The Corner

Buchanan in 1996

James Antle disputes two words of my latest article for the magazine. I wrote that in 1996, Patrick “Buchanan ran as a strong social conservative who disagreed with most Republicans on trade, taxes, and entitlements.” Antle grants me trade. He notes that Buchanan disagreed with the Republicans’ decision to try to slow the growth of Medicare, but adds, “I’m not sure it represented the totality of Buchanan’s thinking on entitlements circa 1996.” Covering the campaign, I had no access to whatever private thoughts Buchanan had on entitlements. I know he disagreed with the biggest Republican domestic initiative of the time.

Antle thinks that I’ve got Buchanan even more wrong on taxes.

[T]here wasn’t much heterodox about Buchanan’s position on taxes. He had opposed the tax increases of 1990 and 1993. He favored a modified flat tax, retaining deductions for mortage interest and charitable donations. He supported a capital gains tax cut. He even hoped to balance his tariffs with lower taxes on businesses domestically. Buchanan might have criticized the Republican economic agenda for not being sufficiently concerned with middle- and working-class interests–which now seems to be becoming the consensus conservative position–but I don’t see where he took positions on taxes that were at odds with a majority of Republicans.

I think Antle is premature in declaring the existence of that “consensus conservative position,” although I hope it becomes one soon. But trashing tax cuts for rich people was not a consensus conservative position in 1996 or at any time since. That’s how he attacked the flat tax in a New York Times op-ed:

The flat tax of Steve Forbes seems to have been rooted in the dictum that “what’s good for Bohemian Grove is good for America.” Indeed, it appears to have been drafted on the back of a menu, after a bibulous evening with the boys down at the yacht basin.

In the op-ed, he also plumps for estate taxes, so long as the exemption level is raised.

Anyway, I’m glad Antle liked the article, which mentions Buchanan only briefly. 

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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