Patrick Buchanan is one of these people you cannot drive into the ground. He will be with us forever, like Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon—bionic men of the television age, impervious to political defeat and popular repudiation. No matter how discredited their ideas, regardless of how deeply irrelevant they have become, the Grand Oompahs of the American Right will not take a hint. If there is a camera crew within a mile, one or another of them will be hustling forth, clearing his throat and preparing to bestow on the universe his special brand of wisdom.
Though Buchanan’s bid last year to wrest the Republican presidential nomination from George Bush flopped, and without even a snip of fresh evidence that his loony little constituency has grown, the indefatigable Mr. Bluster tootles proudly along. He has the syndicated newspaper column and the CNN Crossfire assignment and a radio program scheduled to begin this summer. In every possible venue, he peddles his opinion. The man is an industry of one.
These days, Buchanan is especially eager for attention. He has organized something called The American Cause, a foundation that seeks to do nothing less than reclaim the national culture. Buchanan, of course, judges the aforementioned culture in sorry shape—ruined by retrograde artists and writers, by ultraliberals in Hollywood, by all those who would question traditional values and extol the unusual and suggest that reality goes beyond what merely meets the eye.
At a recent American Cause meeting in Washington, Buchanan exhorted the faithful as though he fancied himself a French commandant anticipating the battle of Dien Bien Phu. ‘We cannot raise a white flag in the cultural war, for that war is about who we are,” he declared. “Nor can conservatives become conscientious objectors, because culture shapes
U.S. broadcaster Pat Buchanan would like to see culturally correct artists painting bowls of fruit and taking photos of glowing sunsets politics. It is the Ho Chi Minh Trail to power. Surrender this province and we lose America.”
Lose America? That’s what the man said— lose America. Buchanan had begun to harp seriously on the subject at last year’s Republican convention when he delivered a speech designed to mortify anyone in the GOP who happened not to be dressed in a sheet or a straitjacket. His voice full of fervor and fury, Buchanan inveighed against rap music and rock concerts and women in combat units. He walloped churches that stress social action and laws nixing prayer in public schools.
When they gathered in the capital last month, Buchanan’s disciples likewise expounded on the general subject of the republic’s tumble into moral oblivion. English Prof. Jeffrey Hart of Dartmouth College warned American Cause cohorts about the “legitimization of homosexuality” and “open promiscuity” and even about those renegade moviemakers who lately have been rooting for the Indians and not the pioneers. Joseph Farah, former editor of the Sacramento, Calif., Union, summoned the spectre of communism—anybody here remember communism?—and said that the Reds understood that once you got hold of a nation’s cultural
institutions, political power was yours for the plucking. “The left has been doing that for the last 25 or 30 years,” he lamented.
Sure enough, Buchanan’s symposium could not be complete without a few remarks from Michael Medved, a fdm reviewer who has been stirring the soup lately with his book, Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values. It is Medved’s belief that modem movies, TV and music are antifamily, antireligion, antiestablishment and, yes, anti-American. Facing the nation “are questions of sanity versus insanity, decency versus indecency,” said Medved, evidently failing to grasp the splendid irony of his analysis.
Overlooked by Medved and Buchanan and the assorted decency police of American Cause are the very complexities that the word “culture” implies. The notion of a common ethic does not demand standardization of the arts—far from it—any more than it requires every American to eat at McDonald’s and watch, teary-eyed, the final episode of Cheers. One person’s cultural “values” may place a premium on Van Clibum and another on Motley Crtie but hey, that’s what makes for a ball game in these here United States.
It’s difficult to imagine just what Buchanan and his followers have in mind—what kind of “culture” they might find suitable for popular consumption. Shall there be music only with uplifting lyrics and lilting rhythms? Movies in which marriage necessarily precedes sex and AIDS does not exist? TV shows that offer the most benign vision of family life—households in which dear kiddies revere their parents and the parents (two, of course) never utter an impatient word? Culturally correct artists would paint bowls of fruit while Buchanan-approved photographers snapped glowing sunsets. Patriotic revues—plenty of flags and fireworks—would play to packed houses everywhere.
In a country like the United States, there is no way to calculate the cultural average nor impose standards based on narrow assumptions. Some of our best creative efforts have discordant elements, and so what? The movie Glengarry Glen Ross, for instance, unloosed more four-letter words than circulate through the Mets clubhouse. Still it was a noble film that illuminated the American experience. Would Buchanan have kept Glengarry in the can, or simply bleeped out the nasty language?
A half century ago, the Imperial Censor himself, Adolf Hitler, determined that only certain works of art were worthy of the new society he was building. Der Fuehrer favored heroic busts and renderings of Alpine vistas. The rest was kindling for state-sponsored bonfires. When he babbles about preserving traditional values, Pat Buchanan sounds mighty like a man getting ready to strike a match. Fortunately, there is hope. The next time Buchanan makes one of his innumerable TV appearances, Americans get their chance to give old Sparky the treatment he deserves. Want to save the national culture? Quick, you patriots, douse those flames; hit mute.
Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.
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