Buchanan-Fulani: New Team? | The Nation


Buchanan-Fulani: New Team?

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Bruce Shapiro
Bruce Shapiro, a contributing editor to The Nation, is executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma...

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If it matters that a faction with such a documented record of corruption is central to Pat Buchanan's Reform ambitions, what matters even more is the emerging ideological bargain between Fulani and Buchanan. Buchanan's attacks on global trade and his opposition to US military adventures abroad have led some influential voices on the left to wonder whether this is a bargain they could join. Some in the Naderite orbit, for instance, now argue privately that Buchanan will not center his campaign on social issues in the 2000 election, and that a platform based on his corporation-bashing might be worthy of support.

Chip Berlet, a longtime scholar of American authoritarianism, recently pointed out on Public Eye, the Web journal for Political Research Associates (www.publiceye.org), that Fulani first edged across the floor in Buchanan's direction after his 1996 victory in the New Hampshire primary. At that time she praised him as a grassroots populist who "tapped into the anti-government, anti-big business, pro-people sentiments of a significant portion of the American people." But opposition to global corporations is not the real source of affinity between Buchanan and Fulani. Rather, beneath their seeming differences of ideology creep repeated hints of a shared worldview.

Both are nationalists, albeit in different arenas. And both Buchanan and the Newmanites enjoy provoking Jewish outrage with rhetoric that steps up to the threshold of anti-Semitism. Buchanan's well-known sins in this area, enough to persuade William F. Buckley of his fellow conservative's Jew-baiting streak, have their parallel with Fulani and the Jewish Newman, whose writings and speeches over the years have described post-Holocaust Jews as "stormtroopers of decadent capitalism" and used other choice epithets. The political identity of both is rooted in declared reverence for deeply authoritarian institutions: In the case of Buchanan, the most reactionary faction of the Catholic Church, which is nostalgic for the days before women could read from the altar or deliver Communion; in the case of Fulani, her "guru" Newman and a system of psychotherapy famous for giving Newman personal control of the most intimate aspects of clients' lives. Right or left, Buchanan and Fulani offer variations on the same nationalist, scapegoating and authoritarian impulses.

Pat Buchanan's anti-immigrant, antigay, antifeminist, antiglobalist rhetoric is not peripheral to his "people first" economic vision but rather lies at its very heart--just as it does in the case of the reactionary French populist Jean-Marie Le Pen as he builds right-wing unions in Europe. As Berlet has observed, Buchanan descends from the populist tradition known as "producerism": Buchanan portrays his followers as hard-working Americans beset from above by an intellectual and political aristocracy and from below by the shiftless poor and immigrants.

Any progressives contemplating Pat Buchanan as a populist challenger to global corporations should also contemplate his 1987 analysis of Joe McCarthy, which eerily prefigures his flirtation with Fulani and the Reform Party. Americans supported McCarthy, Buchanan wrote, "not because of precisely what he said, but because of what they understood him to be saying.-- McCarthy was cheered because for four years he was daily kicking the living hell out of people most Americans concluded ought to have the living hell kicked out of them."

This is the Buchanan-Fulani project: an authoritarian, bigoted populism in which resentment matters more than overt content. It is a tradition, going at least as far back as the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings of the nineteenth century, that has repeatedly scapegoated immigrants, the poor, intellectuals and the left. Buchanan and Fulani propose a phony populist coalition in which the only "leftists" to gain a foothold will be those willing to sell out all the gains of feminism, gay liberation and civil rights in return for a narrow economic nationalism. This is the meaning of the new Buchanan-Fulani alliance--an axis that can only divide, not unite, America's disaffected and disempowered constituencies.

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