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The Incurable Pessimism of Pat Buchanan

Looking for Peace in All the Wrong Places

by JOHN WALSH

Patrick Buchanan often bemoans the steady erosion of the theocratic values which he calls “conservative.” He is right to be dejected, because over the long term, he is on the losing side in his “culture war.” And what can he expect when his ideology is anti-science and anti-sex? It is difficult indeed to attract people, especially the young, to the twin banners of ignorance and joylessness.

But Buchanan goes too far when, in a recent piece for Antiwar.com, he allows his incurable pessimism to spread to the question of terminating the war on Iraq, which he and other paleocons have long opposed. There Buchanan asks: “Will a peace candidate be elected? Probably not. None ever has in wartime.” (My emphasis.) On that he is simply wrong.

In 1952, Harry Truman was a despised president due to the unpopularity of the Korean War, which would eventually take a toll of 50,000 U.S. lives. (Among my earliest memories are images of the terrible carnage on our black and white TV, the first in our neighborhood, and the anger my parents, one Republican, one Democrat, harbored for Truman because of the war. They had been through the Great Depression and WWII, and they had had enough.) Expecting an easy victory, Truman ran in New Hampshire, the first modern NH primary, where he lost in a surprise upset and then declared he would not seek another term. Eisenhower won on the Republican side in NH and then went on to win in a landslide over the candidate of the Democratic establishment, Adlai Stevenson. (Stevenson won no “blue” state, carrying only the racist states dominated by Dixiecrats until Nixon’s presidency.) Eisenhower was a peace candidate. His three campaign themes were to end corruption and balance the budget, pretty standard fare, but also to end the Korean War. He promised to “go to Korea” and end the war – and he did.

The discontent with the Korean war was mirrored in the Gallup polls of those days just as it has been over Iraq. In 1950 Gallup recorded that 55.01% of Americans supported the withdrawal of both U.S. and Chinese troops from Korea. And by December, 1951, Gallup found that 54.19% agreed with one U.S. senator who labeled the Korean war as an “utterly useless war.” But it took the election of Eisenhower in 1952 to finally bring the war to an end.

The course of events was eerily similar in 1968 with Eugene McCarthy doing extraordinarily well in his anti-war campaign against Lyndon Johnson in New Hamphsire, forcing Johnson to declare he would not run again. (Less well known is the fact that the “liberal” George McGovern and Robert Kennedy refused to challenge Johnson. Only the more independent-minded and less “liberal” McCarthy from Minnesota was willing, something for which the Dems never forgave him.) Like Eisenhower, Nixon ran as a peace candidate, claiming he had a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war, and he went on to defeat the feckless Hubert Humphrey who defended the war. The difference between Nixon and Eisenhower was that Nixon’s promise was a pack of lies, some of which may have been concocted by Buchanan. But here again, a candidate nominally against the war defeated the pro-war candidate in a time of war.

Buchanan cites the 1972 election which McGovern lost to Nixon as evidence of his contention. But McGovern was a conservative at a time when millions of students were labeling themselves “revolutionaries” and “communists” and troops were being diverted from Vietnam to put down a black uprising in Detroit. He never had a passionate base among young rebels or Blacks. Moreover, McGovern’s candidacy was sabotaged by the pro-war leaders of his party including the notorious Henry Jackson who joined with Israeli hawks and begat the political likes of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.

So all things are possible as the hatred for the war on Iraq grows. But Buchanan’s fundamental mistake is to believe that elections and maneuverings among the political elite are the source of change. Far from it. Buchanan is looking for peace in all the wrong places – as might be expected from someone who has been a denizen of Beltway society for his entire life. In contrast, as Noam Chomsky has observed, it matters to some degree who is in office, but it matters far more how much pressure those elected officials feel. So it matters much more what the anti-war movement and the people think and feel in the end. Or as another shrewd observer of political change put it, if you want to know what will happen do not look up, look down.

Thus the future is in the hands of those of us who want to end the war on Iraq more than it is in the hands of the king makers and deal brokers. And we are already in the majority. That is reason for a great deal of optimism. Why then are we not on the brink of ending this war? That is worth a lot of thought.

JOHN WALSH can be reached at bioscimd@yahoo.com