Bush, Buchanan, and Barnes

The Killer B's

Let us all observe a moment of silence in honor of the passing of Dan (“The Hoosier Hotshot”) Quayle from the ranks of those applying for the position of Leader of the Free World. All across the U.S.A., comedians are sitting down at tiny motel desks, resigned once again to the thankless effort of writing their own jokes.

Not that there aren’t plenty of yuks bouncing off the other guys. In late September, our own Bush-Who-Would-Be-President took a weekend away from the grim contemplation of baked campaign chicken and half-baked Steve Forbes to counsel the stalwart American patriots besieged at Brookline, Massachusetts – site of the international team golfing championship known as the Ryder Cup. In that suburban vale of heroism, Crenshaw, Woods, Leonard, O’Meara, et al., found themselves in danger of being overwhelmed by an upstart band of European linksters with no respect for large reputations and larger bank accounts. The thought of those desperate, heartsore millionaires, down to their last bogey, heads bowed in contemplation, eight-irons at the ready, as the Governor of Texas recounted the unforgettable tale of the Martyrs of the Alamo and their ultimate sacrifice in the cause of human freedom – well, to keep from laughing would take a heart of stone. Can anybody at the Governor’s Mansion spell sacrilege?

But it worked, of course. In an indeed unprecedented comeback not divinely granted to the original Defenders of the Mission, the American golfers whupped the Euros – and accordingly returned to behaving like boorish parvenus, exhorting the already jingoistic crowd and treating their competitors with contempt. Soon they will be arguing about money again. It’s a gentleman’s sport, you see.

Speaking of duffers, the Candidate was himself besieged by yet another crisis, unresolved as September came to a close. Pitchfork Pat Buchanan is expected soon to bolt the G.O.P. for the lukewarm embrace of Ross Perot’s Reform Party (and its federal campaign funds), thus threatening to weaken the Bushean juggernaut on its right flank. Bush – who acknowledged he considers Perot at least partly to blame for the ignominious second-term defeat of his father – first attacked Buchanan’s fecklessness, then lamented that he wanted Buchanan to keep his votes in the Party.

It would be simple enough if it were just a matter of gray-suited summit meetings to assuage Buchanan’s oversize ego, or of buying him off with promises of a cabinet post. But permanent-talk-show host and ex-speechwriter Buchanan is also the only real Scriblerus in the race. He chose this moment to publish a book questioning the political and military strategy of the Allies in World War II. It was the old right-wing shibboleth: if we’d just been gentlemen and let Hitler run his continent in peace, he would have taken care of Stalin all by himself, with a few million innocent casualties but none, thank God, of our guys.

The post-hoc outrage was a bit puzzling. Being soft on fascism is not normally considered bad form in American ruling circles, then or now (just consider, for example, the Clinton administration’s deafening silence on the crimes of fugitive Chilean terrorist Augusto Pinochet). But Buchanan compounded his heterodoxy by being less than enthusiastic either about slaughtering Iraqis or about the abundant (and hardly secret) influence on U.S. policy of the pro-Israel lobby. That apostasy sent the pols and pundits into paroxysms of unquenchable rage. Is Pat guilty of de facto anti-Semitism? Q.E.D.

Buchanan, the unreconstructed Nixonite, is beyond embarrassment, so to feel sorry for him is a lost effort. But it was most entertaining to watch Bush the Younger and his strategists squirm with uneasiness at the Chamberlain-like task of appeasing Buchanan without seeming to embrace him, and of insulting Ross Perot without chasing away Reformist voters, presumably the object of all these sweating ministrations. Bush, having seen what happened to his Dad, is righteously worried about Republican True Believers defecting to Buchanan’s ranks. It is not at all certain that Buchanan can surf the cornpone cargo-cult wave once ridden by the Twang from Texarkana. But in any event, that new sound from Nashville is not the latest incarnation of Garth Brooks; it’s the relocated Al Gore campaign cheering at any good news, however remote, and hoping that Buchanan’s looming defection is the first serious crack in the W2K Veneer. Among us humbler folk, while it’s difficult to root either for Buchanan, Gore, or their collective reflections, any development that weakens the stranglehold of the two-party monopoly on electoral politics should be welcomed.

Back home in Texas, another bit of the Bushean topcoat is fraying. The Governor’s personal claim to a scrap of military distinction – his Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard – has been repeatedly called into question not only because he escaped service in a war in which the less favored had to fight and die, but because he more than likely did so using his father’s connections (Poppy was a Congressman at the time). Until recently, this was all unconfirmed but persuasive speculation; now Ben Barnes, then Lieutenant Governor (who couldn’t recall details until served with a G-Tech trial subpoena) has admitted that he personally interceded with Guard officials at the behest of a business associate of Congressman Bush. The ex-President says he is “almost certain” he didn’t ask Barnes, directly or indirectly, to intercede for his son; the carefully crumbling denials suggest there is smoking documentation somewhere, and we may yet get a more precise snapshot of how the people who start the wars avoid risking their children to fight them.

So now the new spin emanating sidelong from the Bush campaign and its editorial supporters is that of course the Congressman’s son was helped into the Guard; this is not news, and the important question is what are the Candidate’s military policies now, and why can’t the press stop playing this game of “gotcha!” and get back to the real issues?

Okay, here goes nothing. As it happens, like the Happy 4-F Warrior Pat Buchanan, the former Congressman and his favored son are part of a seamless foreignpolicy consensus among our rulers – especially including the Democrats – that brutal, even genocidal wars against small countries and their civilian populations are perfectly acceptable techniques of achieving U.S. goals, as long as these can be accomplished with a minimum of time, money, and U.S. casualties. More humanitarian considerations – except insofar as they affect home-front public relations – are simply not part of the equation. Dubya’s reflexive familial support for, and personal evasion of, the U.S. war against Southeast Asia, was just Business As Usual. As a campaign slogan, that doesn’t quite have the reverential ring of “Prosperity with a Purpose,” but it’s certainly more accurate.

– M.K.

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Published at 12:00 am CST