Taps for Pat

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:19

    There must be romance in the air. South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford, now backing John McCain, described his feelings for Pat Buchanan, as if the two had met for a quickie in the high school gym. Sanford thinks Republicans should demand their charm bracelet back and ask Buchanan, "Can we still be friends?" (And then shed a few insincere tears and run home shouting, "Yes! Yes! Yes!") Says Sanford: "I remember those days when I was dating back in high school, and if there was a girlfriend thing that wasn't working out you needed to let it go. It's over. And I think this is a case of 'it's over.'"

    Sanford seems to be right, although I missed the whole Buchanan uproar. For three weeks, I'd been meting out justice at DC Superior Court with 11 fellow jurors. This meant listening to cross-examination about who was illegally in what car and whose fingerprints were on what condom and which prostitute was working which night. It also meant smoking cigarettes on break with cops waiting to testify and prostitutes showing up on citation, and taking $20 lunches in the Capital Grille across the street (the cafeteria being closed). The rest of the time I spent jotting down notes and learning the meaning of such street parlance as "girl," "track," "date," "blunt" and "on cite." The most stunning Rip Van Winkle aspect of my return from jury service was that Pat Buchanan was the lead story on all the chitchat shows. Wow. Times have changed when a man who's at five percent in the polls and is at present without a political party is making such waves.

    I haven't read Buchanan's foreign policy book, but there does seem to be a cheap-shot aspect to the ideological dogpile of former Republican colleagues under which he is now grunting. From what I can gather, Buchanan simply makes the case for an isolationist America. In so saying, he implies that the big fruit of our victory in the Cold War should be the privilege of forgetting that Nazism and Communism ever existed. This may be irresponsible?no, it is irresponsible?but it doesn't make Buchanan evil. Isolationism was more than American policy earlier in the century; it was something like a state religion. Britain was more deeply threatened by Nazi Germany than we were, and even there, there was zero stomach for standing up to Hitler until after he occupied Prague five months after the Munich conference. Unfortunately for Buchanan, this isolationist view has been construed to mean he was (or would have been) "pro-Hitler."

    Buchanan's adversaries weren't exactly trailing clouds of glory. Alan Dershowitz attacked Buchanan as "evil and bigoted and anti-Semitic," even calling support for Buchanan "a political sin," thereby falling into the very extremism he (Dershowitz) purports to lament. Buchanan battled back with considerable wit. "And what does he do for a living? He defends guys who murder their wives," Buchanan said. "My view of the guy is there is nothing that can pull him away from a television camera but the distant wail of an ambulance siren."

    Buchanan is considerably better read than Donald Trump, who issued a press release to set the record straight that if Trump had been alive during the Second World War...boy-oh-boy, would he have been firmly anti-Nazi! And everyone is better read than Elizabeth Dole, who angrily announced, "Let me just say that I certainly do not understand those comments." (I have no doubt that's the truth.) Dole was here following the Washington rule: Never read a book if you can hear the author's "comments" on tv. John McCain tried to plug his own book (already number three on the Times bestseller list) by saying Buchanan "repudiates our involvement against Nazi Germany." That really ticked off Buchanan, who replied: "For him to suggest that Pat Buchanan thinks it was ignoble to destroy the Japanese empire that had murdered our guys in their sleep, that Pat Buchanan thinks it was ignoble to get rid of Hitler's regime..."

    The third-person business is a bad sign. Whether or not Buchanan meant ill in his book was suddenly beside the point. It began to appear that Buchanan was spinning out of control, letting his angry "high spirits" get the best of him, as he did during his candidacy-killing gun-waving photo-op during the Arizona primary in 1996. Compulsive repetition of one's own name is commonly taken to be a mere expression of egotism. And yet there's more to it than that, for certain celebrities can go through their entire lives with XXXL egos and fall into the habit only occasionally. The first celebrity I ever heard use the third person about herself to unintentionally pathetic effect was Vikki Carr, the Mexican-American easy-listening singer who had about six hours and 45 minutes of fame sometime in 1972. As her career faded, she gave an interview to some glossy magazine in which her sole topic of conversation was Vikki Carr this and Vikki Carr that, leaving the impression that this was someone who really needed to get in touch with Vikki Carr. A decade ago, Wade Boggs, during the scandal surrounding his 24-7 Road Trip Bimbo Margo Adams, took to referring to himself exclusively as "Wade Boggs." Once Margo was out of the picture and the fans stopped hooting, he rediscovered the first person singular pronoun. Similarly, presidential candidate Bob Dole stopped being "I" and started being "Bob Dole" sometime around midsummer 1996, once it became more than apparent that six months of moneyless idleness had left him in an electoral hole that nobody could dig him out of. The upshot is that people tend to fall in love with their own names at precisely the moment they're losing contact with their identities. They're "personalities" looking for personalities. Whether Buchanan is getting his just deserts or being keelhauled by an irresponsible Republican establishment, he appears badly rattled.

    That's a reason why the person who came out of the affair looking the best was Dan Quayle, one of whose advisers mentioned that the former veep believes Buchanan "is a good man and considers him a friend. [He] does not believe Pat would say anything complimentary about Hitler." What's wonderful about this is that Quayle has absolutely no personal incentive to stick up for Buchanan, who, after all, has no more influence inside the Republican Party, no standing in the Reform Party and no hope of having any conceivable effect on a Quayle candidacy other than siphoning votes away from whoever gets the Republican nod. It was a generous closing act for a campaign that folded up its tent a couple days later.