It is often remarked by those not caught up in it that American political discourse these days has reached a new low. True, bitter political divisions have always existed, but there seems to be something innate in modern media which appeals to crude demonization of one’s enemies and militates against thoughtful dialogue, or even an intelligent argument.
It’s like a big brick wall has been erected down the middle of the Republic. On the right side are lined up Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter and the rest, throwing bricks and insults over the wall. On the left side of the wall stand the lesser known Franken, Stephanie Miller, and the others, throwing bricks and insults right back. Both sides hold the other to be totally evil, and hasten to defend their own kind, no matter what hypocritical or corrupt act they have committed. Instead of discussion there is only yelling and insults, and shouting down the opposition is considered a victory.
Enter The American Conservative, Patrick Buchanan’s journal, founded in 2002.
When Mr Buchanan first ran for president, as a sort of extreme version of Republican orthodoxy, I declared to a friend that I wouldn’t vote for him if he was running against Satan himself. After the shocked silence, I hastened to add that I wouldn’t vote for the Devil either, but would sit out the election.
Then Buchanan ran again, and after meeting and talking with laid-off workers and seeing for himself the devastated American industrial landscape he had a change of heart. He came to question big business as well as big government.
To his credit, Pat Buchanan has long opposed the American imperialist itch. And he is one of the very few Catholic conservatives who has without hesitation condemned the use of nuclear weapons as immoral.
So by 2000 I, in good conscience, cast my vote for Patrick Buchanan in his–probably final–quixotic bid for the presidency.
He no doubt finally concluded that, as happened more than once in his career, any sign of momentum on his part triggered a coordinated attack by the combined forces of the political establishment and the national media. Such a combined effort is–or was–apparently unstoppable.
So he returned to journalism, and launched The American Conservative.
The journal is refreshingly free of the dominant political Manicheism and is so good that it is a shame that the title will keep so many people from reading it.
In a world where the "conservative" label has been appropriated by an administration intent on centralizing the power of the Presidency, circumscribing traditional rights, and embarking on an ideologically powered drive to establish a global empire, Buchanan’s brand of conservatism seems odd
indeed: antiwar, anti-imperialist, and unafraid to acknowledge not only that the better sort of leftist is not evil-minded but may actually have something of value to offer. The NAC offers hope to those of us weary of the shouting match.
In the most recent issue, for example, besides a tribute to the late Senator Eugene McCarthy, was a lengthy and admiring article, by Bill Kauffman, on that other Upper Midwestern Democrat, Senator George McGovern.
Mr. Kauffman–a sort of localist/libertarian with a hip sensibility–notes that McGovern has been falsely caricaturized by the Right as the wild-eyed social radical who led the Democratic Party away from mainstream American values into the la-la land of gender politics, gay rights, and shrill eccentricity.
Whatever you want to call this development–Id Leftism?–it was born in the wake of McGovern’s resounding defeat in 1972, but it was not his child.
The real George McGovern, as opposed to the the cartoon McGovern, was and is quite another creature.
George McGovern is a lifelong and apparently devout member of the Methodist church in his small South Dakota hometown, where he still lives. He is, in his 80s, still married to his hometown sweetheart (Kauffman remarks that many of the "family values" politicos lead less conventional lives). His political thought stems, not from Berkeley-style New Leftism, but from the older Democratic populism of the northern prairies. McGovern values rural life, the natural world and its limits and cycles, and simple unbureaucratic democracy. He is a decorated veteran of World War II, and Kaufmann remarks that if his
humility hadn’t prevented him from exploiting that fact- unlike certain other, later Democratic politicians- he may well not have suffered such a spectacular defeat in 72.
All in all, Senator McGovern seems a thoroughly decent man, of the sturdy Midwestern type that is one of the glories of America.
Of course, you are probably thinking, as I was while reading the article, "but what about abortion?"; after all, wasn’t McGovern the first American presidential candidate to hold a prochoice position?
Well, sort of. What his platform actually called for was for the issue to be left up to the states, not the federal government. This may well have been deemed a "prochoice" position before Roe V Wade, but it is identical to what every "prolife" Republican I am aware of is calling for today. And Kauffman notes that McGovern’s running mate was Sergent Shriver, a prolife Catholic and
admirer of Dorothy Day.
This got me thinking.
Neither the populists of the Left nor of the Right have the numbers to challenge the neoconservative establishment alone. But however much the Nader Left and the Buchanan Right have come to have in common, the "social issues," with abortion at the top of the list, keep them divided and ineffectual.
But if the old "prochoice" position is in effect identical with the new "prolife" postition, might not this be a key to setting aside, at least temporarily, our differences to engage in a unified struggle to take the country back from the imperialists and the oligarchs, from the corporate globalists that both those to the right and the left of the Republican/Democratic mainstream see
as the enemy?
Of course the NOW and NARAL types, for whom abortion is the Most Important Issue in the World would not join in. Nor would those prolifers for whom anything but total victory is seen as betrayal, who would rather maintain their purity of principle than achieve partial victory.
As politics is "the art of the possible," and most of us recognize that America will not tolerate complete criminalization of abortion this side of some sort of miraculous mass conversion, a working compromise such as this could mean the birth of a new and vigorous movement that would transcend the dominant and mind-numbing Right/Left paradigm.
This prolifer, for one, would sign on.