Buchanan Was Right
Does the Ron Paul Revolution have a place for Pitchfork Pat?
By: Jack Hunter
Keith Olbermann: “Of all the serious contenders this evening Pat, is there one who adheres closest to your conception of classic conservatism?”
Pat Buchanan: “Ron Paul.”
For many young Americans, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the nation’s 44th president the heavens shined down, angels soared, and choirs sang. To Obama’s true believers, it was an unforgettable moment with the power to move hearts, mold politics, and change lives.
My moment occurred while standing on an historic Revolutionary War battlefield in Lexington, Massachusetts, where a man running for president invoked the Founding Fathers and warned of the dangers of American empire and the foolishness of interventionist wars. I had long been interested in politics and had even considered myself a conservative. But this man, this Republican, spoke about issues his fellow Republicans didn’t even consider issues. Recognized by all as a man of the Right, sometimes he sounded more like a liberal. And as an outsider looking in at a GOP that would rather he just went away, this presidential candidate’s popularity swelled along with his influence. His campaign promised a revolutionary new conservatism rooted in the old and a movement that would extend beyond the election, challenge the status quo, and change American politics.
It was 1995 and I was 21 years old. And Patrick J. Buchanan cured my apathy.
When Ron Paul’s 2008 bid for president began to gather momentum, the parallels between the Buchanan and Paul campaigns were glaring. Whereas Buchanan’s cry of “America First!” was an explicit nod to the Old Right of the early 20th century, Paul not only used the same phrase frequently but also referenced 1950s conservative standard-bearer Sen. Robert Taft in a national televised debate. Stressing that America was “a republic, not an empire,” Buchanan’s constant warning of the dangers of foreign intervention were similar to Paul’s, who sounded the same alarm throughout his campaign and right up to his “Rally for the Republic” last September. Buchanan’s anti-imperial stance led him to make common cause with like-minded leftists such as consumer advocate Ralph Nader. On foreign policy, Paul’s supporters sometimes overlapped with those of Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and Nader made common cause with Paul for much the same reasons he did with Buchanan. And in each candidate’s primary battles, Buchanan and Paul were virtually the only Republicans to oppose managed trade deals like NAFTA, to address national sovereignty concerns, and to oppose the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Perhaps above all, both Buchanan and Paul stood for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a way that was not just rhetoric. They embraced an all-American political tradition that the Founding Fathers would have immediately recognized—even if the Republican Party didn’t.
The similarities between “Pitchfork Pat” and “Dr. No” were not lost on Buchanan’s former supporters, many of whom, in my experience, also enthusiastically supported Paul. And the inspiration Buchanan once gave me was rekindled by Paul, as this former member of the “Buchanan Brigades” happily signed on as a foot soldier in the Ron Paul Revolution.
Of course, any Republican who dares raise the banner of the Old Right can expect the empire to strike back, and it’s no surprise that Buchanan and Paul’s battles have usually been against the same foes.
Former Bush speechwriter and neoconservative David Frum, who told Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” that Paul was a “disturbing personality,” declared Buchanan an “unpatriotic conservative” in 2003 for his opposition to the Iraq War. The New Republic’s attempts to smear Paul as a racist by dredging up decade-old newsletters was comparable to neoconservative pundit William Bennett’s statement that Buchanan “flirted with fascism” by questioning U.S. policy toward Israel. Buchanan’s platform of nonintervention was decried time and again as “isolationist,” a pejorative label all too familiar to Paul supporters. And Buchanan’s claim that the neoconservatives had “subverted” and “hijacked” the conservative movement led that gang to warn of the alleged dangers of “Buchananism”—a “dangerous ideology” that they believed would destroy the Republican Party, if not the country.
Echoing charges once leveled at Buchanan, Paul’s fellow presidential contenders condescendingly suggested the Texas Republican was out of step not only with his party but with reality, calling him a “libertarian” in a way that implied his philosophy was somehow outside the realm of respectable conservatism. When Buchanan began to gather steam in 1995, his rivals for the GOP nomination, the leaders of his party, and many pundits not only suggested he was detached from reality, but emphasized the populist aspects of his campaign in an attempt to discredit his conservative credentials. This is the “institute for advanced conservative studies” not “populism,” Rush Limbaugh reminded listeners.
Where Buchanan’s populism clashes with Paul’s libertarianism, however, is significant for those who today see themselves as the political descendents of the Old Right. While Buchanan and Paul both oppose NAFTA, CAFTA, and similar managed trade deals, Buchanan supports protectionist measures for U.S. industry and Paul does not. More the traditional conservative, Buchanan stresses social issues and the libertarian Paul does not. But in fighting corporatocracy on trade, both Buchanan and Paul champion the people against elites, albeit in different ways. Buchanan sees the collusion between big government and big capital as the “great Buchananbetrayal” of the American worker. Paul recognizes the same collusion and opposes market-interventionist, inflationary policy and the subsequent Wall Street bailouts that cover up the corruption of financial markets because these actions devalue the dollar and “hurt the poor.” Buchanan may see a “culture war” in which issues like abortion and gay rights are at the forefront, but the pro-life and Christian Paul essentially agrees with Buchanan that the states’ rights 9th and 10th amendments to the Constitution offer the best guidelines for addressing such cultural questions.
In the grand scheme of things, for libertarians to dismiss Buchanan because of his social-issues conservatism would be as silly as for traditional conservatives to dismiss Paul because he does not stress those same issues. One of the most prominent and outspoken war critics on the Right today, Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, is an openly gay man who supported Paul’s candidacy for president in 2008 with the same enthusiasm he did Buchanan’s campaigns in 1996 and 2000. Buchanan even wrote the foreword to Raimondo’s book Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, and Raimondo gave the nominating speech for Buchanan at the 2000 Reform Party convention. When battling for the republic and against the empire, sane Americans realize that disagreements over social and cultural issues mean little next to making alliances with those who want to salvage the U.S. Constitution that protects us all. That Buchanan and Paul see the leftist Nader as an ally, despite huge differences on economics and other issues, makes sense. That admirers of either Buchanan or Paul, both men of the Right whose differences are much smaller, would dismiss either of them as natural allies doesn’t make any sense at all.
One man who always “got it” and whose staunch libertarian principles led to alliances with both the Right and Left over the decades was Murray Rothbard, who said in 1992, “with Pat Buchanan as our leader, we shall break the clock of social democracy.” The brilliant economist constantly championed Buchanan as the new leader of the Old Right. Rothbard later had his disagreements with Buchanan, as did many Rothbardians, but on the most popular libertarian website in the world, LewRockwell.com, you can still find Buchanan frequently—and for the same reasons Rothbard once trumpeted him. Said Buchanan shortly after Rothbard’s death in 1995, “As a libertarian figure he’s one of the giants of the postwar era.” National Review’s William F. Buckley Jr. was not as kind, and wrote a scathing, dismissive obituary of the great economist. Even in death, Rothbard had his enemies, most of whom were so-called conservatives who had long ago made peace with the state. Not coincidentally, many of them were the same enemies for whom there can be no peace with Buchanan so long as he remains on this earth.
Fortunately, Buchanan remains with us, and his ongoing legacy could prove invaluable to the Ron Paul Revolution in years to come. In 2002, Buchanan joined journalists Taki Theodoracopulos and Scott McConnell in founding The American Conservative, an unabashedly Old Right conservative and libertarian publication designed to do battle at the newsstands with neocon rags like the Weekly Standard and the GOP establishment vanguard National Review. For longtime followers of the divide on the Right between Buchanan and the neocons, it was no surprise when the Weekly Standard and National Review spent the past election either ignoring or insulting Paul and his supporters. It was also no surprise when The American Conservative endorsed Paul for president.
After a Republican primary debate in which Paul said, “It’s time to take care of America first,” I had an opportunity to ask Buchanan during a radio interview about Paul’s use of that phrase, long associated with the television pundit. As if he were smiling, Buchanan let out a chuckle and replied, “I heard him say exactly that. I’ve heard him use phrases and words before, and I’d say, ‘I think that’s in my books!’”
And what are those books? A Republic, Not an Empire, Where the Right Went Wrong, Day of Reckoning —Buchanan’s books are not only outlines of the same anti-empire, pro-republic ideas that continue to fuel Paul’s supporters, but the titles alone, as Buchanan suggested, sound like they could have come right out of the Texas congressman’s mouth.
Today, I see the ongoing Ron Paul Revolution as an extension of, and in some ways a vindication of, the Buchanan Brigades to which I once signed up. In the principled activists of Young Americans for Liberty, I see myself over a decade ago, enthusiastic, enlightened, and energized at the prospects for a more promising politics than I could have ever dreamed of.
In 2008, Paul happily made a nuisance of himself by reminding the conservative movement and the Republican Party that they ignore genuine conservatism at their own peril. Gleefully, Buchanan has been doing the same for 20 years. Buchanan’s Old Right baton is not something that is being passed on to Ron Paul, as the libertarian warrior is undoubtedly his own man. But in traditional conservative Pat Buchanan, Paul’s supporters might find the tools to make their own swords stronger, sharper, and better prepared to fight common enemies already on the horizon.
“The Southern Avenger” Jack Hunter [firstname.lastname@example.org] is a personality for 1250 AM WTMA talk radio in Charleston, South Carolina, a columnist for the Charleston City Paper, and a contributing editor for Taki’s Magazine. His website is www.southernavenger.com.