Brown Shirt, Blue Collar

Patrick J. Buchanan
The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy
Little, Brown

When Pat Buchanan goes rooting through the history of the past hundred years for an unsullied political hero, he has to snuffle all the way back to William McKinley, favorite president of the robber barons. In campaigns against the prairie populist William Jennings Bryan, McKinley's supporters used to taunt the Democrats with this little ditty:

Free trade and free silver, free whiskey,

free lunch,

Free love and free speech is their cry,

But when all our products are free as

they wish,

From whom will our customers buy?

With the exception of the dated reference to free silver, this bygone lyric might well serve as a résumé of Buchanan's latest tract, The Great Betrayal, a polemic against the evils of free trade.

A slick packager of other people's ideas--even when he takes them out of context--Buchanan here argues that the political coalition that produced Ronald Reagan is "shattered," done in by the collapse of communism. In place of the Cold War, the new "conflict of the age" stems from the fact that "within both [Democratic and Republican] parties, nationalists are now in rancorous conflict with the globalists." Defining himself as an "economic nationalist," Buchanan attacks the Republican "sellout" in embracing free trade, arguing that by doing so the GOP has "turned its back on history, tradition, and [its] greatest men." His solution: Reconstruct "a tariff wall built by Washington, Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln, and the Republican presidents who followed."

The great satirist Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil's Dictionary, defined a tariff as a "scale of taxes on imports designed to protect the domestic producer against the greed of the consumer." In Buchanan's view, tariffs are the great panacea for all our economic ills. Combining his protectionism with trickle-down economics, he proposes that "the scores of billions of dollars in tariff revenues should be used to virtually eliminate taxes on savings, capital gains, and inheritances. With taxes on capital at zero in the United States, departed capital would come running home and new capital would come pouring in."

Buchanan cribs the notions he offers in this book from a heterodox variety of sources. These range from reactionary economic theorists like Ludwig von Mises and Wilhelm Roepke to the French left-wing writer (and sometime counselor to the late President François Mitterand) Regis Debray, with a healthy dose of Pat Choate, Ross Perot's economic counselor and 1996 running mate, who is credited in the book's acknowledgements with helping Buchanan hone his arguments.

Meanwhile, his tirades against the "transnational elites" who have taken over the Republican Party--an attempt to give some intellectual cover to the assaults on George Bush and the New World Order that marked his first presidential campaign in 1992--have provoked an unprecedented avalanche of attacks on Buchanan from his erstwhile conservative friends.

Robert Bartley, the Wall Street Journal's editor, has denounced the book as the last gasp of "the old nativist and isolationist right," a "rejection of modernity" that "thump[s] the drum for a kind of tribal solidarity in the name of 'sovereignty,'" adding that "it's difficult to see what Mr. Buchanan's platform has to do with conservatism." The National Review recently devoted its cover to a full-blown send-up of Buchanan for "urging his 'peasants with pitchforks' to storm the castles of the GOP establishment and to pull up the drawbridge against the global economy."

There is not much new in Buchanan's attempt to meld the anti-corporate critiques of the left and right into what one might call brown populism. When Pat declares that "to worship the market is a form of idolatry no less than worshipping the state," he sounds remarkably like the leaders of the European neo-fascist parties--France's Jean-Marie LePen, Italy's Gianfranco Fini, and Austria's Jorg Haider--mixing economic appeals to the resentments of the lumpen middle classes and blue-collar Reagan Democrats with ferocious assaults on the stump against the "decadence" of modern life. Buchanan's newspaper columns are filled with diatribes against homosexuals, immigrants, liberated women, and the godless. And even though he mutes such rabble-rousing in this book, it lurks just beneath the surface. For Buchanan, the World Trade Organization and the mythical Homintern are two sides of the same coin.

The Great Betrayal is, of course, an exercise in pamphleteering designed to help lay the groundwork for another Buchanan presidential race. And it is the fact that Buchanan's demagogy has such appeal that seems most to frighten the guardians of the temple of traditional conservatism. As National Review's John O'Sullivan has noted, "Buchanan owns certain issues such as protectionism, a foreign policy averse to intervention abroad, and an 'America first' nationalism. Anathema to conservatives inside the Beltway, they are nonetheless favored by substantial numbers outside. Indeed, the Fabrizio poll commissioned by the GOP after its 1996 defeat embarrassingly found that free trade had minority support in all the [Republican] party's constituent groups, including its free-market wing."

Buchanan may quote the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney in opposition to NAFTA and Ralph Nader's arguments against International Monetary Fund bailouts of multinational banks and corporations, but he shows his true colors when he dubs the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the like "relics of our 'Marshall Plan mentality' [that] have become global-socialist centers for the redistribution of American wealth." And his claim to be on the side of the workers is exposed as so much trumpery when he calls for replacing the entire tax code with a national sales tax, the most regressive form of taxation (which is to say nothing of Buchanan's long-standing disdain for unions).

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