The Born-Again Republicans

Monday: Culture War

“They were the perfect Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.” The Tennessee delegate dated himself by this reference—as I did by getting it. (I saw Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis play for Army in the 1940s.) “Buchanan spoke to the people in the Astrodome, and Reagan spoke to those outside it.” Pat Buchanan, coming first, had nudged Ronald Reagan out of prime time, which was a symbol of what the right wing had been doing all through the run up to the Republican convention. The forces of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson had dictated terms to the platform hearings. “Total victory,” Phyllis Schlafly crowed over the no-exceptions anti-abortion amendment. “None of the big tent garbage.” Bay Buchanan, Pat’s sister and campaign manager, said, “We got our platform four years early.”

The mere fact that Buchanan was speaking, and in such a prominent opening-night spot, showed that President Bush did not feel in a position to retaliate for Buchanan’s insulting challenge to his nomination in the primaries. Buchanan was even exempted from the vetting of his text that all other noncandidates submitted to. All Buchanan had to guarantee was that he would endorse Bush—which he did on his own terms: that he be allowed to define, from the outset, this campaign’s meaning.

What is that meaning? Republican campaigns, hitherto based on the cold war, must now be based on the equally important culture war:

There is a religious war going on in this country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton [Bill and Hillary] are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side.

That little word “our” did heavy work in Buchanan’s speech. Pornography should not be allowed to pollute “our” popular culture. Those who voted for him in the primaries “share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams.” He ended with an extended analogy: as the brave young men of the 18th Cavalry retook streets after the Los Angeles riots, block by block, so “we must take back our cities, and take back our culture and take back our country.”

It was not generally noticed that Buchanan’s speech was a reworking of the commencement address he gave to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty College last May.1 He described there his reaction to the televised laughter of rioters in Los Angeles:

Theirs was the authentic laughter of the barbarian from time immemorial, after some church or synagogue is burned and looted, after they have brutalized and beaten. From Brown Shirts to Red Guards, the mocking laughter is always the same. Friends, make no mistake: what we saw in Los Angeles was evil exultant and triumphant, and we no longer saw it as through a glass darkly, but face to face.


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