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Pat Buchanan:
The Next John McCain?

March 23, 2000

The media love John McCain. They detest Pat Buchanan. But they could turn out to be Buchanan’s greatest asset.

A recent long profile of Buchanan in the Washington Post shows why. The writer, Peter Carlson, is clearly hostile to Buchanan; his derision is open, the piece is peppered with sarcasm. It even implies that Buchanan has Nazi sympathies. Yet it winds up being a plus for its target.

To put it simply, Buchanan is great copy. Even his ad libs are quotable. And in a year when the two major parties’ presidential candidates are a pair of bores who could make all of Argus’s hundred eyelids droop at once, the media may find him irresistible.

Naughty, but irresistible. Buchanan’s views on many subjects are politically risqué. Last year, for example, he blasphemed against liberalism’s Holy of Holies by arguing that the United States should have stayed out of World War II. That position got him called more names than anything he had said since the 1991 Gulf War, when he made his famous quip about Israel’s “Amen Corner in this country.” (Nobody really denied that the Amen Corner exists; you just weren’t supposed to mention it.)

[Breaker quote: Can't 
help quotin' dat man]Beyond being shocking, Buchanan’s views are genuinely interesting. He backs them up with reasons. Most of his critics (who are curiously uncritical) feel no obligation to answer his reasons: seeing that he rejects liberal orthodoxies, they are content to call him names. If he thinks fighting Germany and helping Stalin was a disaster for the United States and Central Europe, he must be pro-Nazi, right? None of his critics, including his fellow Catholics, bothered explaining why Stalin’s conquest of ten Christian countries was a tolerable outcome.

Still, Buchanan’s candid rejection of liberal pieties makes him impossible to tune out, in contrast to Al Gore and George W. Bush, who never sail far from the safe shores of cliché. Who cares what they say? Who cares what — or whether — they think? Their debates will be a clash of the robots, interesting only when the robots malfunction: the failure to emit the appropriate bromide on any topic is what is called a gaffe.

But if Buchanan is allowed to participate in the debates, viewers will stay awake. There will be gore on the floor, in more ways than one. The robots will do everything they can to keep Buchanan off the screen.

Buchanan knows this. With McCain and Bill Bradley out of contention, he’s counting on the sheer ennui of the Bush-Gore race to create a demand among “all these press folks” for “that old troll under the bridge”: Pat Buchanan.

There is precedent. In 1965, William Buckley ran for mayor of New York City as a third-party candidate. His wit in debate and the sheer fun he brought to the race made his opponents — Republican John Lindsay and Democrat Abraham Beame — look dull and silly. Lindsay, who was then being touted as a new John Kennedy, never recovered; his presidential ambitions were a casualty of Buckley’s deflating ridicule. And just by puncturing the two solemn stiffs, Buckley became the favorite of reporters who had been portraying him as a Nazi.

Like the young Buckley, Buchanan is a superb debater who brings both humor and presence of mind to combats of wits. He too has the gift of winning the hearts of people who come prepared to hate him. Besides, it’s hard to hate a man who makes your work fun again.

How would Buchanan handle Gore and Bush? “I’m mildly apprehensive about that debate,” he jokes, “because I’ve got to go up against the guy who invented the Internet. But I’ve figured out how I’m gonna deal with Dubya. I’m gonna walk by his podium and say, ‘Dubya, you better know who the prime minister of Estonia is because that’s the first question.’”

When liberals clamor for “diversity,” they don’t necessarily mean they are ready to tolerate actual disagreement. But even they may find the monotony of a protracted Bush-Gore contest more than flesh can bear. If so, they may insist on an inclusiveness broad enough to include Pat Buchanan.

Joseph Sobran

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