The odd couple of the right wing came to town yesterday to launch their feisty new magazine, the American Conservative.
At the lectern of the National Press Club stood Pat Buchanan, 63, the pugnacious pundit, three-time presidential candidate and would-be generalissimo of a populist "pitchfork brigade." Next to him, looking perfectly aristocratic in his elegant gray suit, was Taki Theodoracopulos, 65, the Greek gazillionaire playboy who was arrested in 1984 while walking through British customs with 23 grams of cocaine in a bag that was dangling out of his back pocket.
This unlikely duo inspired the inevitable wiseguy question from the press: Pat, you're famous for your espousal of family values and your opposition to unfettered immigration. But your co-editor is a famous philanderer who was busted for cocaine. Isn't he exactly the kind of immigrant you'd like to keep out of this country?
For a moment, Buchanan looked startled. Then he smiled. "I don't think he came across the Rio Grande," he said.
"No," Theodoracopulos replied, grinning, "I came on my yacht."
Which just might explain the new magazine's editorial policy on immigration.
"As for Taki's arrest record," Buchanan added, "it's less impressive than mine, although mine goes back to the '50s."
Buchanan was referring to his rowdy youth in Washington, when he was pinched for public brawling. He still enjoys a good fight, although these days he does his brawling verbally, as a TV pundit and op-ed commando. His new magazine, he promises, will be a forum for his battle against the apostate neoconservatives who write for magazines like the Weekly Standard and the National Review.
"We're trying to take back the good name of conservatism from these right-wing impersonators," he said.
Then he quoted from an article in his magazine's just-released premiere issue, which quoted from a column he wrote in 1990: "We are not neo-anything. We are old church and old right. We love the old republic, and when we hear phrases like 'New World Order,' we release the safety catches on our revolvers."
The martial rhetoric failed to frighten William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, who says he's not worried about the new rival mag. "I don't intend to pay much attention to it," he said. "I think Taki is really a kind of repulsive character, and I'm not a huge fan of Pat's, either."
Unlike Kristol and other neocons, Buchanan and Theodoracopulos favor strict controls on immigration and oppose globalization and the upcoming war with Iraq.
"We're not isolationist, but we are non-interventionist," Buchanan said. "This running around the world playing imperialist -- let the Brits do that. Americans are no good at it."
After Buchanan vehemently denounced the prospect of endless wars with Muslim countries, a reporter asked, "Are you looking for Saudi funding?"
"We're not looking for any foreign funds," Buchanan replied. "We're not going to take any foreign funds."
Actually, that's not quite true. The money behind the American Conservative comes from Theodoracopulos, who inherited it from his father, who was a Greek shipping tycoon.
Theodoracopulos -- who maintains homes in London, New York and Gstaad, Switzerland, in addition to his yacht -- is a tad coy about how much money he's putting into the magazine.
"Gentlemen never discuss money," he said. Then he gave a gentlemanly hint that the cost of bankrolling the magazine could run about $5 million.
As the owners of the Nation, the New Republic and the Weekly Standard can attest, political magazines are notorious money-losers and, with a press run of only 17,000, Theodoracopulos has no illusions about turning a profit.
"I don't expect my children to live off the profits," he said, smiling.
In that case, he was asked, which is a more enjoyable way to throw away money -- funding a political magazine or snorting cocaine?
"It's not even close," he replied. "Making a magazine, you feel good the next day."
He quickly added that he hadn't used drugs since his four-month stint in a British prison after his 1984 bust. "I'm not a druggie," he explained, "I'm a boozer."
He's also quite a character. His columns in the weekly New York Press and the British magazine the Spectator are at least as politically incorrect as any of Buchanan's polemics.
Writing about the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York in 1997, he said, "There has never been nor will there ever be a single positive contribution by a Puerto Rican outside of receiving American welfare."
That column was attacked by Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York, and by Geraldo Rivera, who described Theodoracopulos as a "snot-nosed trust fund suckling."
In 2001, Theodoracopulos wrote a rambling column in the Spectator that excoriated Israel and Marc Rich, the fugitive Jewish financier pardoned by Bill Clinton, with such venom that the Spectator's publisher, Conrad Black, denounced it as anti-Semitic. "This farrago of lies," Black wrote, "is almost worthy of Goebbels or the authors of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
None of these attacks has blunted Theodoracopulos's rhetorical sword. In his column in the first issue of the American Conservative, he writes, "My main aim is to remind Americans that since we are a predominantly white society rooted in Christianity, our responsibility to immigrants is to bring them into our culture, not the other way around."
Theodoracopulos also enjoys reveling in his image as a playboy. Although he is married, he flaunts his philandering. "Womanizing is a matter of honor," he told a London paper. "The more the better."
In 1982, he wrote an essay called "Why American Women Are Lousy Lovers." Yesterday he was asked the obvious question: Why are American women lousy lovers?
"That article had nothing to do with the sexual act," he said. "It was an anti-feminist tract."
In the essay, he explained, he was denouncing American men for divorcing their wives and marrying younger women, instead of simply taking mistresses as Europeans do. "We take care of the woman. We put her on a pedestal. And then we fool around."
And how does this square with Buchanan's trumpeting of family values?
"I agree with everything Pat says about family values," Theodoracopulos said. "But what can I say? I'm no angel."
"It is an unlikely pairing," Buchanan says of his collaboration with Theodoracopulos. "But Taki has been extremely generous in his support of the magazine."