Buchanan Fights for New Life

Buchanan Fights for New Life
Jacqueline Salit

BY NOW, many people are wondering what Lenora Fulani, the leftist, was doing having lunch with Reform Party hopeful Pat Buchanan, the right-winger. I was there. She was attending the funeral of social conservatism.

Fulani knows about funerals for dead ideologies. She was at the one for the American Left. The Left made its play to take over the Democratic Party with George McGovern in 1972. It didn’t work. When Bill Clinton’s anti-left New Democrats took over the presidency and the party in 1992, the Left finally expired.

Fulani was among the fortunate few to have gotten out. She’d gone independent in the early 1980s, breaking the inviolable laws of black and progressive politics, abandoning a corrupt ideology (also known as political correctness) in favor of trying to build a nonideological coalition of left, center and right. That led her to the reform populism of the ’90s, when she helped found the Reform Party.

That’s how Fulani got to the table with Buchanan. How did Buchanan get there? He was there because the social conservative movement is dead.

Pat Buchanan marks the beginning of his political journey as a leader of social conservatism with the 1964 Goldwater campaign, which forged an ideological coalition that sought to wrest control of the Republican Party from its liberal establishment hierarchs. Buchanan became one of conservatism’s most powerful crusaders.

The movement reached its zenith with the Reagan Revolution in 1980, but even as it occupied the White House, it found itself straining to enact its social policy agenda. Buchanan and his coalition partners discovered that while they might have permeated Republican Party activism with Christian evangelicals and conservatives, the majority of the American people did not subscribe to their vision.

The Republican Party, always attentive to its far right, incorporated a pro-life plank into its platform, but knew that the Moral Majority was in reality a permanent minority in American politics. They also knew the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress had as much or more to do with its co-opting Ross Perot’s movement’s demands for government and fiscal reform than with any surge toward social conservatism. Buchanan was denied a speaking slot at the 1996 Republican National Convention.

Going into the 2000 presidential race, Buchanan finally hit the wall. By his own account, the coronation of George W. Bush became complete when he was shut out from the party’s centers of power. The only conservatism promoted by the party would be the “compassionate” kind.

Buchanan saw that his future inside the Republican Party, which he had spent 35 years trying to take over, was grim. The conservative movement was split and near dead. And so the disaffected Buchanan began to look to the Reform Party, its $13 million and its national infrastructure, the largest of any independent party.

For Buchanan, Reform may be the key to continuing viability. America needs a party for social conservatives, he tells reporters. But America will not support a new party for social conservatism any more than it supported the old one. Major parties absorb and act upon issues that minor parties do not have the strength to win. But minor parties do not grow off of adopting programs that have failed to generate a national consensus. Still, Buchanan, the social conservative, is no stranger to multi-ideological coalitions. The anti-NAFTA, anti-fast track, pro- term limits movements which he has supported include political forces from across the spectrum. But the right/center/left alliance inside Reform is not just about issues in common. It is about a new vision for American politics, a vision of full participation and of deliberative democratic process. It is, among other things, a product of the failure of both the American Left and the American Right to create that kind of political culture.

Some argue that the next step is to create a centrist party, a kind of political Frankenstein in which choice pieces of dead ideologies are grafted together. But such a political beast cannot live for long. The future for Reform lies in creating a new kind of party that goes beyond left and right ideology to a new form of political life. That’s the “right to life” Buchanan can now be fighting for.

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