacs on the talk shows calling him a Hitler-loving bigot.

This was not the same Pitbull Pat that many had grown to love, the guy who didn’t take no bull from anybody. And it’s hard to deny that the whole book controversy didn’t hurt him. When Buchanan first flirted with the idea of going to the Reform Party, hypothetical polls showed him in the double digits. An August poll even had him at 16% against Gore and Bush, a number that if maintained would without question qualify him for the national debates in October by the debate commissions own guidelines.

But soon after the switch to the Reform Party and after the vicious character assassination Buchanan received from the press, pundits, and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, Pat silently faded away from the public eye on a silent quest to build the Reform Party and pick up delegates. The press coverage he did get focused on Pat’s unwise decision to name Lenora Fulani, an African-American Marxist, as a campaign co-chair. The move was intended to help build a coalition but what it did was further alienate conservatives. Besides, blacks aren’t going to be flooding the Buchanan Brigade anytime soon, and making Fulani co-chairman only gave his enemies another stick to beat him with.

But while Pat faded away from the public eye, the Reform Party did not. Journalists did everything they could to highlight the divisions in the Reform Party between the Venturaites and the Perotites. Verbal food fights between the two groups continued until its embarrassing climax at a highly contentious Reform Party meeting where Jack Gargan was removed as party chairman.

Immediately following the meeting Jesse Ventura, the party’s highest ranking elected official resigned from the party calling it “hopelessly dysfunctional” and took his Minnesota crew with him. Since then Gargan’s replacement, Pat Choate, has resigned his chairmanship citing family illness and Ross Perot is reportedly not going to address the Reform Party convention and may even urge that the convention endorse nobody. This has all given the impression that the Reform Party is a “joke” and a “party of clowns.” While this isn’t fair to many members of the Reform Party, it is nonetheless what the public perceives them as.

If Buchanan wants to have an impact in this election he is going to have to start talking about the issues that made him prominent and that voters are concerned about. Pat rarely talks about reducing the size of government anymore or curbing wasteful spending. Pat has been almost silent on the issue of tax cuts and still has not proposed a detailed tax plan. He could easily assail the wimpy tax cut of Governor Bush with his own bold tax plan, but until now has not. Gone is the Pat Buchanan who railed against unconstitutional government agencies that stole the freedom and the hard-earned money from Americans. Where did that Pat go?

In Pat’s 1989 biography Right From The Beginning in a sectioned entitled “Whose schools are they anyway,” Buchanan charged Americans to take back their public schools from the failing social experiments, anti-Americanism and dumbed-down education. Today Pat is silent on this very important issue. While education is shown to be one of the most important issues to voters, if not the most important issue, Buchanan has ignored it.

But more troubling has been Buchanan’s almost complete silence on social and moral issues that once defined him. Since his switch to the Reform Party, Pat has dropped abortion from his stump speeches only with the occasional veiled reference to protecting life. To avoid the charge that he has abandoned these issues Buchanan will occasionally put a pro-life statement on his campaign website and will occasionally make a pro-life statement to the press. What is more important Pat, to appease some liberals in the Reform Party or to stand by your those who have followed you loyally for years because of your strong moral values?

Pat has also recently stated that he would not have an openly homosexual individual person as a running mate or cabinet member, but also sought to clarify that there were good homosexuals out there. The result was the usual suspects and the Reform Party secretary calling him “hateful” and “intolerant,” but also conservatives under the impression that he was trying to have it both ways. He also recently penned an op-ed for the Washington Times blasting the hatred hurled at Southerners by the liberal establishment and also criticized John McCain’s flip-flop position on the Confederate flag.

But if one goes back to 1994 and reads a column by Buchanan on the same subject he wrote for the New York Post, they will see a much braver and heroic Buchanan. Again, what happened to that Pat Buchanan?

Where have you been on guns Pat? The “Sucker Mom’s” as columnist Don Feder as called them are determined to get us to register our guns, and they have the support of the President and the entire liberal establishment. While George Bush is trying to flee rumors that he is in the NRA’s pocket, why aren’t you on the front lines for us, Pat? Why aren’t you doing more to get the immigration issue on the table, an issue where most American’s agree with you? What happened to your strong opposition to affirmative action? Why aren’t you out making the case against racial preferences? Or was there an implicit or explicit deal with Fulani to drop such issues?

Why aren’t you campaigning to restore the 10th Amendment and delegate powers back to the state instead of a growing federal government? Where are you on social security “reform”? Why aren’t you attacking the environmental extremism of Al Gore and the dangers of liberalism in general? What ever happened to that brave Pat Buchanan who stood up at the Republican convention in 1992 and called attention to the seriousness of the Culture War and the need for conservatives to take back their country? Where is that brave Pat Buchanan that stood up to the Israeli lobby?

That was the Pat Buchanan that got votes and inspired people. This new “moderate, coalition building” Buchanan has resulted in soaring poll numbers of 3-4%. Pat is now trying to reach out to “McCain voters” by picking up the mantle of campaign finance reform and has said he wants to shed the image that he is “mean-spirited.” First of all, the “McCain voters” are a mythical group. The vast majority of people that voted for McCain did so because they liked the guy’s personal story and saw him as an inspiring figure and war hero, not because they were so concerned about campaign finance reform. Secondly, the hard core leftists and neoconservatives are always going to hate you, Pat. They will never forgive you for the “amen corner” quip. They will never excuse your 20-year-old statements against the militant gay rights crowd. They will never stop calling you a “Hitler lover.” They will never stop obnoxiously taking your quotes out of context and will never forgive you for not declaring allegiance to Israel. So stop trying to pander to them, it’s not going to work.

So what are your real motives Pat? Is it just to build a party in your own image and to say you were a nominee of a political party for President thus increasing your speaking fees, or is it to win the Presidency, save America from moral collapse and reverse the trend of growing intrusive government? If it’s the latter I hope you change your tactics. The old Pat Buchanan can make this a three way race, the new Pat Buchanan has no chance. The old Pat Buchanan can heroically rally up the troops and inspire people, the new Pat Buchanan cannot. So, will the real Pat Buchanan please stand up? When you do, I and many others might just reenlist in the Buchanan Brigades. If not we will just have to live with the lesser of two evils.

May 15, 2000

Bill Barnwell is a freelance journalist and co-editor in chief of www.thepotatoe.com