So what's Pat Buchanan up to this time?
For a guy who's running nearly last in the pack of Republicans who want to be president, he sure can seize the day and turn it into a month. He's got a loose organization and pin money where his war chest should be, but he's got this new book--certainly you've heard about it, the one that paints him as a Hitler sympathizer or something, but what talking head can read it all before air time?--and that's got everybody going.
The GOP brass are a-quiver that Buchanan will spoil the election with a third-party bid, dragging the uncompassionate conservatives with him. The Reformistas are all excited that with Buchanan on board, this could be their big chance to wrestle their way into the White House. And the media can't get enough. Before 9 a.m. Wednesday in Texas, the candidate has obliged with five even-toned interviews on local television and radio, back to back, rat-a-tat-tat, no mention of the Holocaust, just "benignly neutral" H. Ross Perot. And now here comes this season's Buchanan Brigade.
They are tramping through the Borders where the books of Pat are stored, some 500 strong, and they line up patiently to wait for their leader to begin his book-signing. Here are the home-schooling moms with their students in tow, plenty of scrubbed guys in pressed khakis, a veteran of Vietnam or that Somalian fracas here and there, old pensioners, the occasional "Totally Catholic" T-shirt. Everybody is what Buchanan sometimes calls "European American." Nobody carries a pitchfork or foams at the mouth. "I resent being called names because I don't favor NAFTA or GATT or open-border immigration," says Blake Buffington, 46. Fair enough.
The faithful follow Buchanan because he is good and pure, plain-speaking and unwavering, with values they support on trade limits and immigration restrictions. If some say he has sown hate with his writings on the Holocaust as "group fantasies of martyrdom" or on multiculturalism as "an across-the-board assault on our Anglo-American heritage," they feel those remarks are either (a) true or (b) taken out of context. He speaks the unspeakable for a certain group, a fringe candidate who has carved a lucrative niche.
And what a nice man he is! Amiable and sincere, Buchanan signs every book with a personalized message, poses for photos, makes small talk, listens patiently to each entreaty. He beams at a little girl in a pink shorts set and examines her Beanie Baby. "Uh-oh, this looks like a Chinese Communist panda. Probably came in under NAFTA," he teases, and her mother grins broadly. He has reflexive good manners that order him to say "thank you very much" at the most insignificant gesture. He refuses to disappoint, so he keeps on signing, so long he almost misses his plane home.
The Brigadiers have cash; they have plastic. One by one, they fork it over for "A Republic, Not an Empire," $29.19 with tax. By the end of the signing, Borders staffer Janet McLeod estimates that the store has sold 600 books that afternoon, a take of nearly $18,000. Buchanan can sell the Buchanan brand, arguably, at least as well as he can raise campaign bucks. The night before, at a fund-raiser, donors contributed about $20,000.
When an admirer thanks him for sticking around so long in a bookstore, Buchanan says: "It's not hard work. It's not heavy lifting. It's a lot of fun sitting here having people tell you that you're a great guy and you've written a great book."
It's No Lark
Here's 33-year-old Chris Fellmer standing in line, taking a break from his electronics sales job. He was involved with the last campaign, staking out a rally site for Buchanan in Los Angeles's Koreatown right after the riots.
"Primarily, I support him because he says what he believes and believes what he says," says Fellmer. "He believes in America first instead of sending billions overseas. We need a lively debate instead of listening to all the talking heads."
"Pat is a talking head," says the reporter.
"Well, yeah," says Fellmer.
Buchanan is a true pioneer of the business, the former communications director for the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. His cat's name is Gipper. Three times, he has left CNN's "Crossfire" to run for president. Twice, he's been welcomed back with open arms. The word according to Pat has been handed down through a syndicated column, a newsletter, lectures and lots of television appearances, as many as a dozen a week. On his jacket-cover biography, here's what Buchanan lists first: "He has been a founding panelist on three national television shows on CNN and NBC." Then he gets around to noting that he has been "a senior White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan."
And all this talk soup has made Buchanan rich, bringing in more than $1 million in 1998 and the first quarter of 1999, according to his financial disclosure statement. George W. Bush may be criticized for not drumming Buchanan out of the Republican Party over his written questioning of whether the United States should have fought World War II, but it was CNN's Ted Turner--the United Nations' billion-dollar benefactor--who made Buchanan what he is today.
Over and over during his Texas jaunt, Buchanan affects surprise that this book has attracted so much attention, while his temporary press secretary turns down repeated interview requests from The Washington Post, saying that "he really needs some down time" to reflect on whether to break with the Republican Party. Then Buchanan squeezes in Texas Cable News.
When he arrives back in the greenroom Wednesday several minutes after finishing his nice chat with the cheerful ladies of "Good Day Texas," he explains to his wife, Shelley, his manager and constant escort, that somebody stuck a mike in his face and he just started talking again. Buchanan has a breathtaking ability to compress the sweep of 20th-century European history into 20 seconds.
He insists that his run is "no lark." He really wants to gain enough traction to enter the debates, where he's brilliant.
Here's Buchanan on "Larry King Live" this week: "Shelley stopped me in the hall of my own house the other day, and she said, 'You know, Pat, after this is over, what are we going to do for a living? If we don't win?' "
"There's always 'Crossfire,' " says King, "your home away from home."
Keeping It Sweet
Outside Borders, in the drowsy afternoon sunshine, more scrubbed men in pressed khakis show up. But this group has signs that say "Value Diversity" and "Hate is not a family value." The bored media scrum stirs. Protesters! "I got an e-mail from a friend this morning that said it doesn't look like this candidacy is going anywhere, so why bother?" explains Roger Wedell, 51, of the Dallas Gay-Lesbian Alliance, "but it's always worth the time to confront hate and intolerance."
A Buchanan supporter marches past. "Russia's not diversified. Japan's not diversified. Brazil is diversified. Argentina is diversified. You oughta go down there!" hollers the man. "You have a nice day, too, sir," says a protester. "You're a screwball!" retorts the man.
Buchanan himself would never behave like that. It's been some time since he called lesbians the "Butch Brigade" and spewed venom about Sodomites or wrote a memo to Richard Nixon referring to someone as a "screaming fairy." That doesn't mean he's changed his mind, and his own brigade wouldn't want him to. His firmness on social issues is what his supporters love best of all. The brawling for which he was known at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Chevy Chase--that got him suspended from Georgetown--gave way to verbal altercations some years ago. But even that has been corked. Lately, he's been the sweetest America-Firster you'd ever want to meet.
From his brushes with book-buyers Wednesday to dinner parties in Northwest Washington to friendships across the partisan lines of the punditocracy, Buchanan remains affable and even chivalrous. This quality keeps him as "a member of the Washington club," Rich Tafel, head of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week. "People know him, like him. I have gay friends who say, 'Great guy, really funny, a sweet person.' So, despite his views, he has been protected."
One by one, the Brigadiers in Borders say they know Buchanan's remarks have been misconstrued. "I don't believe he's an antisemite," says Paula Sparks, who has brought her seven children to meet Buchanan. "I think that's been blown out of proportion."
Michelle Imburgia-Iranzad goes further. The 35-year-old schoolteacher and Buchanan volunteer earnestly explains that Buchanan is too good-hearted to be an antisemite and too intelligent to be a racist.
Buchanan complains when critics bring up his hateful rhetoric of the past, yet he proudly boasts of holding fast to unalterable positions. That permits the toxicity of calling the Capitol "Israeli-occupied," or referring to Ku Klux Klansman David Duke's "winning issues," to fester for decades. And that is what has gotten him into trouble with his book, which debuts at No. 13 on the New York Times bestseller list for Sunday.
"The Financial Times had it right," says Shelley Buchanan of her husband's book, "when they said that academic historians find nothing controversial about it."
The few questions that Buchanan does receive about the book over the course of his day here he dispatches with an admonition to read it thoroughly. He will indulge in his excellent sound bites, but has no time for a fuller discussion. It is one of his many contradictions--a man who dwells in a world of ideas, but hoards them.
"A Republic, Not an Empire" uses meticulous analysis of American diplomatic history to argue for a return to protectionism. It all seems sensible enough, completely without screed.
What about the section of the book labeled "A Moral Imperative to Stop Genocides"? It argues the impracticality of battling human rights violations without the resources to win, and argues for economic sanctions against a Cambodia or China. "The question really is, do you send someone else's son to do a job just because you yourself believe it is morally right?" says Buchanan. "These are good and hard questions, and all I did was raise them."
The reporter tries again, suggesting that Buchanan's past statements have prejudiced reception of this writing more than "Washington establishment fear," as Buchanan suggests, and brings up questions about his view of the Holocaust.
"There is no question about the Holocaust here," interrupts Buchanan, now signing a book for one of the dozen Dallas policemen who have guarded the store during his visit. "The book doesn't even go up to the Holocaust. It stops at Pearl Harbor. Anyone who sits down to look at the book will see that there isn't a biased line in it."
He gets up to leave.
Is it possible he is running for president to sell his book?
He calls over his shoulder.
"Just read the book."
CAPTION: Pat Buchanan jokes about a Beanie Baby with Maricia Varnado and her daughter Sasha, 6, during a book-signing in Dallas. "It's not hard work. It's not heavy lifting," he says.
CAPTION: Pat Buchanan wins friends even among groups his rhetoric alienates.