THE POOP: There is a school of thought which believes that one essential difference between a good man and a great man is the willingness of the latter to be worse than the former. After all, one of the most irreducible elements of greatness is a willingness to take risks, to make wild gambles, to do things which other men will not do. It is just such gambles, such flagrant disregard for consequence and the decent opinion of others, that make a man a hero when he succeeds -- and a monster when he fails. Put another way, great men are simply willing to be bigger pricks than good men. And there is no bigger prick than Patrick Joseph Buchanan. While play-it-safers like Bill Buckley, self-impressed snobs like George Will and born middle-managers like John McLaughlin have settled into a comfortable microcelebrity that will leave them forgotten ten minutes after they die, Pat Buchanan -- who, whatever his other failings, is utterly fearless, completely self-confident, and shameless in the best possible sense -- has parlayed an iron will and a complete disdain for the fact that 90% of the country thinks he's a total asshole into an astonishing career that will ensure him a strange sort of American immortality. He has run for president three times under the banner of two different parties, sat at the right hand of the most powerful men in the country, and arguably twice been responsible for deciding who holds the position of the leader of the free world. And he's done it all in spite the fact that he's inarguably the most promient and unapologetic fascist in the U.S.A.
What made Buchanan turn out so different from these other men? He was John McLaughlin's friend and mentor, the man who got Jowly John a gig writing speeches for Nixon, but his demeanor is to McLaughlin's as a rabid pit bull's is to an irritated bichon-frise. He founded the American Conservative with the same philosophy that William F. Buckley brought to the National Review, but today, while the latter magazine is more successful, its founder seems completely irrelevant, while you can still walk down a dark alley around Election Day and be gripped with the fear that Pat Buchanan will jump out from behind a garbage can and punch you in the liver. And the only emotion the intelligent, dedicated George Will inspires in his readership is a sort of respectful bemusement, while the crude, brutal Buchanan can still raise hackles of terror, bugged eyes of pure awe, or gasps of amazement. Perhaps it's his background; unlike his peers, purebred New England aristocrats all, he's a German-Irish mutt with the background of Tom Hagen and the temperament of Sonny Corleone. He was never poor, but he only later became rich, and has a brawler's temperament instead of a thinker's; his autobiography, the ridiculous Right from the Beginning, is filled with stories of Buchanan getting in bar fights, punching out cops, and kicking the asses of all who dared oppose him. He was expelled from school for fighting (while still managing, like most of the other people in the right-wing chatterbox pantheon, to avoid fighting in an actual war), he honed his editorial chops in St. Louis rather than New York or Boston, and he learned his politics not from Jesuit sophists or Ivy League pedagogues, but from his middle-class father.
And boy, did those politics stick. Buchanan's father was an unapologetic sucker of fascist cock who had kind words to say about democratically uninclined thugs both foreign (Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco) and domestic (commie-chasing Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy), and Pat grew up to be one of the few men in the country with a high public profile who nonetheless could get away with being unabashed supporters of strongman-style politics. It's hard to pick out the moments that make up Pat Buchanan's greatest hits; there are so many to choose from. How about the multiple times he's reminded pluralist America that Christianity is "obviously...superior to Buddhism and Taoism and other faiths"? How about when he advised his boss, President Richard M. Nixon (his idol, far more so than Reagan), against supporting racial integration in the south -- which he violently opposed -- by saying that "the ship of integration was going down" and that they couldn't afford to be on deck when it happened? (The young Buchanan was one of the architects of the GOP's 'Southern Strategy', which pitted racist working-class whites against their liberal counterparts and has been one of the biggest political factors in the ruination of the entire country, something about which Pat is undoubtedly proud.) How about his 30-year long defense of South African apartheid, which took on many forms, from his advice to Nixon that the United States not concern itself with "whites mistreating a couple of blacks" to his statement (in 1990!) that blacks should have no more say in the governance of South Africa than Indians had in deciding the laws of America in the days of the Founding Fathers? Was it his innumerable defenses of Nazi war criminals? Was it his claim that women are weak sisters who can't hack it in a capitalist economy? His characterization of Canada as "Soviet Canuckistan"? His referring to Martin Luther King as a "fraud", a "demagogue", and "one of the most divisive men in contemporary history" (or, for that matter, his referring to Adolf Hitler as a man of "great courage", a "soldier's soldier", and a "genius" of "extraordinary gifts")? How about when he called his dad's hero, Francisco Franco, the savior of modern Catholicism (in Spain, no less, the country that brought the world the Inquisition)? Or maybe it's the strange mirror-effect his career has followed: almost 15 years after advising Nixon, in his capacity as a speechwriter, not to impose sanctions on racist South Africa, he advised Reagan, in his capacity as a speechwriter, to visit a German cemetary filled with SS soldiers and refer to them as "victims of the Holocaust". Which, when you consider that he's basically a Holocaust denier, really isn't that bad after all.
If Buchanan has a flaw (well, other than being a racist, homophobic, deranged, anti-Semitic fascist brute), it's that he's unable to keep his ambition in check. He wants to be somebody politically -- and that doesn't mean having a joke of a weekly syndicated column, or a penny-ante patronage job in someone else's administration, or a bunch of checks from delivering lectures on the peas-and-carrots circuit. It means being president of the United States of America. Pat has made a run for the good seat in the Oval Office three times, in 1992 (about which see below) and 1996 (when he came terrifyingly close to getting the nomination) as a Republican and in 2000 as a Reform Party candidate. It was during this last run that he courted frothing abortion-hater Alan Keyes, and selected all-around loon Ezola Foster, as his vice-presidential running mates; this allowed him to claim against all available evidence that he is not a racist, when in fact all it proved is that he only likes black people who are even more batshit than he is. If Buchanan has a strength, it's that he's able to maintain his level of fame, fortune and respectability despite having run for president thrice, making a bigger jackass out of himself each time and constantly reinforcing the eminently correct critical perception of him as a racist, homophobic, deranged, anti-Semitic fascist brute.
One of my longest-held beliefs is that if we must have mass murderers -- which apparently we must; they're the most popular Google search topic next to pornography -- then they should be guys like Charles Manson (that is, drooling, rambling, completely bugfuck lunatics whose every word is an incomprehensible ramble that serves as a big, bright, loud warning bell to anyone who approaches) instead of guys like Jeffrey Dahmer (that is, quiet, reserved, seemingly normal guys who don't even get noticed until someone starts pulling the heads out of their vegetable crisper). No one's going to overlook Charlie Manson; no one's going to take up his offer of a ride to the airport. Sure, he's gonna kill a few people, but at least you can see him coming and catch him before he wreaks too much havok. And, in the same way, if we have to have shithead right-wing pocket Mussolinis -- which apparently we must; look at who's president, after all -- then they should be guys like Pat Buchanan. He may be a racist, homophobic, deranged, anti-Semitic fascist brute, but at least he's not, despite his own fumbling efforts, fooling anyone.
WHAT’S THE ONE THING HE KNOWS FOR SURE? Everyone not like him can fuck off and go to hell.
DEFINING MOMENT: Inexplicably selected to deliver the keynote speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention -- tone-blind GOP strategists assumed he would be a healthy tonic to incumbent George H.W. Bush's bland, middle-of-the-road conservativism -- Buchanan delivered a terrifyingly divisive speech in which he ignored any mention of the slumbering economy in favor of reminding everyone that there was a sinister and dangerous cabal of homosexuals trying to destroy America, and that his fellow citizens should prepare for a "religious war" (he didn't go into detail as to the identity of the combatants, but we were left to assume it would be Christians on one side and everybody else on the other). As it happened, this crazy apocalyptic rant kinda turned everybody off, and almost single-handedly won the election for Bill Clinton. (A close runner-up for Pat Buchanan's defining moment would be when, in 2000, he managed to impose himself onto the presidential ballot in the state of Florida, confusing a number of slightly nervous elderly Jewish voters in several counties and almost single-handedly winning the election for George W. Bush. Karma is a cruel taskmistress.)