Buchanan and White America

>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I agree with the substance of Adam's case against Pat Buchanan; the vision that Buchanan is putting forth of America is both racist and ahistorical, and is genuinely dismissive of the contributions of every non-white American (not to mention women, immigrants, and so forth). At the same time, I think that there's more going on; Buchanan has always been more willing than most conservative pundits to make forthright, and in some sense honest, defenses of unpalatable elements of the right wing worldview. I recall at some point in the 1990s that Buchanan was asked why the United States was willing to sacrifice treasure for Bosnia and not Rwanda, and he gave the straightforward answer that Rwandans weren't white enough.

In this case, I think that Buchanan is invoking a genuine sense of loss of entitlement on the part of a substantial portion of white America. This isn't to defend or justify the white privilege that created this entitlement entailed, or to justify Pat Buchanan's nostalgia for it. Nevertheless, I think that Buchanan is pointing to something that's very real, or at least as real as any sociological fact. White America, as the construct exists in the mind of many Americans, is disappearing, even by some objective criteria; it's retreating deeper into exurban communities, and it's very, very slowly ceding political and financial power. Moreover, the idea of America is changing; Buchanan has a very definite vision of what America is, and is smart enough to understand that his vision is losing traction. In this context, it's hardly surprising that the response is a combination of rage and raw panic. That the ideological structure that supports White America is racist and has a disturbing narrative of American history is academically relevant, but it's also not the central point. Those who hold Buchanan's vision (and many do, although often not in terms as explicit as Pat is willing to put forth) really do find themselves under siege, and pointing out that these beliefs are both crazy and immoral has very limited effect.

And so I don't really begrudge Pat the platform to make this argument. Rather, I think that it helps to clarify the source and meaning of much of the rage on the right, especially coming as it does from a longterm advocate of movement conservatism. It's altogether more readable and interesting than most of what rolls down from the Weekly Standard or the National Review, in any case.


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