Pat Buchanan surely holds the record for the greatest impact on a presidential election with the fewest votes. With less than 0.43 percent of the tally nationally, he still managed to decide the 2000 election. But for the thousands of votes mistakenly cast for Buchanan in Palm Beach because of the infamously confusing "butterfly" ballot, Al Gore would be President today and George W. Bush would be the Republican Michael Dukakis.
Buchanan's pernicious influence, however, did not end with the 2000 election. He's now picking up where he left off with his infamous "cultural war" speech to the 1992 Republican convention, a speech, as Molly Ivins quipped, that "sounded better in the original German." Well, Buchanan's been translating from Deutsch again, this time with The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization, his new book. The Death of the West harks back to the xenophobic jeremiads of the early twentieth century, such as Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race, Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color, Houston Stewart Chamberlain's The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century and Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West.
Indeed, enterprising journalists and historians looking to expose the next Stephen Ambrose or Doris Kearns Goodwin should consider comparing Buchanan's book side by side with these others. In addition to revising Spengler's title, Buchanan shares Stoddard's love of watery metaphors--both books gush with rising tides, surging oceans and flooding rivers of nonwhites, all of which push inexorably against the ever more precarious dams and dikes around the white world. The two authors also share a predilection for quoting Rudyard Kipling, the poet laureate of the "white man's burden."
Each of these earlier books shares the same simple theme: It's Us against Them, and with fewer and fewer of Us and more and more of Them, things look grim for Us. Buchanan readily accepts the "demography is destiny" argument: "As a growing population has long been a mark of healthy nations and rising civilizations, falling populations have been a sign of nations and civilizations in decline." Buchanan's data clearly put the West into the latter category. "In 1960, people of European ancestry were one-fourth of the world's population; in 2000, they were one-sixth, in 2050, they will be one-tenth. These are the statistics of a vanishing race."
And who's responsible for this disappearance? For Buchanan, women bear most of the blame. Liberated by technological and cultural changes, he argues, Western women have abandoned their true calling as designated racial breeders. "Only the mass reconversion of Western women to an idea that they seem to have given up--that the good life lies in bearing and raising children and sending them out into the world to continue the family and nation--can prevent the Death of the West."
Faced with declining birthrates, the only alternative available to Western nations if they wish to maintain themselves is massive immigration from the burgeoning populations of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But for Buchanan, this medicine is worse than the disease, since immigration on this scale entails the introduction of too many nonwhite non-Christians. Regarding Europe, he writes: "And as the millions pour into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, they will bring their Arab and Islamic culture, traditions, loyalties, and faith, and create replicas of their homelands in the heartland of the West. Will they assimilate, or will they endure as indigestible parts of Africa and Arabia in the base camp of what was once Christendom?" Clearly he thinks the latter. The United States faces a similar danger, he warns: "Uncontrolled immigration threatens to deconstruct the nation we grew up in and convert America into a conglomeration of peoples with almost nothing in common--not history, heroes, language, culture, faith, or ancestors. Balkanization beckons."
Buchanan must know that many have rung this tocsin before him, and each time it has been a false alarm. The West's population has probably declined relative to the rest of the world ever since the Western world defined itself as such. For example, when Stoddard wrote in 1922, he sounded the alarm because Western nations had declined to only one-third of the world's population. By 1960, as Buchanan points out, the Western share of the world's population had fallen to one-fourth. Despite this relative decline in population, he considers 1960 as the height of Western power and influence. Furthermore, most evidence suggests that Western nations are at least as powerful now as in 1960, even with the decline in population.
Buchanan's warnings about the United States ring just as hollow. Of the 30 million foreign-born residents, he claims, "Even the Great Wave of immigration from 1890 to 1920 was nothing like this." He's right--that wave surpassed the current one. Today, foreign-born residents make up about 11 percent of the US population, but from the 1870s to the 1920s, that number fluctuated between 13 percent and 15 percent.
Buchanan, however, also argues that today's immigrants are fundamentally different from earlier generations of newcomers; but again, there's no evidence for this. America was hardly more familiar to a Southern Italian peasant who came to New York City in 1900 than it is to an immigrant today from Nigeria or the Philippines. If anything, the spread of global markets and American popular culture has made recent immigrants more attuned to the ways of their new home than their predecessors of a century ago. Furthermore, the bulk of contemporary immigrants come from Latin America, and thus possess the Christian faith that Buchanan views as central to any definition of America. Indeed, the vast majority of Latin American immigrants share Buchanan's Catholicism. Nonetheless, these immigrants "not only come from another culture, but millions are of another race," making it difficult if not impossible for them to assimilate into US society. While Buchanan might consider Latinos as his brothers in Christ, he draws the line at having them as neighbors or fellow citizens.
September 11, Buchanan argues, painfully exposed the threat from contemporary immigrants: "Suddenly, we awoke to the realization that among our millions of foreign-born, a third are here illegally, tens of thousands are loyal to regimes with which we could be at war, and some are trained terrorists sent here to murder Americans." But the past is full of similar warnings about the enemy within. During World War II, anti-Japanese prejudices combined with national security concerns to result in the internment of thousands of US citizens. During World War I, "unhyphenated" Americans saw German-Americans as the Kaiser's minions, engaging in sedition and sabotage to aid the cause of the Fatherland. Yet as these instances demonstrate, the real threat, then as now, existed largely in fevered nativist minds.
This selective and myopic view of American nativism runs throughout The Death of the West. On the one hand, Buchanan refers to nativist statements by such people as Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge to support his assertion that concerns over immigration are not un-American. On the other hand, while he is correct that nativism has always been one of America's multiple political traditions, Buchanan has nary a mention of how pervasive, inaccurate and pernicious such sentiments have been. Of the Know-Nothings, he knows nothing. He quotes Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated for the presidency by a major party, but includes no mention that anti-Catholic prejudices made a major contribution to his landslide defeat in the 1928 election, as he was vigorously opposed by Protestant leaders and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. (After the election, the joke went, Smith sent a one-word telegram to the Pope: "Unpack.") To Buchanan, it seems, anti-Catholic sentiment is a recent development and limited to left-wing intellectuals. Overall, he chooses to ignore the fact that nearly every immigrant to this country confronted nativists who argued that their race, religion, ethnicity or culture made them unfit to become full American citizens. Furthermore, if these previous nativists had had their way, they would have excluded the ancestors of most current American citizens, including Buchanan's.
Buchanan recognizes that he's in a minefield with this subject, and he makes some efforts to tread lightly. To rebut accusations that he's an anti-Semite, he sheds crocodile tears over the danger to Israel from a growing Arab population and occasionally (but not consistently) refers to America's Judeo-Christian values. But like Dr. Strangelove's hand, Buchanan's anti-Semitism refuses to stay under control. As examples of conservative leaders who have failed to fight the culture wars with sufficient zeal, he singles out Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb and Norman Podhoretz. One might well ask why these three when one could level similar charges against Jack Kemp, Bob Dole, John McCain and even George W. Bush.
By the end of the book Buchanan has dropped all pretenses, declaring America to be a Christian nation. His racism is equally apparent. For example, in addition to warning that many current immigrants are of a different--that is, nonwhite--race, he includes a lengthy discussion of black crime rates. Given that most blacks can trace their American ancestry back further than most white Americans, it's clear that Buchanan defines America not by "history, heroes, language, culture, faith, or ancestors" but by race.
If Buchanan's diagnosis of the problem is objectionable, his solution is even worse. For him, democracy, a shared culture and even a common race offer no defense against the West's impending doom. Rather, he argues, "If the West expects a long life, it had best recapture the fighting faith of its youth." And what were these youthful characteristics? "Protestant monarchs and Catholic kings alike did not flinch at burning heretics or drawing and quartering them at the Tyburn tree. The Christianity that conquered the world was not a milquetoast faith, and the custodians of that faith did not believe all religions were equal. One was true; all the rest were false." To believe otherwise invites disaster, "For it is in the nature of things that nations and religions rule or are ruled."
Buchanan's right-wing nativism is nothing new, so it might be tempting to dismiss him and his book as inconsequential. After all, didn't the 2000 election prove that Buchanan had only marginal electoral support and that even the Republican Party considers his views too extreme? But votes don't always measure influence, and The Death of the West has clearly struck a responsive chord. Not only does it stand near the top of the New York Times bestseller list, but its author remains a prominent fixture on the TV talk-show circuit. Indeed, it's interesting to contrast the reception of The Death of the West with that of Buchanan's previous book, A Republic, Not an Empire. The latter set off a firestorm of criticism, especially among Republicans and conservatives, when Buchanan argued that Hitler had not threatened the United States. If anything, The Death of the West is even worse, since Buchanan moves beyond minimizing the danger of Hitler to the open espousal of many of his doctrines. Yet this time around, the conservative commentators have not been nearly as critical. Then, of course, Buchanan was in the middle of bolting the GOP, potentially splitting the conservative vote and throwing the election to the Democrats. None of this came to pass, with Buchanan even helping Bush to win Florida. But the lesson seems clear: Conservatives are more than willing to tolerate Buchanan's racism and xenophobia, so long as he doesn't pose a direct threat to their political interests.
Even more disturbing than Buchanan's kid-gloves treatment by the media and the right is that the book's popularity stems from and seems likely to reinforce the upsurge in nativist sentiments after September 11. For many Americans, those tragic events gave even more reason to see the world in manichean terms and to divide Americans along lines of race, religion and ethnicity. Consequently, relatively open immigration policies came under attack. In Congress, a House caucus devoted to immigration restriction doubled in membership after September 11. Representative James Traficant, Democrat of Ohio, spoke for many of those members when he asked, "How do you defend your home if your front and back doors are unlocked? What do we stand for if we can't secure our borders? How many more Americans will die?... If 300,000 illegal immigrants can gain access to America every year, trying to find a better life, do not doubt for one moment that a larger contingent of people with evil intentions could gain entry into America and continue to kill American citizens."
Thankfully, such sentiments have not gained much headway in the ensuing months. Although the Bush Administration has backed off its proposal for granting amnesty to illegal immigrants from Mexico, it has shown few signs of embracing significant immigration restrictions in response to September 11 and has even agreed to restore food-stamp eligibility to legal immigrants. In Congress, immigration opponents have failed even to gain a formal hearing for their proposals. Yet the popularity of The Death of the West shows that nativist attitudes have not disappeared, and Buchanan's diatribe will undoubtedly help reinforce such views. Furthermore, both opponents and supporters of open immigration recognize that another incident of terrorism is perhaps all that is needed to turn The Death of the West from polemic to policy.
What would Jesus do? It's a no-brainer; he would leave the Christian Coalition, take a consulting job with Enron and then use his divine power to make George W. Bush president.
I've been trying to explain to my 9-year-old what fundamentalism is. He reads enough of the news to have learned that we are at war with a "fundamentalist Islamic regime" in Afghanistan. But he has classmates who identify themselves as fundamentalist Christians. . . Why is fundamentalism such a bad thing, he wants to know.
While we wait out the good riddance to bad rubbish that is Osama bin Laden, troubling questions remain.
As fate would have it, the very first holiday card to show up in my mailbox was from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, of which I am a devoted member and fan. It carried the witty and timely message, "Reason's Greetings." Now more than ever! Just think of the damage religious mania (combined, as it tends to be, with nationalism and patriarchy) has wrought around the globe this year, the first of the new millennium--the World Trade Center attack, the Taliban, suicide bombers in Israel versus yet more settlements on the West Bank. And that's not even mentioning our own home-grown fanatics, like the recently apprehended fugitive Clayton Lee Waagner, who threatened to murder forty-two abortion clinic workers and who is the main suspect in some 550 anthrax-hoax letters to clinics, or the mainstreaming of conservative religious views, as in the explosion of abstinence-only sex education and theologically motivated restrictions on stem-cell research.
I've never been one for the hundred-dollar Christmas promoted by Bill McKibben--gee, thanks for the socks! and is that genuine New York City tap water in that cleverly decorated old Thunderbird bottle? Too depressing. Norah Vincent, the right-wing columnist, took McKibben to task in Salon a few years ago for advocating holiday frugality: Why, the whole economy would collapse, she argued, if Americans didn't get out there and buy buy buy. This year everyone from George W. Bush on down is urging us to shop till we drop, or the terrorists will have won. But you can please both Bill and Norah, enjoy the contrasting pleasures of spending and self-denial, do good and still get that holiday buzz from standing in long lines in a too-hot coat while carrying too many things: Simply buy stuff for needy organizations that help people instead of for your overindulged relatives, friends and yourself. For example, visit your local independent bookstore while it still exists and pick up a few paperbacks for Books Through Bars (see www.booksthroughbars.org for a drop-off location near you; or send donations to Books Through Bars NYC, c/o Bluestockings Books, 172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002). No travel guides or romances please, and no hardcovers--choose dictionaries, fiction by people of color, science, non-US history. Or help battered New York City, where the mayor proposes deep budget cuts for schools and libraries, by giving new children's books to public schools through PENCIL (c/o Ben Iglesias, New York City Board of Education, 44-36 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11101).
Shopping aside, this is the year to use your holiday donations to take a stand for secularism and against all churches (and synagogues and mosques) militant. If you don't already belong to the the aforementioned Freedom From Religion Foundation (PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53701; www.ffrf.org), now's the moment to sign up: The foundation is fearless, tireless and clever in supporting separation of church and state and opposing the increasingly bold power moves of the godly. If it sticks in your craw that evangelical seminarians are teaching the Bible as "truth" in Tennessee public schools, support the group that's trying to stop them.
With Christian fundamentalist churches on a jihad against reproductive freedom for women, don't forget The National Network of Abortion Funds (c/o CLPP, Hampshire College, Amherst MA 01002; www.nnaf.org), an umbrella organization of state and local funds that finance abortions for poor women. Help from the NNAF can mean the difference between sickness and health, unemployment and college, staying in an abusive relationship or starting a new life--or even life and death.
And remember Patricia Hussey and Barbara Ferraro, the two Sisters of Notre Dame who resigned from their order after the Vatican came down hard on them for signing an ad in 1984 affirming that Catholics had many different positions on abortion? They're alive and well and living in Charleston, West Virginia, where they've been running the ecumenically based Covenant House (1109 Quarrier Street, Charleston, WV 25301; www.wvcovenanthouse.org), which helps people with AIDS, the homeless and the poor and works for public school reform and other progressive campaigns in Appalachia.
With the economy officially in recession, joblessness up and tens of thousands of welfare recipients about to hit their five-year lifetime limit on benefits, there's no time like the present to support poor people's activism. The National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support is the coalition of grassroots groups that is leading the fight around the reauthorization of welfare reform coming up in 2002 (1000 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007; www.nationalcampaign.org).
Finally, the World Trade Center tragedy has fallen particularly hard on the service workers and undocumented immigrants who toiled in the towers: They or their survivors have gotten little out of the millions collected by the World Trade Center Relief Fund and the Red Cross. Thanks to welfare reform, which bars even legal immigrants from most federal safety-net programs, noncitizen mothers now suddenly sole heads of families find themselves ineligible for many essential benefits. To help now-jobless workers from Windows on the World restaurant and the families of those who perished there, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the HERE NY Assistance Fund (Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012; www.helprestaurantworkers.org).
Checkbook running on empty? If you have e-mail, you can sign yourself and friends up with ProgressiveSecretary.org and finally keep that New Year's resolution to stay in touch with your Congressperson. Founder Jim Harris and crew research and produce dozens of e-mails each month on issues from Arctic drilling to racial profiling. If you approve the contents, they'll send them to the appropriate authority in your name. There is no easier way to make your opinion known--one cynic of my acquaintance compared it to spinning a prayer wheel. Hey, right-wingers out-e-mail progressives many times over, and look at the way the country's going--maybe they're on to something.
It was a terrible year, but it's almost over. Reason's greetings!
Nobody in search of Jewish safety would place Jewish settlements in Gaza at a time like this, or indeed any other time. It follows that an international commitment to Israeli security would have, as its necessary counterpart, an absolute refusal to pay a single cent for colonization or expansion. Then we would see who really wanted what, and at what risk, or price.
Disdained by the majority culture, Muslims turn for self-respect to absolutism.
"Modernity" isn't the archfiend. But as often preached, it appears so to many.