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4 March 1996

Who's Afraid of Pat Buchanan?

America's Republican Party primaries are choosing their candidate for president and the success of right-winger Pat Buchanan has raised fears of a resurgent American isolationism. But it's the voters that the US elite is frightened of, not Buchanan, writes James Heartfield.

'Buchanan is a master of the politics of fear - of newness, of turmoil, of the unexpected and the outsider' according to Michael Elliott in one of the six articles in Newsweek dedicated to vilifying the former broadcaster (4 March 1996).

Republican candidate opposes immigration, the United Nations and homosexuality. Well, hold the front page! Ever since Pat Buchanan wrote speeches for Nixon republican candidates have used the politics of race, patriotism and bigotry to get elected - and Buchanan kept on writing their speeches until he stood against George Bush in 1992.

The case against Buchanan is that his are the politics of fear and hatred. But the politics of fear and hatred used to be the stock-in-trade of Republican politics, why are the party bosses denouncing Buchanan now?

Pat Buchanan has not changed his politics in all those years. He is just as reactionary now as he always was. But the ruling elite in America has changed. They do not want rabble-rousers any more, because they are frightened of the rabble.

Bob Dole has not been won to the cause of gay rights any more than Newsweek sympathises with the world's migrants. But they fear the possibility of a right-wing populist movement in America much more. What they are really frightened of is the judgement of the mass of people who have been disappointed by the promises of American success.

Those fears are exaggerated. Buchanan is no Huey Long-style populist. He is a Washington insider, a journalist and speech- writer, playing at being a man of the people. All the fears of a right-wing populism, whether of the Michigan militia or of California's anti-immigrant movement are overstated. Buchanan's appeal is far from demonstrated by one win in New Hampshire.

It is the bad conscience of the American elite that persuades them that the mob is gathering at the gate. The pols and journos know that the American middle class has been betrayed and they fear the consequences.

More's the pity, no such reckoning, from the right or the left is on the cards. But that will not stop the elite from stirring up a storm about Buchanan. Attacking 'populism' is just the preparatory ground for attacking the people. When the powers- that-be have talked themselves into it, they will not hesitate to take away the votes of the people they think of as a mob.

Discuss issues surrounding the US elections and the Buchanan phenomenon online: Tuesday 5 March 2300 GMT.
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