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Buchanan Measured by Life of Sharply Honed Rhetoric

Politics: Words over three decades show consistency in core political beliefs and his 'us vs. them' attitudes.

February 25, 1996|JOHN M. BRODER and JAMES RISEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Since boyhood, Patrick J. Buchanan has seen the world in the simplest of terms: us against them.

Whether "they" were the kids from the neighboring parish or "Zulus" from across the sea, Buchanan stood unmoved at the bridge to protect "us," with fierce words if possible, with fists if necessary.

He has long understood the power of incendiary and divisive rhetoric in American politics and has expressed his unvarnished and at times insulting opinions with apologies to no one.

With unyielding adherence to a conservative view of his Catholic faith, Buchanan excoriates all who do not share his values and the values of what he repeatedly refers to as "a once-Christian nation that has been force-fed the poisons of paganism."

He has used the print and electronic pulpit he has occupied for more than 30 years to hector, mock and belittle the "others" in American society--which at various times have been feminists, Jews, blacks, homosexuals, foreigners, free-traders, atheists, abortionists, the United Nations, intellectuals, Supreme Court justices and corporate executives, not to mention "establishment" politicians ranging from Nelson A. Rockefeller to Bob Dole.

An examination of his written and spoken opinions over the last three decades, a record that runs to more than a million words, reveals a remarkable consistency in Buchanan's core political beliefs and in his attitudes toward those he considers the "enemy."

It is this vast lode of controversy that Buchanan's opponents are mining as they accuse him of "extreme views" and seek to blunt his political rise.

It is a search that, in some ways, resembles the proverbial shooting of fish in a barrel. For Buchanan is the rhetorical agent provocateur of the current political scene, couching his views in language deliberately designed to shock and to set his followers apart from all the hostile "thems" that surround them.

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The list of foes changes and grows through the years, but they share a common thread in Buchanan's mind: They are out-of-touch elites trying to impose their corrupt and godless values on the common men and women of America.

He, of course, is the leader of the self-described peasant rebellion that is storming the gates of the terrified establishment. "Ride to the sound of the guns," his rallying cry out of New Hampshire, could well have stood as his motto since he threw in his lot with Barry Goldwater and the radical right 32 years ago.

Buchanan's first job after college in 1962 was as an editorial writer for the conservative St. Louis Globe-Democrat, where he honed the skills in argumentation that four years later caught the eye of Richard Nixon, the former vice president then planning a run for president in 1968.

It was in the Nixon White House that Buchanan perfected the use of words as offensive weapons. One of the nation's most effective propagandists, Buchanan knows exactly what he is doing with his language. Its effect is to polarize and define in his terms whatever political clash he has chosen to provoke.

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At almost all times, he has chosen the most visceral terms to dramatize his points. Out-of-the-closet lesbians "defecate" on community values, foreign diplomats "vomit" on the United States at the U.N., supporters of welfare are "guilt-soaked wimps," family-planning clinics are "abortuaries" akin to the Nazi ovens of Auschwitz.

These are the techniques of the conservative populists in American politics, from William Jennings Bryan through George C. Wallace, says historian Dan Carter, author of "The Politics of Rage," a new biography of Wallace.

"There are some deep strains in the family we call populism, but they do have a few things in common," Carter said. "They clearly are outside the establishment. When they talk about Washington, Wall Street, transnational corporations, these people are not part of it. They are all insurgents, rebelling against the people running the operation."

All incorporated in their language a sense of "grievance, betrayal, paranoia about elites . . . an angry evangelical moralism that divides the world into the saved and unsaved," he said.

Buchanan is a man who clearly means what he says; he has been steady in his militancy throughout his life. He also understands that the best way to win is by galvanizing an audience through attack and outrage.

The very first object of Buchanan's wrath was the Republican establishment, which in his view torpedoed the candidacy of his first political hero, Goldwater.

"What attracted me about Goldwater was his principled militancy," Buchanan wrote. "When people called us 'the radical right,' they had a point."

For Buchanan, the Goldwater campaign took on an aspect of religious and cultural war--a sentiment and a phrase that stayed with him for three decades. He never forgave Rockefeller for remaining an agnostic in that war, nor has Buchanan ever shown the least respect for Rockefeller's Republican political heirs: President Bush and Dole chief among them.

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