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Pat Buchanan: Cultural Conservative Warrior (page 1 of 2)
By Jerry Harris

It’s easy to see why Buchanan left the Republican Party. In his book The Great Betrayal he praises socialist John Stewart Mills, backs Keynesian economics, and uses arguments from left wing liberals Robert Reich and William Grieder to bolster his own position. On the other hand he attacks right-wing stalwarts Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Phil Graham, while criticizing conservative economists icons Milton Friedman and Ludwig Von Mises. No wonder Republicans are saying good-bye Pat, while the left tries to figure out how a right-wing populist can steal so much of it’s own agenda.

Beyond interesting copy for the pundits, Buchanan is worth a deeper look. Politically he represents a doctrine of economic nationalism that has deep roots among workers and the middle class. Neo-liberal globalization is the political face of third wave information capitalism. Its’ this new world order of free markets and digitized speculation that Buchanan attacks, seeking to build a political base from the right-wing social movement of the Reagan era. His politics are based on maintaining the social contract that grew out of industrial age imperialism. Second wave capitalism had a nationalist project that rooted its stability and popularity in sharing the wealth of imperialist plunder from the Third World. Foreign policy was based on creating jobs and cheap consumer goods for the white middle class and labor aristocracy. As the slogan said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the U.S.A.” In this sense Buchanan is truly a reactionary, placing himself in a bygone era and building barricades against the future.

The global goal of today’s ruling class has no nationalist project, only a class strategy unattached to any particular country. The strategy of the new global capitalist class is based on world accumulation. This includes a world labor market, global assembly lines, and the rule of international finance. Paying U.S. auto workers $18 an hour is seen as an inefficient use of money compared to $3 an hour in Mexico, or 25 cents an hour for textile workers in Honduras. This is what Buchanan means by the “Great Betrayal.” He is angry at a capitalism that has outgrown its national straight jacket and thereby liberated itself from any national responsibility. He wants America to return to a pre-globalized world where foreign policy served to enrich the capitalist class while cultivating a middle class consumer society. From this context Buchanan sees Gingrich, Bush, and his former Republican cohorts as third wave conservatives whose main agenda is global free markets, and he’s right!

Buchanan’s sympathy is for, “Second Wave America, the forgotten America left behind. White-collar and blue-collar, they work for someone else, many with hands, tools, and machines in factories soon to be hoisted onto the chopping block of some corporate downsizer in some distant city or foreign country. Second Wave America is a land of middle-class anxiety, downsized hopes, and vanished dreams …This other America is the inner city, where the yellow brick road to the middle class narrows to a single lane.”

Its clear Buchanan was caught in an unsolvable contradiction. The right-wing coalition was built on an alliance between social movement conservatives, Reagan democrats, and neo-liberal globalists. But the economic policies of free market speculation undercut the living standards and jobs of the conservative middle class and blue-collar nationalists. These contradictions forced the alliance to split and Buchanan had to make a choice; whether to join the globalist’s camp, or attempt to lead a right-wing populist movement based on economic nationalism and social conservatism.

Buchanan articulated this problem in his weekly column (3-23-98) titled “Free-trade Extremists Undermine Reagan’s Legacy.” He argued that while global free trade and cutting government safety nets created fortunes for some, “in the middle and working classes they generate anxiety, insecurity, and disparities in income. Since these classes seek stability and order from their political systems above all else, Thatcherism and Reaganism undermine the very social structure on which they were built”. He concludes that, “Conservatism is thus at a crossroads. And if social conservatism is at war with unfettered capitalism, whose side are we on?” Well, Buchanan has made his choice about which side he is on and the type of movement he wants to build.

Economic nationalism comes easy to Buchanan, as he writes in The Great Betrayal, “This is the way the world works. Nations are rivals, antagonists, and adversaries, in endless struggle through time to enhance relative power and position. So it has been: so it shall ever be.” (Buchanan p. 66) Regardless of class differences, Buchanan sees nationalism as the basis of solidarity under the leadership of benevolent and patriotic corporations in a never-ending Darwinian struggle for national supremacy. His archetype seems to be Henry Ford who “saw himself as pater familias of Ford Motor Company, a patriarch…who posses that sense of obligation similar to what a good commander feels toward his soldiers.” (p. 94) Of course, Buchanan fails to mention that Ford installed machine guns in front of his house and hired gangland thugs to protect him from this “family” of laborers after his guards shot down four workers during a protest march in the Great Depression. But Buchanan goes to great extents to tell readers of the virtues of U.S. industrial giants. As he points out, “It is grossly unfair to damn for lack of patriotism GM and all the other U.S. companies now siting new plants outside the United States,” they were “driven out of American, whipped into exile by government policies…virtually designed to rid this nation of its core industrial base.” (p. 86)

Buchanan may keep the auto industry close to his heart because of their bashing of foreign imports before they went global. But whom does he think he is attacking when he states, “A transnational has no heart or soul. It is an amoral institution that exists to maximize profits, executive compensation, and stock dividends. If the bottom line commands the cashiering of loyal workers after years of service, it will be done with the same ruthless efficiency with which obsolete equipment is junked.” (p. 55) Sounds like General Motors to us, and the manufacturing giants of the Fortune 500 who have built the global assembly line. Buchanan may want to lay the basis for an alliance between industrial workers and corporations, but it will only work if the global economy collapses and corporations retreat to national markets. The fear of a collapse may be the exact reason Buchanan is kept in the wings awaiting his turn, but more on this later.

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