Defending Conservatism

Pat Buchanan endorsed the reelection of President George W. Bush this week. In the pages of his magazine, The American Conservative, he wrote that, “No matter what the quarrels inside the family, when the shooting starts, you come home to your own.” Just like that, Pat admits his home is still the Republican Party. On the issues, Buchanan supports President Bush over John Kerry because “on life, guns, judges, taxes, sovereignty and defense, Bush is far better.” Those are points of conservative principle on which the President and the commentator agree. In his new book, Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency, Buchanan drops the gloves and goes into depth explaining the fundamental difference between some current administration polices and the author’s view of traditional conservatism. From the outset he attacks the administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Although absurdly smeared along with columnist Bob Novak as unpatriotic by some lesser-known scribblers for this stand, he does have the benefit of a long legacy of Republican military reserve to back up his argument for non-interventionism. The practical question is whether now is the time for the United States to have less of an active role in the world’s crises rather than more. If we don’t lead the world, who will? Many instinctive conservatives who want to agree with Buchanan in theory have insomniac fits at the prospect of a world where American benevolence is shoved aside so that France, China, Russia and Germany can run things. Or the United Nations, for that matter. Buchanan writes that Fallujah “may prove the high tide of an American empire that has begun its long retreat.” He points to imperial overreach to compare the U.S.A. circa 2004 to the Roman, British, Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian and Ottoman empires before their respective collapses. Of these, only Rome and Britain are comparable to the U.S. in the global hegemony they possessed at the height of their power. Unlike Rome and Britain, we have a huge population, are resource-rich without plundering any colonies, and have an $11-trillion GDP that dwarfs everyone. Which brings us to Buchanan’s second major gripe with the Grand Old Party of our day. “Free trade,” he writes, “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.” The problem with protectionism, however, is that it is never a one-way street. The author explains “why exports are better” than imports. But we can’t slap tariffs on foreign products without the foreigners responding by slapping more sanctions on ours. With 95% of potential consumers living outside our borders, American companies depend on exports and can’t afford that. It is also doubtful that protectionism equals peace. Trade wars can lead to real wars. It took World War II and the destruction of all of America’s economic competitors to pull this country out of the Great Depression brought on by the disastrous 1930 Smoot-Hawley Act and the flurry of retaliatory tariffs it spawned. It was then free trade with the vanquished that created America’s huge, rich middle class and the utopian 1950s that it often seems Buchanan wants to recreate. It is a relief when the author sets his sights on judicial dictatorship and how activist leftist judges rule in favor of pornography, abortion, homosexuality, affirmative action and flag burning while ruling against the death penalty, tough crime laws and the Pledge of Allegiance in schools–all positions contrary to the views of the majority of Americans. But agree or disagree with all of his positions, Where the Right Went Wrong is wonderfully written. Nobody turns a sharp phrase, drops a historical reference or makes a literary allusion as naturally as Pat Buchanan. Patriotism leads him to challenge modern thinking–and that makes his country and his party stronger.