'Where the Right Went Wrong':
Patrick J. Buchanan
'Where the Right Went Wrong':
Sun Sep 12, 2004 14:46

'Where the Right Went Wrong': A Paleoconservative Takes on the Neoconservatives
Published: September 12, 2004

NDERNEATH the pugnacious hide of Patrick J. Buchanan beats a heart of pure nostalgia. He longs to return to the high-tariff reign of William McKinley, mourns the passing of such budget-slashing icons as Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater and dedicates his new book to Ronald Reagan, who, he says, ''never took precipitate or rash action'' abroad. Buchanan's reverence for late, great conservatives is unbounded by epoch or nationality. He even praises Urban II, the ''extraordinarily eloquent'' French-born pope who inspired the First Crusade.

The former presidential candidate and longtime journalist has a mission, of course. He wants to marshal this glorious past against ''impersonators'' in and close to the Bush administration who have ''hijacked'' his movement. His enemies list of neoconservatives has unsurprising names: Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Irving and William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and Jonah Goldberg. He detests them most of all for promoting the invasion of Iraq, for arrogantly believing it would spark a democratic revolution throughout the Middle East. But the self-described populist conservative is still fighting a war against un-Christian cultural elites. And he charges most of the same neoconservatives with abetting the godless enemy on nearly every major issue -- from gay marriage to abortion to immigration. To save the nation, the right must be cleansed.

Characteristically, Buchanan blasts away at more targets than he hits. His manifesto includes a stirring, if familiar, call to revive America's heavy industries; those who've allowed the manufacturing base to wither, he declares, are guilty of ''economic treason.'' Elsewhere, however, he writes that China poses little threat of war because its ''prosperity depends on us.'' That confident free trader needs to talk to his agitated protectionist alter ego. When not running for president, Buchanan is a regular participant in the shouting matches the networks call public affairs. In his many illogical moments, it shows.

Such belligerence weakens the main thrust of his book: a vigorous argument against the war in Iraq. A traditionalist to his core, Buchanan despises policy intellectuals who would ''define morality for all peoples for all times.'' He points out, correctly, that devout Muslims do not hate the United States because they envy our wealth and freedom, as President Bush would have it. They resist the erotic, feel-good popular culture Americans celebrate and sell around the globe and don't like being occupied by a military whose definition of evildoers clashes with theirs. But Buchanan's defense of the original crusaders negates his cautious relativism. The religious warrior makes an unconvincing apostle of peace.

Alert readers will have spotted another troubling flaw in Buchanan's worldview. His roster of warmongers is made up exclusively of Jews. But it was Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and the president himself -- good Christians all -- who sent all those armed Americans into Iraq. Aside from Wolfowitz, the Jewish neocons could only cheer them on from their op-ed pages, think tanks and talk shows.

Buchanan thinks he can explain this discrepancy between conservatives who decide and those who merely advocate. The neconservatives, he claims, saw that George W. Bush was ignorant about world politics and cleverly persuaded him to think like them. At one point, he compares Richard Perle's ''delight at first meeting the future president'' with Fagin's ''initial encounter with the young Oliver Twist.'' After four decades of close political combat, Buchanan seems unwilling to abandon such abusive rhetoric. It may be as essential to him as God and the flag, even while it confirms his status as a political pariah. Strangely, he doesn't realize that the president, a born-again Christian, needed no special prompting after the attacks of Sept. 11 to declare a new world war between good and evil.

Pat Buchanan's perpetual irritation with American Jews suggests a larger problem with his style of conservatism. The past to which he would like to return is full of imagined, often contradictory tales. High tariffs under the old G.O.P. were a giant subsidy to industrial companies and the regions they dominated, which is why most foes of big government abhorred them. And to claim that Reagan favored using force only to ''defend the country he loved'' ignores the proxy armies his administration sponsored in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Angola and Afghanistan and the 5,000 American troops who overwhelmed tiny Grenada.

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