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The Unlikeliest Coalition-Builder; In a Huff; On Deck


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Jonah Goldberg

THE UNLIKELIEST COALITION-BUILDER
On Friday night, I was on a TV show along with Vic Kamber and Arianna Huffington. The topic was Pat Buchanan. I asserted that Pat Buchanan has more in common with Jesse Jackson than any GOP contender. On camera and off, this was received as loopy or deliberately controversial. It was neither.

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Libertarians love to point out that the Left and the Right become the same thing at their extreme ends. The strands go all the way around to become a circle, with the Left and the Right shaking hands on the issue of Big-Brother meddling. This is an overused observation, of limited utility, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

And the similarities between Pat and Jesse prove it. These guys have a lot in common–and not just an extensive knowledge of the green room at CNN. Pat’s policy aims may be anti-Left, but the means by which he would implement them are procedurally liberal (my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru makes this case very well and at length in the current issue of NR).

Pat is pro-quota — he wants more non-Jewish whites to get slots at Harvard and other Ivy League schools. Pat is in favor of an industrial policy that protects union workers from cradle to grave. He is for increased social welfare benefits. He opposes international trade. And he sounds more like Michael Moore than Ronald Reagan when it comes to discussing the pernicious and baleful influence of American corporations (though, unlike Moore, Pat has never set up a camera to spy on my house [see the May 14th, 1999 and May 19th, 1999 G-Files]) .

Well, you might say, Jesse Jackson is a peacenik. Well, so is Pat. He doesn’t want to fight anywhere any time, unless the Chinese are scrambling over our borders with Kalashnikovs. Yes, Buchanan favors increased defense spending and Jackson doesn’t. But that’s largely because Jackson thinks we might use the hardware we buy. If it came with a promise not to use the stuff, Jesse would probably be on board for the “stimulus spending” alone. Moreover, Buchanan and Jackson have the unfortunate habit of supporting autocrats and dictatorships. Pat’s habit is at least based on an American-interest foreign policy, and has a bit more intellectual credibility. Jackson’s support seems more closely related to his fondness for U.N. rent-seeking bureaucrats and African kleptocracy confabs.

But what about the whole culture war thing? Well, they both believe in a culture war, they’re just on different sides. Pat’s talk of quotas and his desire to restrict Third World immigration is simply a mirror-image of Jackson’s quota-mongering and his cheerleading for the day when America is no longer a majority-white nation. They may want to go different directions, but they are fighting for control of the same wheel, they both have the same style of driving, and they both essentially want to go the same direction — backward.

And there is something else that the Buchanan Brigades should worry about. Should Buchanan get the Reform Party nomination, he could, as it were, “grow in office.” Growing in office is typically what the Left calls the process by which conservatives fall in love with praise from the New York Times. To be sure, that won’t be Pat’s problem. But Pat could begin to sign off on issues that aren’t his in order to build his coalition.

This has always been a serious hurdle on the Left. Union organizers, for example, have to pay lip service to gay rights or the ERA because they belong to the same coalition as gay activists and feminists. Well, Pat had lunch with Lenora Fulani — who, as we all know, is to the Left of Jesse Jackson’s most left-wing adviser. Why? To build a coalition, of course.

Well, guess what other pro-lifer had to junk his devotion to the unborn in order to build a coalition? I’ll give you a hint. He said: “There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life.” He continued: “That was the premise to slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation, because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned.”

Still don’t know?

“That’s how the whites dehumanized us, by calling us niggers. The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify that which they wanted to do — and not even feel like they’d done anything wrong.”

The answer, of course, is Jesse Jackson — prior to his run for President in 1984. He’s as pro-choice as they come now. But hey, he’s built one hell of a coalition.

IN A HUFF
But as wrong-headed as I think Buchanan is for doing what he’s doing, it’s nothing compared to what I think about Ariana Huffington’s mischief. Huffington, who is supposed to be a conservative, suggested I was too soft on Buchanan. I said that Buchanan gets the goat of Jews and he has written some things he should be held accountable for. I reiterated William F. Buckley’s conclusion that it is very difficult to defend Buchanan against the charge of anti-Semitism. But I also said that I think in Pat’s heart he isn’t an anti-Semite, and that he could pass a lie detector on the question.

Huffington thought that condoning such behavior from Pat just because he is “nice” is “outrageous.” Well, fair enough. I’ve written plenty about Pat’s shortcomings. Let’s take a look at Arianna’s.

She, too, is very nice. I think she’s a good person and intelligent. But she seems to have adopted some sort of cyber-populist schtick which is, quite frankly, absurd considering the source. She says that she wants to “shake things up” and that she frets that Pat will seize the opportunity and win over the disenfranchised with his demagogic message.

On the program, I made the point that, well, if Pat’s message is so powerful and that the downtrodden feel so upset, how come Pat did so miserably at the Iowa straw poll? Arianna (and Vic Kamber too, but who cares?) erupted with incredulity. The Iowa straw poll means nothing! They shouted. It is merely a test of who has the most money and is willing to buy the most votes, I was told, as if I were an idiot.

Well, I am perfectly willing to entertain the notion that I am an idiot, but I went to Iowa and traveled with Gary Bauer’s campaign, and it’s pretty clear that Bauer didn’t buy votes. Indeed, Bauer took votes and volunteers from Buchanan. He took those votes because his message is more Republican, and he worked harder. Yes, the straw poll is about money, but it’s more about organization. And while money can buy organization, organization can also be achieved through commitment — and Bauer’s people have it. And, in Iowa, Buchanan’s people didn’t.

Huffington can’t have it both ways. You can’t simultaneously say that there is pent-up rage and fear out there which Buchanan is capable of exploiting to the detriment of the Republic, and at the same time say that low turnout is meaningless. These people can’t care all that much if they’re unwilling to make the most minimal effort for supposedly the only guy speaking their language. And if they don’t care that much, why are we even talking about them?

But what is really ridiculous is Huffington’s bad-mouthing of Buchanan while she goes around supporting (according to various news reports) Warren Beatty’s potential presidential campaign. Beatty’s candidacy is a joke. Yeah, okay, it may be of help to the Left fringe of the Democratic Party. But how Huffington can speak with any credibility about the Republican Party specifically, or conservatism in general, while she endorses in any way the candidacy of a vanity socialist is beyond my imagination.

Beatty’s view do not deserve much dissection, because he doesn’t deserve much notice. But if she really thinks a man in favor of socialized medicine, the moral authenticity of a black criminal underclass, and a hagiographer of John Reed is what the country needs for a president; or even if she merely believes that the national debate is simply missing that vital perspective, than she deserves to be in the Republican Party as much as Pat Buchanan, maybe less.

ON DECK
The Edmund Morris biography of Ronald Reagan has everybody talking. Please go to our Reagan center to follow the debate about the Gipper. We will have an interview with Dinesh D’Souza, a review of the Sixty Minutes profile of Morris [Link defunct], and links to everything Reagan under the sun including a discussion of Morris from the 12/8/98 G-File.



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