Buchanan, Patrick Joseph

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Buchanan, Patrick Joseph

Political commentator, White House appointee, and presidential candidate Patrick Joseph Buchanan is a leader of far-right conservatism. From modest beginnings as a journalist in the early 1960s, Buchanan became an influential voice in the Republican Party. He served in a public relations capacity under three presidents—Richard M. Nixon, gerald r. ford, and Ronald Reagan—before running for president himself in 1992. His hard-line positions on Abortion, immigration, and foreign aid, as well as his battle cry for waging a "cultural war" in the United States, failed to wrest the nomination from George H. W. Bush. Buchanan tried for the presidency twice more, in 1996 and 2000, but again failed to gain support of his party. Often the subject of controversy for his writings and speeches, Buchanan is the founder of a political organization called the American Cause, whose slogan is America First.

Born November 2, 1938, in the nation's capital, Buchanan was the third of nine children of William Baldwin Buchanan and Catherine E. Crum Buchanan. He grew up under the resolute influences of Catholicism and conservatism, both the hallmarks of his father, a certified public accountant. Buchanan's brilliance at the Jesuit Gonzaga College High School earned him the honor of class valedictorian and a scholarship to Georgetown University. In his senior year of college, the English and philosophy major was already developing the sharp, confrontational style that would mark his professional life. He broke his hand scuffling with police officers over a traffic incident and was suspended from Georgetown for a year. He nonetheless finished third in his class in 1961. He received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1962. Like other conservative politicians of his generation, notably Senator jesse helms (R N.C.) and President Reagan, Buchanan began with a career in the media, which led into politics. He spent three years writing conservative editorials for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat before being introduced to Nixon at a dinner party. The politician soon hired the 28-year-old as an assistant in his law firm. Buchanan wrote speeches for Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, worked as his press secretary, urged him to choose Spiro T. Agnew as a running mate, and, after the election, became his special assistant. This last position involved reporting on what the news media said about the administration. It was an increasingly thankless job. Buchanan believed that bad news about the Vietnam War, youth protest, and the Watergate scandal was the work of a biased liberal media. He fought back, and is widely thought to have written Vice President Agnew's famous antipress speech in 1969 attacking the "small and unelected elite" whose opinions were critical of the president.

"If we can send an Army halfway around the world to defend the borders of Kuwait, can'twe defend the national borders of the United States of America?"
—Patrick Buchanan

Buchanan escaped the taint that brought down Nixon, in part because he refused to help Nixon aides in their so-called dirty tricks campaign. Buchanan declined to smear Daniel Ellsberg—the former defense analyst who leaked the classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, and whose psychiatrist's office Nixon aides broke into, helping to set in motion the Watergate scandal. In fact, Buchanan later strongly defended the president and denounced the conspirators at U.S. Senate hearings. This testimony saved his career: he was seen as loyal and, more important, as evidently knowing little about the vast extent of the administration's illegalities. Unlike other Nixon insiders, he did not need to rehabilitate his reputation after Nixon left office. He remained in the White House under President Ford until 1975.

Between 1975 and 1985, Buchanan established a national reputation. He wrote a syndicated column that criticized liberals, gays, feminists, and particularly the administration of President james (jimmy) carter. He also made forays into radio and television broadcasting, founding what would later become the political debate program Crossfire on the Cable News Network (CNN). He rarely pulled punches; liberals and even some conservatives regarded him as a reactionary, but he won an audience with his appeals to traditional values.

Although he was earning a reported annual income of $400,000 for his writing and work in radio and television, Buchanan jumped at the offer to serve as director of communications during the second term of President Reagan. The job was a conservative activist's dream: besides shaping Reagan's public image, Buchanan had constant access to the president's ear. Buchanan reportedly used this access to spur Reagan on to taking tougher positions—such as vetoing a farm bailout bill and lavishly praising the anti-Sandinista Contra rebels fighting in Nicaragua as "the moral equal of our Founding Fathers."

Presidential aspirations drew Buchanan into the 1992 race. He was even better known than in the 1980s as the result of his nightly appearances on CNN's Crossfire, where he sparred with his liberal colleague Michael E. Kinsley. President George H. W. Bush's popularity among Republicans was waning, especially in light of a sluggish economy. Moreover, Buchanan offered a clearly tougher platform than Bush, whom he considered a tepid moderate. "It seemed to me that if we're going to stand for anything," he told the Washington Times, "conservative leaders had to at least raise the banner and say, 'This is not conservatism.'"

Buchanan's campaign combined populism, nationalism, and social conservatism: he advocated limits on immigration, restrictions on trade, and isolationism in foreign policy, while opposing abortion rights, Gay and Lesbian Rights, and federal arts funding. As he always had in his role as a pundit, the candidate provoked. He ran TV ads featuring gay dancers, and he toured the South criticizing the voting rights act (42 U.S.C.A. § 1971 et. seq. [1965]) and reassuring southerners that hanging the Confederate flag from public buildings was acceptable free expression.

Buchanan's critics did not pull their punches. Liberals accused him of xenophobia, racism, and homophobia. Conservatives sometimes came to his defense, but not always. Michael Lind, editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, wrote that Buchanan represented "conservatism's ugly face." Charges of anti-Semitism followed Buchanan's use of the phrase "Israel and its amen corner" in attacking U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf War, and among those critical of him was the prominent conservative author and Catholic William F. Buckley Jr. Buchanan denied the charges: he said he was being tarred for supporting John Demjanjuk, who was accused, then later cleared, of being the Nazi war criminal Ivan the Terrible.

Small flaps attended the Buchanan campaign regularly—one day he was announcing that English immigrants would assimilate better than Zulus, and the next calling for beggars to be removed from the streets. The most severe criticism came in August 1992 after his speech at the GOP national convention. First he knocked the Democratic Party's convention as a gathering of "cross-dressers." Then he called for a "cultural war" in which U.S. citizens, like the National Guard putting down the Los Angeles riots, "must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country."

Typical of the liberal response was an editorial in the New Republic criticizing Buchanan for advocating "militarized race war" (Washington Times 19 July 1993). Mario M. Cuomo, former governor of New York, confronted Buchanan on the CBS program Face the Nation, asking," What do you mean by 'culture'? That's a word they used in Nazi Germany." William J. Bennett, former secretary of education, accused him of "flirting with fascism." Buchanan defended himself, blaming secular humanism, Hollywood, the National Endowment for the Arts, and public schools for creating an "adversary culture" contrary to traditional values.

Despite Bush's winning the nomination handily, Buchanan's influence did not wane. Two years later, the themes of his candidacy found expression in the Contract with America's insistence on a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer and in a call for a crack-down on immigration. Moreover, in 1995, his "cultural war" message could be heard from nearly every Republican presidential candidate, especially bob dole. Meanwhile, Buchanan announced a second run for the White House campaigning on the same strong conservative positions he had advanced in his campaign in 1992. Though he stayed in the race until the end, Buchanan lost the Republican nomination for president to Dole by a large margin.

In 2000, Buchanan made a third run for the presidency running on the Reform ticket with Ezola Foster, an African American woman. Buchanan's capture of the Reform Party nomination caused a split with supporters of party founder Ross Perot who then ran their own candidate. Both candidates did poorly at the polls winning less than one percent of the votes.

Buchanan continues to be a prolific writer. He has written numerous articles and writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column. His books include Right from the Beginning (1988), A Republic Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny (1999), and The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization (2001). Buchanan also remains a prominent figure in the media as a commentator, and as a cohost with liberal reporter Bill Press on their daily program, which airs on MSNBC.

Further readings

The American Cause. Available online at <www.theamericancause.org> (accessed June 19, 2003).

"Patrick J. Buchanan." MSNBC News. Available online at <www.msnbc.com/news/785140.asp> (accessed June 19, 2003).