The most remarkable thing about Nixon’s White House Wars is that it recasts the familiar story of the doomed Nixon administration as the author’s own personal glory days. Even more remarkable – the reader will probably be okay with that. Such is the charm of the notorious, pitchfork-wielding culture warrior, Patrick J. Buchanan.
Not that Mr. Buchanan regards Richard Nixon – whose administration he was a part of from day one to the bitter end – as a hero. He clearly believes Ronald Reagan – whose administration he joined for two years – embodied a purer form of conservatism.
Not that Mr. Buchanan’s other accomplishments and adventures pale in comparison to the Nixon years. The author has a distinguished career in both print and broadcast journalism, as well as three unsuccessful, and tumultuous, runs for nomination for the presidency of the United States.
It’s just that the creeping nostalgia that infuses his book will – improbably – find its way into the reader’s heart and engender envy at the very idea of working so devotedly for what is possibly the most publicly disgraced U.S. citizen ever.
“Pat Buchanan’s political career effectively ended with his notorious Culture War Speech delivered at the 1992 Republican convention.”
For those who love to read gripping tales about Nixon’s rise and fall (and there are many of us), this book provides fresh details based on more than a thousand of the author’s contemporaneous memos. The memos were Buchanan’s main source of communication with Nixon and, combined with the author’s personal commentary and memories, make the book a page-turner. Everything from Buchanan’s determined attempts to wield influence over Nixon, to the most poignant moments of the president’s final days in office, are all presented in these pages with a new, Buchananesque slant.
As much as the author would undoubtedly prefer, that slant cannot be divorced from the most controversial (and reviled) aspects of his political ideology. Pat Buchanan’s political career effectively ended with his notorious Culture War Speech delivered at the 1992 Republican convention. His mainstream TV career ended when he was fired as a contributor from MSNBC in 2012. Both of these things happened as a result of his controversial views on race and religion that, in this book, he tries hard to tamp down.
His 2011 book, Suicide of a Superpower, triggered his falling-out with MSNBC, in particular its shocking chapter 4, “The End of White America.” Other titles that suggest a similar take include The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization; State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America; and the widely denounced Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. Despite all this, people who have succumbed to the man’s copious personal and telegenic charms continue to love him, and he is still missed by many at MSNBC. As Arianna Huffington once wryly commented, the man is a very, very nice anti-Semite.
In this book, however, Buchanan works hard to downplay his bigotry. It’s quite a complicated thing to unravel the threads of racial ideology throughout his narrative. Regarding the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education – the ruling that ends segregation in public schools – Buchanan at one point implies that he objects only to Green v. New Kent County, the later ruling that provides for mandatory school busing. “Under Brown,” he writes, “desegregation was mandated. Under Green, desegregation was not enough. . . . The Green decision was where I got off.”
Later in the book, however, he admits to objecting to Brown v. Board as well, though only because it is a judicial ruling and not legislation – a truly astonishing, open rejection of Brown.
Even more disturbing is his discussion of the part he played in finishing off the Child Development Act of 1971, an act designed to make government-sponsored child care universally available and affordable. The bill was doomed for veto on the grounds of cost, but Buchanan asked Nixon to let him draft the bill’s veto message. Thus the ominous, enduring, official explanation for the bill’s failure is the fear of government indoctrination of the nation’s children.
“We wanted not only to kill the bill. . . . We wanted to drive a stake right through its heart.”
Buchanan explains, “We wanted not only to kill the bill. . . . We wanted to drive a stake right through its heart.” At this, he was successful. Many consider this move an extension of his racism, as single black working mothers stand to lose much. Others emphasize the twisted logic of Buchanan’s strong anti-abortion views coexisting with a desire to make single mothers’ lives hell. Either way, it’s not difficult to draw a straight ideological line from his more controversial books to this one.
And yet . . . we laugh when he laughs and we cry when he cries, at many points along the way. Buchanan ends his book with a touching moment from the author’s youth, described by John Osborne: “I saw him and Shelley Scarney, a lovely blonde girl whom he later married, walk up the White House driveway to the West Wing of the White House and pause outside the portico, looking upward. . . . It’s the sort of memory, atop all that’s happened, that even in December 1974 brings me close to tears.”
Pat Buchanan has triumphantly declared Donald Trump the consummation of all that Buchanan has worked for all his life. “The ideas made it, but I didn’t,” he told Tim Alberta of Politico. The truly sad thing is that it does, indeed, seem a hollow victory.