Pat Buchanan is best known as a nationally syndicated conservative columnist, and in recent years, as the popular host of CNN’s Crossfire and Capital Gang. Others recognize him as one of the four feisty panelists on the NBC/PBS war of words known as the McLaughlin Group.
These high profile activities often overshadow his long record of service at the highest levels of government. Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents (Nixon, Ford & Reagan), most recently serving as the White House Director of Communications for Ronald Reagan. Today he seeks the office of his former boss in an attempt to preserve and extend the historic achievements of the Reagan Revolution.
Just twelve short weeks ago, Buchanan threw his hat into the ring against a sitting Republican president widely considered to be untouchable by any potential rivals within his party. The past three months have witnessed the constant metamorphosis of the Buchanan campaign as it has swiftly progressed from a dismal fringe candidacy, to recognition as a protest movement, to consideration as a major obstacle to Bush’s re-election efforts. Today, Pat Buchanan is seen by booster and detractor alike as a serious threat to George Bush’s Republican hegemony, and a legitimate contender for the presidency.
Buchanan’s December 10th campaign kickoff address laid out the key issues that his candidacy will champion, and serves as the primary text for our study of his views:
“At the root of America’s social crisis – be it AIDS, ethnic hatred, crime, or the social decomposition of our cities – lies a spiritual crisis. Solzhenitsyn was right. Men have forgotten God. Not in the redistribution of wealth, but in the words of the Old and New Testament will be found not only salvation, but the cure for a society suffering from a chronic moral sickness.
“When we say we will put America first, we mean also that our Judeo-Christian values are going to be preserved, and our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations, not dumped onto some landfill called multiculturalism.”
Analysis of other public statements reveal strength in the areas of principle and platform, but weakness of priority and emphasis. Buchanan declares that our first challenge as a nation is economic, and that the origin of this challenge is foreign. His solution to this problem is a new patriotism and a new nationalism.
Pat’s emphasis on economic problems and his claim that foreigners are the cause of them, differs little from the other candidates. No mention is made about our own declining productivity. We hear nothing about the home grown fruits of our accelerating obsession with the entitlement rather than the responsibility, and with quick, painless fixes and accounting gimmicks in place of sober assessment, structural reform and diligent labor.
Buchanan complains eight times in his address about unfair competition from the Far East, Japan and Europe (figuratively the speck in our neighbor’s eye), while overlooking the logs of mediocrity, slothfulness, greed and materialism in our eyes. The flip side to a healthy interpretation of “America First” must certainly require us to devote the lion’s share of our energies to the reformation of our nation. Unfortunately, repentance has never been a popular theme for politicians.
Our first challenge as a nation is moral, not economic. Morality reflects the internal ordering of an individual’s or a nation’s soul, while economics reflects the external ordering of our environment. One consistent teaching of scripture is that the internal and the spiritual always precede the external and the natural/physical. In fact, the internal is causative of the external, and the condition of the external is always indicative of the internal.
Deuteronomy Chapter 28 declares that the long term national obedience to God’s laws produces economic prosperity, while persistent poverty is one indication of a nation’s rejection of those laws. Genuine charity (as opposed to coerced wealth distribution) also produces prosperity through the law of sowing and reaping (2 Corinthians 9:6-11). There are numerous spiritual laws which collectively determine material well-being. For example, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4). Ultimately, “we do not have because we do not ask God.” Humility and faith are key ingredients to economic growth.
Most moral/economic laws are painfully obvious, yet our profound national leadership still refuses to acknowledge them. Therefore, our number one national goal should not be the opening up of foreign markets to American products, but rather the opening up of American hearts to the biblical principles upon which our nation was founded and from which sprung the most abundant and equitable economic prosperity the world has ever known. Pat Buchanan is the only major presidential candidate showing any awareness of our nation’s moral poverty, but even he does not fully understand the implications of the problem, and thus does not give it the priority it requires.
The primacy of the internal to the external also applies to the distinction between domestic and foreign concerns, with clear implications for the issue of national security. Many believed that communism was our nation’s greatest enemy. That has never been true. Now that the Soviet Union and most of its vassals have been defeated (how about converted?), Buchanan sees the competing economic powers of Japan and the European Economic Community as our greatest threat. This is equally incorrect.
Speaking in an almost militaristic manner, Buchanan refers to these nations as “predatory traders” who are trying to “invade our markets” by “targeting” our industries for “dumping and destruction.” We seem to be on a “collision course” with our trading partners in the struggle to determine who will be the dominant power of the 21st century.
Yes, communism was a serious threat to the way of life we cherish. Its atheistic agenda self-consciously aimed to destroy the liberties safeguarded by the Judeo-Christian worldview embedded in our Constitution. Yes, the unfair trade practices of some nations do represent a substantial hindrance to several factors of our economy. Thankfully, the magnitude of this new challenge is only a fraction of the former. Today’s “enemy” at most seeks to pick our pockets, while yesterday’s sought to slit our throats; today’s wants a cut of our profits, while yesterday’s sought to confiscate our life, liberty and property entirely; today’s “predatory traders” are satisfied with a few extra percentage points of market share, while yesterday’s communists wanted our very soul.
Yet not even malignant communism could seriously hope to conquer the United States so long as we remained faithful to the moral principles upon which our nation was founded. Internal disorder, decay and corruption are always the most serious threats to the health of any living organism. Soviet leaders from Lenin to Kruschev partially understood this reality. They boldly prophesied that a decadent West would collapse of its own capitalist depravity, falling like a ripe apple into their hands. Paradoxically, this is exactly what happened to their “worker’s paradise.” It was not our nuclear missiles which defeated them, but rather the inevitably destructive effect of their humanist philosophy of government.
Buchanan is right to remind us that we do have significant economic problems which are sometimes compounded by unfair foreign competition. But our nation’s primary challenge is not economic, nor are foreigners the main cause of our financial malaise. Our first priority must be to reverse our own spiritual decline, since this is the root cause of all our social ills, including the economic ones. Trying to cure a spiritually generated economic sickness without recognizing and attacking the underlying source, has much the same result as giving penicillin to an AIDS patient suffering from pneumonia. The visible derivative illness may be diminished, but the root disease will continue to spawn a host of other infirmities, one of which will ultimately prove fatal.
Mr. Buchanan’s call for a “new patriotism” and a “new nationalism” is a generally good idea even if the predatory trade threat is not as significant as he believes. If patriotism means a “passion to serve one’s country by maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary), then the United States certainly needs a revival of patriotism, especially since most of our laws and institutions were birthed out of a biblical worldview.
Of course patriotism and nationalism should never be permitted to trump our commitment to liberty, morality and human rights. They are important but secondary values which must be properly balanced, and at times overridden by more fundamental Christian principles. patriotism has all too often throughout history been used to justify the cruelest abuses of governmental power, while nationalism too frequently has stirred up the basest expressions of bigotry and discrimination. Both patriotism and nationalism are powerful tools which can advance either good or evil, their character being inextricably linked to the moral, political and religious philosophy of the country that employs them.
Every Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein has tried to manipulate their people’s natural patriotism to serve their own megalomaniacal ambitions. Even in a nation of mixed character such as our own (where a Christian Constitution is “upheld” by humanist government officials), excessive patriotism can prove detrimental because it blinds us to our faults and renders us incapable of repentance and change. Our respect for human rights may be far better than most other nations, but we still have much to improve upon.
If we are looking for enemies, we need not look overseas to find them. There are plenty of groups within our own borders which are committed to the undermining of our Constitution, the elimination of traditional family values, and the destruction of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
We are under attack from within, even from those we have “chosen” to govern us. A corrupt, arrogant and elitist Congress now levies higher taxes on working families than were imposed on the serfs in the Middle Ages. The leaders of both political parties are committed to the perpetuation of this “voluntary” economic servitude of all taxpaying Americans. Republicans are as much to blame (well almost) as Democrats on this score. Even during the supposedly anti-tax Reagan/Bush years, government spending has increased from $590 billion to over 1.4 trillion. Of all the major presidential candidates, Mr. Buchanan is the only one who has taken an iron-clad “no new taxes” pledge. More importantly, he is the only one who has vowed to launch a full scale revolution to overthrow the oppressive Beltway oligarchy.
Outside of government there are a host of enemies far more dangerous and insidious than any foreign economic competitors we might face. Again, Buchanan is the only Republican or Democrat who is willing to explicitly oppose these dangerous special interest groups. In fact, the Democratic candidates are fighting each other for the money and endorsements of these left-wing extremists. These destructive organizations include the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in their rabid promotion of the multi-billion dollar abortion industry, virulently ant-Christian groups such as the ACLU and People for the “American” Way (PAW), and the radically feminist National Organization for Women (NOW), whose predominantly lesbian leaders masquerade as advocates for women’s issues.
Another threat to American values comes from the leadership of the National Education Association (NEA) in their commitment to monopolize control of our children’s education in order to neutralize the moral values imparted by parents. Pat Buchanan should not expect any endorsements from this quarter. Nor will he find much support amongst the left-wing elite of higher academia. These socialist true believers will be too busy training young activists to advance diverse agendas ranging from pro-homosexual politics to ecoterrorism, while systematically denigrating Western culture and mocking traditional family values.
Clearly, we have enough battles to keep us busy on the home front for years to come. Buchanan may consider these threats secondary to foreign economic incursions, but at least his awareness of them might provide some measure of security against their continued cancerous growth.
Buchanan’s campaign announcement includes several bold statements which would have sounded commonplace to the people of Washington, Adams or Jefferson’s day, but which are considered heretical fantasies by most of today’s political establishment. For example, on the seperation of church and state, he said:
“We need to persuade pastors and preachers to return to their pulpits to re-instruct us in the commandments and truths of our traditional faiths … Within the power of a limited government, we must do all we can to reconstruct the old conscience forming institutions of society – faith and church, home and school. We need God’s help.”
God certainly doesn’t play the game of partisan politics, no matter how much we may try to claim his endorsement. Yet it is also certain that God is more inclined to look favorably upon those who are willing to publicly recognize their need for Him. That is the foundation for all successful endeavors. Over time, a humble man who recognizes his fallibility and dependency on his Creator will be more likely to adjust and correct the errors of his political thinking.
Pat Buchanan has his share of rough edges, blind spots, impudent rhetoric, and quirky pet peeves. Add to that his faulty prioritization of the problems confronting our nation and an imprecise approach to their solution, and you’ve got a candidate with plenty of room for improvement.
But if the cornerstone of Buchanan’s platform is truly a recognition that he and the nation seeks to lead must look to God for the wisdom to run both our individual lives and our collective civil government, then we might very well have before us the raw materials for the making of both a great stateman and a true public servant.