Saturday, July 18, 2020

Buchanan and Republican Politics: There Is No There There

Buchanan and Republican Politics: There Is No There There
Peter Schultz

            More reflections on Patrick Buchanan’s book Nixon’s White House Wars.”

            What’s revealed by Buchanan, inadvertently, in Nixon’s White House Wars is the emptiness of the Republican Party’s politics during the Nixon years – and beyond. After the 1970 mid-term elections, where the Republicans followed what might be called the “Agnew strategy” of using intense rhetoric to excoriate the Democrats as “radical liberals,” and did not succeed as they thought they might, the party, including the likes of Buchanan, realized that it was time to pull back. However, Buchanan did challenge those who were critical of the Agnew campaign strategy in the following way: “The legitimate question to ask the Mortons and others [critical of the Agnew strategy] is what issues they would have had us run on….Had we devoted our campaign to the economic issue – those final statistics about a seven-billion deficit for the first quarter . . . would have been crippling blows.” [194]

            This is, although Buchanan doesn’t present it this way, an admission that the Republican strategy reflected an essentially empty politics. This emptiness is also revealed by some events, like Nixon delaying his departure from a speech in San Jose so he could “taunt demonstrators.” From Haldeman’s diary:

“We wanted some confrontation and there were no hecklers in the hall, so we stalled our departure . . . so they could zero in outside . . . .Before [leaving], the P[resident] stood up and gave the V sign, which made them mad. They threw rocks, flags, and candles as we drove out . . . .” [194]

            Now the same can be said of the decision to campaign against the Democrats by labeling them “radical liberals.” This is an alternative to actually debating the Democrats, debating the issues, revealing once again the emptiness of the Republican Party’s politics.

            In sum, Agnew’s rhetoric, Buchanan’s rhetoric belie an emptiness, a hollowness beyond or beneath it. “The social issue,” as Buchanan calls it, disguises this emptiness and eventually people catch on which is why it became necessary for the Republicans to back off such rhetoric. But the alternative, as Buchanan presents it, is just as empty. To quote Buchanan:

            “If I were to make a shotgun judgment now as to the kind of campaign the president should run in 1972 – I would recommend he wrap himself in the trappings of his office . . . .” [195, emphasis added]

            So, either the Republicans would launch attacks on their “enemies,” or they would wrap themselves and the president in “the flag,” as it were. But both strategies belie an empty, hollow politics. There is no there there.

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