restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Where the Right Went Wrong: Jon Luker Reviews Buchanan’s Latest Book

Jon Luker

It is no longer descriptive to call Patrick J. Buchanan a conservative. The term has been rendered meaningless by liberal impersonators who claim the mantle while defying its principles.

Men in the company of Buchanan have been shown the backs of these faux conservatives, but Frum’s pronouncement was merely a formality. They pirouetted and walked off the plantation long ago. These “movement conservatives” are moving leftward and conserving by creative destruction, while Buchanan and his “ilk” are called unpatriotic, anti-Semitic, isolationist, even perhaps “national socialist” for refusing to recite the free trade mantra.

Many call Buchanan a paleoconservative, a clunky term borne of necessity for the purpose of differentiation from their conversely prefixed foes. My guess is that Buchanan would eschew the paleo- prefix in his quest to keep his patient (conservatism) on life-support. I expected a sustained critique and exposé of the Bush Administration’s neocon takeover. Though the present situation is certainly nailed down and diagnosed, much of the book is a broader pathology of modern conservatism.

Buchanan’s prognosis is grim, and though he does a fine job of detailing the symptoms, I fear he leaves the disease untreated. Still, this is a book worth reading.

That is what this brief book is about. It is about where conservatives lost the way, about where the Right went wrong, about how it came to be that a Republican-controlled capital city whose leaders daily profess their conservatism could preside over the largest fiscal and trade deficits in our history and have us mired in a Wilsonian imperial war to remake the Arab Middle East in the image of the American Middle West. And it is about a cabal that betrayed the good cause of conservatism, because, from the very beginning, they never believed it. They had another agenda all along (p. 10).

Buchanan pins the beginning of the “conservative crack-up” on the end of the Cold War. With no “mighty and ideological empire arrayed against us”, we had an opportunity to recede back into normality, but it wasn’t long before the itch for a Wilsonian global democracy was scratched. About a year. With the words, “this will not stand!” George H. W. Bush pressed forward toward a dream of what he literally called a “New World Order”. Then he lost miserably against Clinton and Perot.

But Bush had left a legacy. He had planted America’s feet on the road to empire. Between the day he took office and the day his son followed suit, the United States invaded Panama, intervened in Somalia, occupied Haiti, pushed NATO to the borders of Russia, created protectorates in Kuwait and Bosnia, bombed Serbia for seventy-eight days, occupied Kosovo, adopted a policy of “dual-containment” of Iraq and Iran, and deployed thousands of troops on Saudi soil sacred to all Muslims (p. 15).

Buchanan posits what I’ll call an inflection point on the trajectory toward American empire. His term “crack-up” describes what has happened to the Right in the past fifteen years, but fissures were visible in the foundation 144 years ago when the Republicans’ first president took the helm; fissures that formed upon the shifting soil of the Enlightenment, but that’s another topic for another day. The subtitle of this book reads: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency.

Though Reagan had much in the way of positive impact, this sentiment invests too much in what he built. Yet, his role in standing down our formidable opponent in the Cold War did provide an opportunity to head the other direction. Instead, the Right took the road to empire and September 11 provided an opportunity step on the accelerator. The first two chapters are a description of that rapid progression, its impetus, and its advocates. Familiar territory for Polemics readers. Islam is explored in the third chapter, with a succinct history of a militant religion since its inception, advancing and retreating relative to Christendom. As the chapter title asks, “Is Islam the Enemy?” we would like to think we are again witnessing a clash of civilizations, but how formidable is Christendom in this round?

To defeat a faith you need a faith. While Islamic warriors appear willing to die to drive infidels out of the Islamic world, Westerners appear indifferent to the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world. While Muslims are full of grievance, Westerners are full of guilt. We preach the equality of all faiths. Where Islam is dominant, it rejects equality, for it holds there is but one true faith. Islam is assertive, the West is apologetic – about Crusaders, conquerors, and empires (p. 87).

Why do they hate us? If we are to believe Jack Kemp, the attacks on September 11 were motivated by hatred of “our democracy, our liberal markets, and our abundance and economic opportunity”. Buchanan retorts:

Did the Japanese attack us at Pearl Harbor because we were free, rich, good, and had low marginal tax rates? What is it about Americans that we so often lack for what the poet Robert Burns said was the greatest gifts the gods can give us, “to see ourselves as others see us.” We are not hated for who we are. We are hated for what we do. It is not our principles that have spawned pandemic hatred of America in the Islamic world. It is our policies (p. 80).

How effective, historically speaking, is full-frontal attack on terrorism? Chapter four answers that question handily, bringing to this reader’s mind a metaphorical reply, “It’s about as effective as taking a baseball bat to a wasp’s nest.” The War on Terror was a declaration of “Unwinnable War.” Expecting to “root out the evildoers” is a messianic endeavor that guarantees perpetual war. Terror has been with us since “before the Romans put Carthage to the sword” and we cannot expect it to be eliminated. In our times, terrorism falls into four categories: state, revolutionary, war, and anarchic. These categories are treated separately and examples are given of each. Suffice it to say, the noble Westerner doesn’t come away from the analysis unscathed, especially in the war terror category. And what of the birth of the modern state of Israel? In this and numerous other examples, Buchanan bolsters a notion that in the past I tended to dismiss: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

In April 1948, a month before Israel declared independence, the Irgun and Stern gang attacked the village of Deir Yassin on the road to Jerusalem. The Arabs in Deir Yassin were peaceful and lived on friendly terms with their Jewish neighbors. What occurred there was a massacre. Children were murdered. Pregnant women had their bellies slit open. Bodies were dumped into the village well. The atrocity at Deir Yassin enraged David Ben Gurion and gave him the moral authority to crush the Irgun. He ordered Haganah, the Israeli army, to attach the Altalena, the ship the Irgun was using to bring Jewish refugees to Palestine. Yet Zionist terror had worked. …

The leader of the Stern Gang? Yitzhak Shamir, a future prime minister. The leader of the Irgun? Menachim Begin, a future prime minister (pp. 114-115).

It is clear, through numerous examples, that terrorism succeeds and that our present tactic in the War on Terror is playing into the hands of our foes.

Terrorists are picadors and matadors. They prick the bull until it bleeds and is blinded by rage, then they snap the red cape of bloody terror in its face. The bull charges again and again until, exhausted, it can charge no more. Then the matador, though smaller and weaker, drives the sword into the soft spot between the shoulder blades of the bull. For the bull has failed to understand that the snapping cape was but a provocation to goad it into attacking and exhausting itself for the kill (pp. 125-126).

Buchanan next sets his sights on China, painting a picture of their perception of the West in general and the United States in particular given historical events. Buchanan sets out a policy of “reciprocity” which maintains that we should mind our own business relative to Taiwan, but make it clear that an attack on that island would mean a “rupture in trade ties and risk a naval clash”. It means we should pull out militarily from Asia. We should make it clear that China’s “economic and military power and influence in Asia” is no threat to us. Without cooperation from China in disarming North Korea, we should cease placing restrictions on South Korea and Japan in seeking their own deterrents. Further failure of China’s restricting of ballistic missile and nuclear technology to nations hostile to us should be taken as a sign of their indifference to our interests. The South China Sea should be treated as international waters, but with regard to territorial disputes in that region “we are not the title office or the sheriff.” And we must renegotiate a one-sided trade relationship.

Given the character of the Chinese regime, we are not fated to be friends. Yet we need not be enemies. The world is big enough for both of us. And it is in the interests of both to do as American and Russia did in the second half of the twentieth century, and Britain and Germany failed to do in the first half. Avoid the apocalypse that could destroy us both (p. 151).

As critics of Buchanan would expect, a chapter defending protectionist economics was forthcoming. I was taken aback by his bold approval of protectionist policies such as Clay and Lincoln’s economic nationalism, dubbed the American System. This is one area in which I’ve always toed the line of free trade good and protective tariffs evil, but that was back when it was blue-collar steelworkers being priced out of jobs. Now, even in the high technology world of semiconductor manufacturing, the forces of “cheap labor” overseas presents the high likelihood that the career I’ve built over twenty years will amount to nothing as manufacturing moves offshore to places like China, Costa Rica, and Indonesia. It’s got my attention, and the following assertion makes sense to me:

But tariffs are taxes, comes the retort of Libertarians. Tariffs raise the prices of goods. True. But all taxes – tariffs, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes – are factored into the final price of the goods we buy. When a nation puts a tariff on foreign goods coming into the country, it is able to cut taxes on goods produced inside the country. This is the way to give U.S. manufacturers and workers a “home-field advantage” (p. 172).

I still have a lot of thinking and reconsideration to do on this particular topic, but I can’t say I’m not somewhat swayed by much of what Buchanan has to say on the subject. The free trade mantra ignores national distinctions and perpetuates one-worldism in my mind. What of loyalty to our own land and people? Is raw consumerism right for America?

Conservatives, said Ronald Reagan, believe in the values of “work, family, faith, community, and country.” But free trade puts the demands of consumers ahead of the duties of citizens, the unbridled freedom of the individual in the marketplace ahead of all claims of family, community, and country. Free trade says what is best for me, now, at the cheapest price, is what is best for America. That is not conservatism.

Free trade does to a nation what alcohol does to a man. Saps him first of his vitality and energy, then of his independence, then of his life. America today exhibits the symptoms of a nation passing into middle age. We spend more than we earn. We consume more than we produce. The evangelists of globalism who once promised us our trade deficits would disappear now assure us that trade deficits do not matter.

The truth: Free trade is the serial killer of American manufacturing and the Trojan Horse of world government. It is the primrose path to the loss of economic independence and national sovereignty. Free trade is a bright, shining lie (pp. 170-171).

In the next two chapters, Buchanan hits on familiar themes of Big Government “conservatism” and deleterious fiscal, monetary, and trade policies. But in the ninth chapter, he hits hard on “The Abdication of Congress and the Rise of Judicial Dictatorship.”

“A revolution within the form” is what happened to our republic in the twentieth century. The Constitution remains clear. Congress is the first branch. But that is no longer the reality. Congress has been eclipsed by the president, Supreme Court, Federal Reserve, the media, the regulatory agencies, even the bureaucracy. Congress now ranks below them all in power and influence over the lives of our people. Could it recapture its birthright, if we elected congressional leaders of the kidney and courage that America once knew? That is the only question still open (p. 214).

The discussion on the imperial judiciary takes the reader through a progression of seized power on the part of the judiciary, which commenced with a “great leap forward” in John Marshall’s asserting a “right of review” in Marbury v. Madison , saw its first major application in the Dred Scott decision, and a full flowering in FDR’s court packing. Later, in Brown v. the Board of Education, according to Robert Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, “the Warren Court spit out the bit of judicial restraint.” The horse runs wild even today. And it is here that Buchanan tips his hand toward a vote for the lesser of two evils:

No issue is more important to conservatives than the character and judicial philosophy of the men and women on the Supreme Court. In the next presidential term, which will run to 2009, there is a good possibility – given age, illnesses, and talk of retirements – that the president chosen in 2004 could name a new chief justice and three or more associates, as Nixon did his first term. For conservatives, there is no more compelling argument for a Republican president – and a Republican Senate to confirm his nominees – than who will shape the Supreme Court for the next quarter of a century (p. 226).

Trouble is, as Buchanan admits just prior to this statement, Republicans have “proven to be diffident warriors” in this regard.

Since the Nixon administration, conservatives and Republicans have failed in a primary mission: To stop the Supreme Court from imposing a social revolution on America. President Nixon named four justices to the Supreme Court. Three voted for Roe v. Wade, with Nixon nominee Harry Blackmun writing the decision. President Ford’s sole appointee, John Paul Stevens, is the most reflexive liberal on the bench. Ronald Reagan named Antonin Scalia and elevated Justice William Renquist to be Chief Justice – the two strongest constitutionalists – but also Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, the unpredictables. As for George H. W. Bush, his choice of Clarence Thomas strengthened the court minority in battling activism, but his earlier nomination of David Souter cancels Thomas out. …

Judge Robert Bork, nominated by Reagan, was rejected 58-42 by a Democratic Senate after being savagely slandered. But liberal activists Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and ACLU feminist nominated by Bill Clinton, sailed through with bipartisan support, 87-9 and 96-3 (p. 225-226).

Buchanan believes G. W. Bush has “shown the way” with his strong judicial appointments thus far, calling them “equal in quality or even superior to those of Ronald Reagan.” But given the Republican track record outlined above, and an evenly divided Senate, I have little confidence that another strong conservative will run the gauntlet successfully. Still, this question appears to be the deciding factor in Buchanan’s mind. Bush is his best hope to restore judicial restraint in the Supreme Court in his lifetime.

The president chosen in November will probably pick the next chief justice and decide the composition of the court for the next generation. If Kerry is making these nominations, the justices will be in the tradition of Warren, Douglas, Brennan, Blackmun, Ginsburg, and Marshall. If George Bush is reelected and the Senate that confirms new justices remains Republican, there is the chance they will be in the tradition of Renquist, Scalia, and Thomas, and the curtain can be brought down on the court’s fifty-year run as a battering ram of social revolution. And if one wishes to be a part of the fight for a new court, and for the soul of the Republican Party, one cannot be found AWOL in November.

This represents quite a departure for a man that ran as a third party (Reform) candidate in 2000, but I can respect his change of heart. Buchanan’s tack with this book is to take a figurative two-by-four to the head of the GOP elephant and to wake it from its socialist slumber. Perhaps that was Ron Paul’s motivation for making the same move away from the Libertarian Party, serving as a Republican representative from Texas. It’s certainly given me pause.

And while their disappointments with him are many and serious, conservative differences with a party led by John Kerry are monumental and legion. There is simply nothing that party offers to the Right. And there is another reason they will stand by the president, a reason found in words Barry Goldwater used when he took the podium at the Chicago convention of 1960 and admonished my generation: “Let’s grow up, Conservatives. We want to take this party back and I think, some day, we can” (p. 252).

Amidst the grim critique, Buchanan still apparently holds out hope for the Republican Party. I can’t quite bring myself to share his optimism. I may just write Ron Paul and ask him for his take on things. Maybe he’ll write an article entitled, “Why I’m Still Sticking It Out As a Republican.”

October 14, 2004

Jon Luker lives in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona with his lovely wife of twenty years, two teenaged children, and various four-legged creatures. The Lukers are members of Emmanuel Covenant Church and believe in explicitly Christian education for their children. Jon is an engineering manager in a high technology corporation.  In his spare time, he runs Polemics as an outlet for discussion of political, theological, and cultural issues. He may be reached for comment here.

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