July 12, 2000
Left Buchanan HQ at Tyson's Corner on June 30 for a month, to keep the household going, ferry kids to and from camp, etc., while my wife crams for the New York State bar exam. In a pro-family campaign, family excuses are almost impossible to argue with.
So have been driving around the Hamptons the last two weeks, with the only Buchanan bumper sticker in sight.
Before I left, I had lunch with Jerry, an old friend from graduate school, now an accomplished academic historian. He queried me in considerable detail about my involvement with the campaign - even asking such questions as do we "own" our headquarters; how many Catholics; how many Protestants on staff (I told him there were quite a few Mormons as well); was the American Muslim Council (where Pat spoke last month) a "mainstream group"? (yes, so far as I know); and what were Pat's ties to various racialist or white nationalist intellectual groupings? (none). Friendly lunch, but at a certain point the questions seem as motivated by suspicion as curiosity.
Saw Norman Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter at a large Southampton party the first weekend away. My wife used to tease me during the 1980s about the way I used to watch Norman when he was on McNeil Lehrer or something - hanging with absolute attention on every word. His magazine, Commentary, was the first to publish me, a debt I'll always remember. But the end of the Cold War brings different issues to the fore and resultant changes in political orientation.
Norman has a new book out, another memoir, My Love Affair with America: the Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative proclaiming his love for America and distaste for those who don't share his political views. The main target of Norman's polemic is no longer the Left. Now it is conservatives who don't share the neo-con idea that the United States should become a multicultural entity of 500 million plus people, engaged in bombing innocents all over the world in order to "build democracy." Included are sharp attacks on Pat of course, but also on a long line of American intellectuals whom he describes as "nativist." Everything Podhoretz dislikes gets fed into this heap: Henry Adams, Henry James, John Jay Chapman, Gore Vidal, Pat Buchanan, Richard John Neuhaus - he would throw in Samuel Huntington and George Kennan if the book were longer.
Podhoretz may be right: despite their considerable differences in style, views, method of presentation, all of these writers – PJB included— do share a rooted appreciation for the country they grew up in, a loyalty to its peoples and traditions, and were (or are) consequently resistant to their country's radical transformation by tides of newly-arrived peoples. Many of them were Mugwumps - the old factional term for the aristocratic (and often downwardly mobile) New England Protestant intellectuals who were anti-imperialist and skeptical about the benefits of high immigration during the 1890's.
In those pre-political correctness days, they could express their views with surprising candor. If the thought police ever got hold of Senator Carl Schurz's remarks on the deleterious consequences of the American incorporation of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American war, his name would be stripped off that park near Gracie Mansion before you could say "Robert E. Lee".
I don't rank quite high enough on a pecking order for Norman to argue with - he passed by, patted me on the shoulder and was already ten feet away by the time I could turn my head to acknowledge him.
Midge by contrast was as nice as could be, curious about the campaign and my role in it, relatively perceptive about Pat and his split with the neocons and theirs with him. That issue she discussed not so very differently than I would have: growing out of disagreement on the Gulf War, support for Israel, etc. She had just completed her own intellectual memoir - and judging by our conversation I suspect it will confirm the view of the many who have remarked that she is the more nuanced and perceptive writer.