The Next John McCain?
March 23, 2000
media love John McCain. They detest Pat Buchanan. But they could
turn out to be Buchanans 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 Arguss hundred eyelids droop at once, the media may find
Naughty, but irresistible.
Buchanans views on many subjects are politically risqué.
Last year, for example, he blasphemed against liberalisms 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
Israels Amen Corner in this country. (Nobody really
denied that the Amen Corner exists; you just werent supposed to
shocking, Buchanans 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 Stalins conquest of
ten Christian countries was a tolerable outcome.
Still, Buchanans 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, hes 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
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
Buckleys 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, its hard to hate a man who makes
your work fun again.
How would Buchanan handle Gore and
Bush? Im mildly apprehensive about that debate, he
jokes, because Ive got to go up against the guy who invented
the Internet. But Ive figured out how Im gonna deal with
Dubya. Im gonna walk by his podium and say, Dubya, you
better know who the prime minister of Estonia is because thats
the first question.
When liberals clamor for
diversity, they dont necessarily mean they are ready
to tolerate actual disagreement. But even they may find the monotony of a
Bush-Gore contest more than flesh can bear. If so, they may insist on an
inclusiveness broad enough to include Pat Buchanan.
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