In Pat Buchanan's cozy living room in McLean, Va., which I visited for the first time last week, against one wall are two pieces of furniture that caught my eye. The first looked like it might be a grandfather clock, but when I looked at it head on, I saw that instead of clockworks, it contained a silver pitchfork. Next to it, on a small table, was a beautifully carved chess set. In the course of the next two hours, this man who I have known and admired for 30 years gave every indication that he intends to use both in this, his third run for the White House. When I first asked why he did not stay in the Republican Party and announce that he would simultaneously run for both the GOP nomination and the Reform Party nomination, in an attempt to fuse the two into a Reform Republican Party, he made it clear he fully intended to win this time out and that remaining inside the GOP would not only be a waste of time and energy but also would discourage his peasant army by forcing them to face a long series of losses dictated by the GOP establishment. By leaving the Republican Party he is now liberated from its "snares and delusions," as he put it in his announcement speech yesterday. He will concentrate on his personal base, building upon it steadily, winning the RP nomination next summer, and the general election which is a year away. That is a lot of time for a man of ideas and conviction to play at the chessboard against a field of contenders who are, each and every one, trapped by polls and focus groups.
Friends of Pat did not believe he expected, or even wanted, to win the GOP nomination in 1992, when he campaigned against the incumbent George Bush for having broken his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge to the party and the nation. In 1996, when Pat won the New Hampshire primary, I wrote a client letter seeing an outside chance that he could go all the way. But as soon as he donned a black hat and waved his pitchfork, it was clear he could not translate his victory in New Hampshire into further gains. The party establishment rallied to Bob Dole to put down his populist threat, even knowing Dole was almost certainly a sure loser in the general election. The political establishment of both parties is, after all, committed to the status quo.
In our talk last week, which came about when he called after learning I had been advising Dan Quayle before he dropped out, I threw out several policy ideas that I believed might be useful to him, which no other candidate would risk, and he seemed enthusiastic about most of them. The one thought I shared that surprised him, I think, is that he is not a "right-winger" at all, but is a Marxist at heart. Karl Marx, I told him, believed capitalism was doomed because its power elites would capture governments in order to reach into foreign markets, at the expense of the masses who would be left behind in the quest for global profits. I think he knew that but he looked surprised when I told him Marx, like Lincoln, believed America was the last, best hope of mankind. Almost 150 years ago, Marx wrote: The only thing that could save capitalism is active, universal suffrage. As I explained, the people on the bottom of the power pyramid have to be able to put aside their differences, to aggregate their votes to overcome the political muscle and money at the top. In a pyramid with equal sides, the top half has only a third of the volume. If they can discourage the people at the bottom from voting, by keeping them divided, they can hold power indefinitely.
This has been the method power elites have employed in Europe to maintain social stratification. It is a method Buchanan has correctly identified as a growing threat to this last best hope of mankind. The New York Times has a story today about the contest in the Democratic Party between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, noting there is almost no difference between them. There is, of course, almost no difference between Vice President Gore and George W. Bush. They are owned by the multinationals and the major banks, which wish to continue using their hold on government to extend their markets and secure them with our armed forces, through a NATO that has no underpinnings in our Constitution. The NYTimes, which is the voice of the Democratic establishment, this morning editorializes that Buchanan's ideas and rhetoric are stale and that there is a "whiff" of anti-Semitism about him. This is the genteel form of the political slanders against Pat. The bare-knuckled form comes in the form of Donald Trump, who sees an opportunity to make himself a hero to the Establishment by running against Buchanan for the RP nomination. Buchanan, Trump told "Meet the Press," is a "Hitler-lover" who he "guesses" is "anti-Semitic," and who "does not like blacks and gays." Trump actually will not run for the nomination, but will spend a few dollars on the political counsel of Roger Stone, a Republican knife-fighter. The WSJournal editorial page, which is the voice of the Republican Establishment, yesterday devoted several columns to a proof by Norman Podhoretz that Pat has to be anti-Semitic. Although Pat is a lifelong Zionist, it seems he has not always agreed with the policies of the Israeli Defense Ministry. Maybe there are times when it should not shoot first and ask questions later.
To win, Buchanan needs to pull together the folks at the bottom of the pyramid, most of whom don't trust each other. After the 1996 elections, I wrote about this power pyramid and suggested that the four leaders representing the folks who have been left behind by the multinational crowd were Jack Kemp, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Louis Farrakhan. At the time, I thought Kemp would lead the brigades, but Jack just plain ran out of gas. Buchanan now has Perot's confidence, I think. Certainly I think Perot is horrified at the idea Trump would be the RP nominee and would outspend the Donald to keep that from happening. Pat also has the confidence of Lenora Fulani, the RP's resident Marxist, and one of the most intelligent and articulate political women in America. She happens to be black, and she is an admirer of Louis Farrakhan, as am I. As for Kemp and the supply-siders, who don't trust George W Bush and see Steve Forbes spinning his wheels backwards, Buchanan needs to do a lot more work to win them over. His posture as a nationalist and protectionist is unshakable, but upon close examination is fairly benign. He is not trying to protect profits, as the Smoot-Hawley forces were in 1929, but to protect his base constituency, the losers, the people left behind. He readily acknowledges that a tariff wall should be uniform and at a height that maximizes revenue on the Laffer Curve, with revenues earmarked to reduce the capital gains tax to 10% and eliminate or dramatically lower federal estate taxes. He suggested a top tariff rate of 20%, I said 10% should be tops, and he seemed amenable. So it went on a variety of policy topics that we discussed.
On foreign policy and national security, there are only minor differences between us. The major disagreements are on foreign economic policy. They show up particularly in his morbid fascination with the trade deficit, which would lead him as President to do a lot of damage to world commerce, particularly our relations with China. Can this be fixed? Because he is open-minded and brilliant, he always will defer to a better argument. He told me he enjoyed reading my book on the 1996 campaign, The Last Race of the 20th Century, and it altered his thinking in some ways. He's promised to read at least Chapter Seven of The Way the World Works, my version of the period between WWI and WWII. I told him as long as he clings to his misunderstanding of the origins of the Depression, he would not be able to do better than 20% in a general election. The biggest barrier he will have to overcome is his Crossfire approach, which is "Us vs. Them." The people at the top of the political pyramid are committed to the status quo but will accede to change as long as it is not abrupt. The objective, after all, is not to stick those pitchforks in them, something Buchanan still seems to forget. His speech yesterday, I told him, would only be worth 6% of the vote. If he wants to get serious, he has to put away the pitchfork and sit down at the chessboard.