Buchanan's made-in-USA vision 'Economic nationalism': In seeking the GOP presidential nomination, news commentator Patrick J. Buchanan favors protecting American jobs -- even at the expense of offending allies and U.S. companies.

Sun Journal

January 30, 1996|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DES MOINES, Iowa. -- News commentator turned presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan opens a speech to senior citizens by profusely thanking them -- "the greatest generation in American history" -- for winning World War II and the 45-year Cold War that followed.

He means it. By his own account, the life and death of the Cold War has been the most powerful motivating force in his life.

From his youngest days at the dinner table of his accountant father in Chevy Chase, Md., to his current days on the campaign trail, the Cold War and the specter of communism have always been with him.

As part of a family of seven boys and two girls, Pat Buchanan grew up under that cloud, as described and despised by his late father, William B. Buchanan. The son remembers him as "an Al Smith Democrat" who became disenchanted with President Franklin Roosevelt and became a committed Republican whose heroes included Joseph R. McCarthy.

Young Pat was in the second grade of his parochial school when World War II ended. As he puts it now, "the fear and loathing of anti-communism" gripped America "and the Soviet Union was on the move all over the world."

His politics were shaped, he says, by the Alger Hiss spy case, "the fall of China" to the Communists, development of the Soviet Union's atomic bomb, the Korean War and the firing of Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, another of his father's heroes.

Around the dinner table, he recalls, "that's all we talked about -- politics, and sports."

So it was not surprising that after Georgetown University, Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and a stint as a newspaper editorial writer in St. Louis, Mr. Buchanan became an aide in 1965 to Richard M. Nixon, (a man for whom he had once caddied), as Mr. Nixon planned a second bid for the presidency.

They shared a fixation with politics in general and anti-communism in particular, two interests that later joined Mr. Buchanan and Ronald Reagan in the White House.

The end of the Cold War, he says, spawned the ideas -- he calls them "economic nationalism" -- that now drive his candidacy.

Now, he says, "I feel the United States should move toward a more traditional foreign policy. That means we should review all the alliances and commitments of the Cold War era, we should keep those which are still in the vital interests of this country, and let others lapse.

NB "It also means that now that the Cold War is over we've got to

start looking at former allies and nations like Germany and Japan and Europe realistically as what they are -- potential rivals and trade adversaries who are trying to capture our markets and seize the future even as we're defending them. So we need a brand-new foreign policy."

If that sounds like the pugnacious Mr. Buchanan is bent on trading one war for another one on a non-militaristic battleground, he does not back away from that reading.

"All the trade concessions we used to make to countries like Korea and Japan and nations in Europe in order to build them up after World War II into staunch anti-Communist allies -- we can't afford to make those kinds of concessions anymore at the expense of American workers and American business," Mr. Buchanan says.

He recalls having been "the foremost free-trader in the White House with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan." But deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), he says, have not worked to the benefit of either American workers or businesses.

"We see the real standard of living of American workers falling year in and year out for the last decade," he says with a preacher's fervor. "We see factories shutting down all over America and moving their plants abroad; good jobs going overseas, textile factories shutting down everywhere."

He cites losses in America's electronics, auto, computer and steel industries, and declares: "We can't keep exporting the industrial base of the United States of America and expect to remain the greatest power on earth in the 21st century."

While Mr. Buchanan began forming these views intellectually as a conservative news analyst before his first, failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992, he acknowledges that they came together emotionally for him a few days before Christmas 1991 inside the James River Paper Co. in Groveton, N.H. It was the start of the 1992 GOP primary campaign, where he went on to win 37 percent of the vote and put a scare into President George Bush's campaign.

Angry-looking workers at the plant, which had suffered heavy layoffs, were lined up to receive free Christmas turkeys. When Mr. Buchanan nervously walked over and started shaking hands, he recalls, one of the men "looked up, and the guy's eyes welled up with tears. He just said, 'Save our jobs.' It just went right through me. It was very genuine. It wasn't talk or discussion. It was just a plea."

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