For the first presidential election since 1988, Pat Buchanan is not on the ballot this year, but his soul goes marching on in a new book just released on the eve of the Republican National Convention.
Where the Right Went Wrong is not, as it is already being billed, an “attack” on George W. Bush, but it does try to tell the president and his party why they are facing an election whose outcome is far from certain.
The Right went wrong, in Mr. Buchanan’s view, because of one major problem: Neoconservatives. “The boat people of the McGovern revolution” he calls the brood of liberals, social democrats and ex-Trotskyites who invited themselves into the GOP after the New Left gave them the heave from the Democrats.
Mr. Buchanan is far from being the only conservative to propose this explanation, but his case for it is probably more persuasive than what some have offered.
“Neoconservatives captured the foundations, think tanks, and opinion journals of the Right and were allowed to redefine conservatism,” he writes.
“Their agenda—open borders, amnesty for illegal aliens,free trade, an orderly retreat in the culture wars, ‘Big Government Conservatism,’ and Wilsonian intervention to reshape the world in America’s image—was embraced by Republicans leaders as the new conservative agenda.”
To those who don’t seem to have heard this before, he offers ample documentation.
Predictably, the book is already being denounced by those unable to confront its arguments. Neocon hatchet boy David Frum sneers that Mr. Buchanan is “a man who believes in negotiating with terrorists—wooing them, trying to find what they want and giving it to them.” [In a New Book, Buchanan Chastises Another Bush, By David D. Kirkpatrick, NYT, August 22, 2004]
Nowhere in the book or anywhere else does he suggest that, of course.
What he does offer is not only a full account of how neoconservatives have undermined traditional conservatism but also a learned and impassioned defense of what the Old Right believed—on the size and scope of the state, cultural issues, immigration, trade and foreign policy.
As for the war with Iraq, Mr. Buchanan argues, as he has been doing for years, that it is our own recklessness in the Middle East that provoked the attacks of 9/11 and eventually led us into a war with no obvious exit. He cites his 1999 book A Republic, Not an Empire, to show how he himself predicted what would happen: “If we continue on this course of reflexive interventions,” he wrote, “enemies will one day answer our power with the weapon of the weak—terror, and eventually cataclysmic terrorism on U.S. soil.”
Mr. Frum and his buddies really might want to read the book, or even both of them.
What’s a bit odd about Mr. Buchanan’s new book is that, so far from being an “attack” on George W. Bush and the Republicans, it’s an endorsement.
Unlike Bill Kristol, who says he’d prefer John Kerry to Pat Buchanan and would “make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives” if necessary, Mr. Buchanan offers what comes down to a strong defense of the president.
His main argument is that the next occupant of the White House will control the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future, and it’s critical that he be Mr. Bush and not Mr. Kerry.
But, as Mr. Buchanan himself recounts, there’s no guarantee whatsoever Mr. Bush would nominate justices any better than those his opponent would name. Earl Warren, William Brennan, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy are among the most anti-conservative justices in American history—and each was a Republican nominee.
Nevertheless, Mr. Buchanan also argues that
“a civil war is going to break out inside the Republican Party along the old trench lines of the Goldwater-Rockefeller wars of the 1960s, a war for the heart and soul and future of the party for the new century.”
Frankly, I doubt it, especially if Mr. Bush wins re-election.
The battle for the soul and heart of the GOP was fought some years ago, and Mr. Buchanan’s side lost.
His heart and soul do indeed go marching on, but there are few inside the Republican Party today inclined to march with him.
If Mr. Bush wins in November, those who are so inclined will find it’s more like the Bataan Death March.
Pat Buchanan was right in 2000 when he tried to build an alternative to the party the neocons stole.
Today, there’s just not that much left for real conservatives to take back.