AHEAD TO THE PAST: Old Virtues Rise Again in Buchanan Campaign
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pat Buchanan’s America is gone and he wants it back.
He wants a nation more like his old neighborhood in northwest Washington, where you knew who the good guys were and the bullies too, where families were strong, people were God fearing and opportunity was there for the grasping.
It was his world of ``clarity and absolutes.″ Those are qualities he brings to his second presidential run. The phrase could be his slogan.
Patrick Joseph Buchanan, 57, former Nixon and Reagan adviser, scribe and longtime co-host of CNN’s ``Crossfire,″ forces people to make choices.
It’s for or against, good or evil, and the stakes are always high _ whether it is his economic nationalism or his calls for an immigration moratorium. Critics say it adds up to raw nativism.
But he’s a little less apocalyptic now, those close to him say _ a little better at reaching out, even listening, than when he took on the incumbent president, George Bush, for the 1992 Republican nomination.
``No more root canal,″ says his brother, Jim, the dentist.
Jim, nickname Crick, pumps his fist up and down, showing what his brother should avoid. ``Less German,″ he said, as if giving Pat advice. ``More Italian,″ he added, with smoother, more animated gestures. ``He’s not a natural. He was always afraid to give speeches.″
He’s coming along. ``He’s toned it down. He has mellowed, in terms of his understanding of his fellow man,″ his brother says. Even so, ``Pat rips people up _ that’s part of his game.″
When Buchanan got a job writing editorials for the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat, he saw it as a ``license to kill.″ More temperate now, Buchanan still likes to dig it in.
Taking up gambling as an issue, he urged Louisiana voters facing corruption in the industry to drive it back ``to the swamp whence it came.″ Others suggested a national gambling commission.
``Sink NAFTA and save the Republic!″ he exhorted between campaigns before passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement _ which he would rip up. There was no middle ground.
Buchanan can turn a question on Bosnia peacekeeping into an exposition on NATO in less time than it takes others to say they support the troops and oppose the mission and hope it works and fear it will not.
``How long,″ he said on CNN, ``do 300 million Europeans need 250 million Americans to protect them from 150 million Russians who are mired in poverty and despair and whose country is now smaller than it’s been since the time of Peter the Great?″
Buchanan speaks to the unemployed and the shakily employed, attributing their insecurities to unfair trade, megacorporations and other forces seemingly beyond their control and beyond U.S. borders.
The product of Jesuit education and an inside Washington career with six-figure earnings, he’s won points campaigning in Iowa by trying in his own way to identify with the small farmers opposing a trend toward massive hog lots.
``I mean, good heavens, my neighbor wanted to put a tennis court up next to me and you had almost a revolution,″ he said. ``I can imagine if he had said he was going to put 5,000 hogs in there.″
Buchanan would impose special tariffs on Japan and China; he strikes out against the Mexican bailout and attacks the U.N. and other symbols and uses of multinationalism. In that, he stands apart from the GOP field.
He denies he is isolationist. But with the Cold War over, he finds little going on around the world that Americans should be poking their noses into.
Buchanan is also uncompromising in attacking the ``modernist, secularist and hedonist ideology″ that ``strikes out at everything from our belief in the sanctity of human life to the way we remember and cherish our national heroes.″
He opposes abortion, anything that can be seen as elevating homosexuality, anything that smacks of government-supported promiscuity.
The National Endowment for the Arts would be shut on Day One of a Buchanan administration. ``And I will make the White House a bully pulpit for old-fashioned Americanism and traditional morality.″
Buchanan is a live wire but also, by all accounts, warm. When something strikes him as funny, his face snaps into laugh-line crinkles and the brooding intensity vanishes for a blink.
He is among the most spontaneous of the Republican candidates, a quality that can bring him to life _ and get him in trouble. There are no gimmicks.
Few politicians would write the kind of book Buchanan did in 1988, when his political ambitions were already stirring but not enough to deaden a rollicking tale.
``Right from the Beginning″ not only set out his ideological markers but described a boisterous family upbringing and hijinks fueled with drinking and fist fights.
He inhaled, all right _ not dope but life and some of its risks.
Back then, today’s soldier in the American ``cultural war″ would, with fellow underage teens, run around a playground in his underpants on warm Saturday mornings, getting looped on a keg of beer.
A Columbia journalism professor judged him ``to have no motive power at all.″ Six months later he was giving hell to liberals in St. Louis.
``His absolute unswervability″ was impressive, says G. Duncan Bauman, the retired Globe-Democrat publisher, now in his 80s, who hired him.
``Pat Buchanan represents the values that were paramount ... in the growth of our nation.″
Loyalty was a prime ethic in the family of nine children _ Bill, the eldest, died of cancer in 1985 at age 59 _ and siblings say it has carried over into Buchanan’s career.
They say he hasn’t spoken to fellow conservatives William Bennett and William F. Buckley Jr. since they accused him of anti-Semitism in the 1992 campaign. When he testified at the Watergate hearings, the Nixon speechwriter did not bring a lawyer. He brought Crick.
Buchanan sometimes recoiled at what he considered Richard Nixon’s liberal instincts. Part of his job _ then with Nixon, now with his party _ has been to pull those around him farther right.
He wanted to resign over Nixon’s opening to China, but stayed on, and watched the ``terrible blunders″ of Watergate. Years later, he saw Ronald Reagan losing his credibility over the Iran-contra affair.
``I survived the two biggest train wrecks in history, just about,″ he says now _ an experience ``that qualifies me to be president.″
Buchanan and his brother Tom, a Washington lawyer, were in a cab the day of the 1992 New Hampshire primary when they heard a radio report speculating he could actually beat Bush.
``He turned to me,″ Tom recalled, ``and said, ``What do we do if we win?′ He never took himself too seriously.″ The outrageousness of his insurgency against a sitting president seemed to have hit home.
Later, at his hotel suite, helpers kept up a lively clatter amid soda and beer while Buchanan sat with a laptop and threw together a speech marking his second-place finish. He declined Tom’s offer to shoo people away.
Then it was on to a raucous rally. ``A little rebellion,″ he declared, ``has grown into a full-fledged middle American revolution.″
He shocked Bush by getting 37 percent of the vote and went on to post a few other credible finishes. But coming in a good second became decreasingly special.
The 1996 Buchanan campaign has the feel of a family enterprise, the corner store taking on Wal-Mart. Sister Bay is the commanding presence as manager but other siblings throw energy and nicknames into the fight, too: Crick, Buck, Hank and Coo among them.
From Dr. James Buchanan’s walk-up office to the shopworn little post office around the corner on Connecticut Avenue, the D.C. neighborhood where the family lived looks deceptively unchanged.
``That was our time,″ Buchanan has wistfully written.
It was there that nuns from Sacred Heart school led a march on the local pharmacy when it started selling Playboys. The Avalon theater where the Buchanans would go still runs, under foreign ownership.
Fewer children have replaced those who grew and left. Altar boys at Sacred Heart Church are so scarce that the church has turned to retired men.
The neighborhood really is different. To some extent it belongs to a yesterday that Buchanan longs to re-create.