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Patrick J Buchanan Where the Right Went Wrong

Updated on February 2, 2013


Patrick Buchanan is a controversial figure in American politics. As a former aide to Richard Nixon and press secretary to Ronald Regan, he has impeccable establishment credentials. He has the education and training to be knowledgeable on the subject. Where the Right Went Wrong is mainly about where conservatives lost the way, about where the Republicans went wrong. About how it came to be that a Republican controlled capital city, whose leaders daily profess their conservatism, could preside over the largest fiscal and trade deficits in our history and have us mired in a Wilsonian imperial war to remake the Arab Middle East in the image of the American West. This book is also about a group that betrayed the good cause of conservatism, because, from the very beginning, they never believed it. They had another agenda all along (p. 10).

The first two chapters are a description of rapid progression, its impetus, and its advocates. Islam is explored in the third chapter, with a succinct history of a militant religion since its inception, advancing and retreating relative to Christendom. I questioned however how effective, historically speaking, is full frontal attack on terrorism. Chapter four answers that question handily, bringing to this reader’s mind a metaphorical reply, “It’s about as effective as taking a baseball bat to a wasp’s nest.” The War on Terror was a declaration of an unwinnable War. Expecting to root out the evildoers is a messianic endeavor that guarantees perpetual war. Terror has been with us since before the Romans put Carthage to the sword and we cannot expect it to be eliminated. In our times, terrorism falls into four categories: state, revolutionary, war, and anarchic. These categories are treated separately and examples are given of each. Chapter three Buchanan talks about the Islam Suicidal fanatics that are dedicated to imposing an Islamist interpretation of Shi’a law on the entire world would. In Buchanan’s world, though, they are the righteous victims of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and by pinning the blame on his opponents’ policies, Buchanan have made terrorists the neoconservatives’ moral superiors. The bulk of his book is dedicated to advancing his belief that terrorism is the Islamic world’s reaction to the neoconservative foreign policy.

In the next two chapters, Buchanan hits on familiar themes of Big Government conservatism and deleterious fiscal, monetary, and trade policies. Suffice it to say, the noble Westerner doesn’t come away from the analysis unscathed, especially in the war terror category. Republican leaders are not doing what their party says they are doing. Isolationism, rather than taking the war to the enemy, is the genuine conservative tradition. Bush Sr. had left a legacy; he had planted America’s feet on the road to empire. Between the day he took office and the day his son followed suit, the United States invaded Panama, intervened in Somalia, occupied Haiti, pushed NATO to the borders of Russia, created protectorates in Kuwait and Bosnia, bombed Serbia for seventy-eight days, occupied Kosovo, adopted a policy of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, and deployed thousands of troops on Saudi soil sacred to all Muslims (p. 15).

Buchanan posits what I will label an inflection point on the trajectory toward American empire. His term crack up describes what has happened to the Right in the past fifteen years, but fissures were visible in the foundation 144 years ago when the Republicans’ first president took the helm; fissures that formed upon the shifting soil of the Enlightenment, but that’s another topic for another day. The subtitle of this book reads: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency. George H. W. Bush pressed forward toward a dream of what he literally called a “New World Order”. Then he lost miserably against Clinton and Perot.

In the ninth chapter, he hits hard on The Abdication of Congress and the Rise of Judicial Dictatorship. Buchanan believes George W. Bush has shown the way with his strong judicial appointments thus far, calling them equal in quality or even superior to those of Ronald Reagan. However given the Republican track record, and an evenly divided Senate, I have little confidence that another strong conservative will run the gauntlet successfully. Still, this question appears to be the deciding factor in Buchanan’s mind. Bush is his best hope to restore judicial restraint in the Supreme Court in his lifetime. This book is about a group that betrayed conservatism because, from the very beginning, they never believed in it. As Buchanan shows, they had another agenda all along. As critics of Buchanan would expect, a chapter defending protectionist economics was forthcoming. I was taken aback by his bold approval of protectionist policies such as Clay and Lincoln’s economic nationalism, dubbed the American System. This is one area in which I’ve always toed the line of free trade good and protective tariffs evil, but that was back when it was blue-collar steelworkers being priced out of jobs. Now, even in the high technology world of semiconductor manufacturing, the forces of cheap labor overseas presents the high likelihood that the career I’ve built over twenty years will amount to nothing as manufacturing moves offshore to places like China, Costa Rica, and Indonesia. It’s got my attention, and the following assertion makes sense to me: But tariffs are taxes, comes the retort of Libertarians. Tariffs raise the prices of goods. True. But all taxes, tariffs, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes are factored into the final price of the goods we buy. When a nation puts a tariff on foreign goods coming into the country, it is able to cut taxes on goods produced inside the country. This is the way to give U.S. manufacturers and workers a “home-field advantage” (p. 172). The free trade mantra ignores national distinctions and perpetuates one worldism in my mind. What of loyalty to our own land and people? Is raw consumerism right for America? Conservatives, said Ronald Reagan, believe in the values of work, family, faith, community, and country.” I believe however free trade puts the demands of consumers ahead of the duties of citizens, the unbridled freedom of the individual in the marketplace ahead of all claims of family, community, and country. Free trade says what is best for the individual, now, at the cheapest price, is what is best for America. That is not conservatism. Free trade according to Frank and I somewhat agree, does to a nation what alcohol does to a man, takes first of his vitality and energy, then of his independence, then of his life.

Buchanan does an excellent and very well informed job of describing all that is wrong however he does not offer any solutions. This is my main critique of the book. Amidst the grim critique, Buchanan still apparently holds out hope for the Republican Party. I can’t quite bring myself to share his optimism. I may just write Ron Paul and ask him for his take on things.

America today exhibits the symptoms of a nation passing into middle age. We spend more than we earn. We consume more than we produce. The evangelists of globalism who once promised us our trade deficits would disappear now assure us that trade deficits do not matter. I believe free trade maybe the killer of American manufacturing. It is the primrose path to the loss of economic independence and national sovereignty and not a bright, shining lie (pp. 170-171). Pat Buchanan is not an ultraconservative, nor do I believe he is a conservative but a Democrat. He has evolved, in this book as well as his career, but he is not a fringe nut. He supported Nixon, yes, but in hindsight would he support now some of things Nixon advocated, I do not think so. Buchanan is a patriot, and he is correct in most of his observations. President Bush is a traitor. The notion that John Kerry is a traitor, too, and may have become a worse traitor is beside the point. The neoconservatives and their dominating policies have accelerated the destruction of the republic, and the South American invasion of the southern border will be among the items that bring them down. Iraq is plainly and simply a disaster, but disasters at home count more. New Orleans, the worsening oil crisis, housing bubbles going bad, and increasing lawlessness are just the tip of the iceberg, and signs of worse things to come. Citizens, the hull of our ship of state is ripped open, and we're taking on water. While researching who the book was dedicated to, Ronald Reagan I found in October 1980, Reagan called for an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. In the same speech, he declared, I believe in the right of settlements in the West Bank. In office, Reagan was forced to modify his position on what are called settlements. But he never changed in his opposition to a Palestinian state, or his rejection of negotiations with Arafat and his PLO. Ronald Reagan, Buchanan claims, never shared neoconservative views. However, Reagan and the neoconservatives shared the belief that we must take the war to the enemy. Reagan often urged support of freedom fighters on his radio commentary in the late 1970s, and as president he backed insurgencies in Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Moreover, his invasion of Grenada was preemptive. Like Iraq, Grenada did not attack us and had not harmed American medical students on the island and Reagan moved to make sure the pro Castro regime did not get the opportunity. But then Buchanan has a long history of misreading Reagan; Nancy Reagan used to regularly change Buchanan’s speeches in the mid-80s, saying, those are not Ronnie’s ideas, they still aren’t. In Where the Right Went Wrong, Buchanan blames all the world's ills to the conspiratorial influence of dishonest neoconservatives whose disastrous policies inspired the violent terrorist whirlwind we now reap. The War on Terrorism ought not to be curtailed because overextending American influence is bad for our nation; Buchanan argues the American presence around the world must be curtailed because our nation is bad, ipso facto an imperialist bully. The Hate America Right, like the Hate America Left, now asserts terrorism is best explained by our own wicked policies, forced upon the country by a tiny group of shadowy, pro democracy, capitalist ideologues whose only allegiance is to the bottom line of their sponsoring multinational corporations. Their conclusions may diverge but their rhetoric is identical. But the tendency to Blame America First appears to be a staple of Buchanan’s post Cold War thinking. Beyond his lack of moral sense, Where the Right Went Wrong misrepresents the history of the neoconservative movement, the legacy of two presidencies and a swath of world history. Buchanan also claims George W. Bush promised a humble foreign policy of nonintervention, but the neoconservatives hijacked his presidency after 9/11. The Bush of 2000 was dedicated to nonintervention, Buchanan tells us now. This is certainly not how Buchanan saw the matter in 2000, when he launched a third party presidential bid to keep America a Republic, not an Empire. If George W. Bush had been a Buchanan clone, there would be no need for Buchanan’s hopeless run.

In my research I found the actual historical facts are much different than Buchanan’s. I strongly disagreed with Pat Buchanan's assessment of Islam and America's troubles in the world. Buchanan stumbles greatly when he shows his ignorance about Islam and the Palestinian conflict. One can only fathom that Pat seems to have been derived all of his information directly from Al Jezzera & PLO news broadcasts.

However he does a good job in warning us about this free trade fiasco. The implications are of course that our hard industries are about to be extinct. He also professes against the huge trade imbalance with China and posits that we are sacrificing short term gains for huge long term losses. Buchanan however, ignores the new information technology paradigm that is affecting the whole world. He also ignores historical evidence that countries whose political policies cause them to become isolationist virtually cease to exist. The UK, France, Spain, etc. would be prime examples. His speaking about the falling dollar is fine; one must keep in mind that as the dollar falls, our exports become cheaper to other countries and their imports more costly. This of course can be seen as a great stabilizing effect, unless as Buchanan thinks, we are competing against a country, such as China, that keeps it currency artificially low. The overall book had it good points but I think I disagree with to much to recommend it again.


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