Pat Buchanan’s latest book, “Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart,” paints a gloomy picture of America at home and abroad.
At home, Buchanan says, our political leaders can’t get it together to protect our southwestern borders from an invasion of illegal immigrants and because they nearly all idolize the ideology of “free trade” we can’t preserve our jobs and industries.
Meanwhile, overseas, our forces are stretched thin and the Bush administration, which he says has learned nothing from the fiasco of Iraq, is still worshipping at the altar of what Buchanan calls “democratism” – the idea that using military force to democratize the world is both good and doable. I talked to Buchanan Thursday while he was on his book tour in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: Give us the 60-second synopsis of what “Day of Reckoning” is about?
A: What it is about is that are a series of crises heading down the road to the United States which are almost a perfect storm. They’re coming toward America at the same time. You’ve got an over-extended empire -- if you will, imperial overstretch -- where we’re committed to defend countries all over the world with an army the size it was in 1939. You’ve got two wars that appear to be without end. You’ve got a fiscal crisis with Social Security and Medicare really heading for the cliff. You’ve got a border crisis with 12-to-20 million illegals in the country who are not being assimilated.
Also, we’re in the middle of a cultural civil war, where one half of America and the other half disagree about the fundaments of right and wrong and morality and immorality, and we’re also balkanizing and breaking down into ethnic and racial and cultural enclaves, so that we’re ceasing to be one nation and one people.
All of these together are hitting at once, and I think it comes down to an existential crisis of the nation. Two big questions loom: Are we really going to be able to retain the Southwest if we don’t get control of our borders and stop this limitless invasion from the Third World and from Mexico into the southwestern United States? And secondly, are we going to be one nation and one people, the way we were at one time, if the Melting Pot is cracked and broken and we really cannot control mass immigration. That is a summary of what you’re saying and each chapter deals with it.
Another crisis that is looming is the dollar. Look, the euro used to be worth 83 cents; it’s worth $1.50. We’ve run up $5 trillion in trade deficits since NAFTA. We’ve lost 3 million manufacturing jobs under Bush. We are de-industrializing as China is industrializing. The point is that if you continue along this road, will the United States become dependent upon the entire world for the necessities of her national life for the first time, frankly, since almost colonial times?
Q: You’re generally considered an upbeat guy, but this sounds like crises upon crises upon crises.
A: I think it’s true. As you’re writing the book, you’re dealing with each of these individual problems, some of them very serious. You hear David Walker of the General Accounting Office talking about unfunded liabilities in the tens of trillions of dollars. There really seems to be on the part of government in both parties a lack of awareness of the gravity of the situation we are confronting. The book leads off with a single sentence which says “Pax Americana is dead.” The United States became the undisputed leader of the Western World in 1944-1945 and we led the West to victory in the Cold War. And in 1989 and 1991, when the Soviet Union and the Soviet Empire collapsed, we were the sole superpower, respected around the world and our leadership was wholly accepted. Now all that has all changed. We’re moving back to a multi-polar era, where the United States is still the first power on Earth, but it’s challenged by rivals. You’ve got Russia and China moving together. You’ve got Iran and Venezuela challenging the United States. You’ve got rampant hostility toward the president and our country all across the Middle East and the Islamic world. You’ve got alienation and estrangement from countries in Europe. So the uni-polar era is over. The question is, is the American Century over? Or can there be a second American Century?
At the end of the book I have a number of recommendations which I think if followed can certainly deal with four or five of these major crises. It’s very tough to find a solution to a culture war. Ronald Reagan couldn’t do it and some of the great presidents we’ve had can’t do it. I’m personally optimistic, but there is no doubt the country appears to have gone over the top and be heading down hill.
Q: You say ideology is a “false god” that’s leading us astray – and those ideologies are “free trade” and “democratism.”
A: Free trade was a policy that has hardened into an ideology. I used to be a free-trader myself, but if you take a look at the consequences you see all these jobs lost, these company towns turning into ghost towns, your manufacturing and productive capacity being exported more than your goods, your dollar sinking like a stone – and when your currency fails your country fails. It seems to me that the problem with the free traders is that they won’t say, “Wait a minute, is it working or is it not working?” We think the idea was good, but if the idea is failing us, then you change. My problem with the free-traders is they won’t even discuss any other policy than the one we are pursuing, which is clearly failing when we have got Bernanke and the treasury secretary going to Beijing, pleading with them to let their currency float. And we had a $233 billion trade deficit with China last year, the greatest trade deficit between any two countries in history. China’s booming. They’re growing at 12 percent – and we’re heading into a recession. I mean, if this is a successful trade policy, you ask, “What would a failure look like?”
Q: As for “democratism,” you’re talking about the Iraq war basically, aren’t you?
A: I’m talking about the Bush ideology – which he did not bring to Washington, but which he embraced and to which he converted sometime after 9/11 and before the “Axis of Evil” speech, where he decided that we are in a long war between good and evil and that the only salvation for the United States of America was to democratize the entire world, using American arms if necessary.
As a consequence, we sent an army up the Tigris and Euphrates River to create a democracy in a country that had never known democracy in 2,500 years and whose politics is rooted in an Islamic culture which preaches not freedom but submission to Allah. It was utopian, it was messianic, and the president preaches this in speech after speech after speech. They’re beautifully written, some of the speeches, and the lines are very nice, but when you compare them with reality, and with what has actually happened in history and with common sense -- as I wrote in the chapter “The Gospel of George Bush” -- they are not believable, they’re not credible.
Q: Who are the ideologues in both parties that you say we have to get rid of to save America?
A: Look, the neoconservatives told us it would be a “cakewalk” war in Iraq. They said when Saddam’s regime fell, democracy would rise. And then Iran and Syria would look at this, and the people would say, “Let’s do the same thing and get rid of our tyrants.” And that the Palestinians and the Israelis would sit down together. And that George Bush would be the Churchill of his time, and he would have seen further than the others. All this was preached – and none of it happened. It was like Woodrow Wilson going to Versailles to make the world safe for democracy and coming home and seeing the rise of Lenin and Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini instead.
So the neoconservative ideology has got to go in foreign policy, and the free-trade ideology – the globalism – has got to be reviewed in terms of the consequences for America. We are getting our clocks cleaned by everyone on Earth and every other country is practicing some form of protectionism. They might call it “currency manipulation.” Or the Chinese, ha, ha, they simply tie their currency to the American dollar and that sinks like a stone, and their products get more and more competitive and they’re sucking out factories and technology to the point where even now the Europeans are complaining!
Q: You have your prescriptions for turning this around at the end of your book. What first and foremost must we do with foreign policy?
A: I would say two things. One: a complete review of all of America’s commitments to go to war on behalf of foreign nations and basically letting some of these alliances lapse and telling these countries, like the Europeans, “Look. You’re big, fat and rich and you’re more numerous than we are. You’ve got more money than we do. You’ve got more people than we do. It’s time you take the primary burden of your own defense.” And we shut down bases and we bring the troops home from all over the world, particularly Korea and Europe, where these countries are strong enough and rich enough to defend themselves. We can come to their aid, but the first providers in terms of defense are going to be these countries themselves.
The second thing is to secure the southwestern border of the United States with a fence, all across from Brownsville to San Diego, and to enforce the immigration laws; to tell folks if they sneak into the country and have a child here, and they’re not a citizen and they are illegal, that child is not an automatic American; it is not automatically entitled to all the benefits of American citizenship. But the steps on dealing with illegal immigration – there are 10 of them there (in the book) – and if you have someone with the courage and will – it can’t be solved over night -- it will work. It will work. The president is starting to take some steps, with this little part of the fence he’s built, and more border patrols, and you’ve seen a drop of 25 percent in arrests on the border. Look, it will work. But you need will, you need courage and you need conviction. But Bush doesn’t believe in it.
Q: Bush is going to be gone, so what person or what party can combine your approaches and your remedies into a policy or a platform?
A: Look, the Democrats are better at understanding the impact of globalization on working people in America. The wages that have been arrested and halted in their growth, while, you know the boys in investment banking are making 10 times the average income of an American. I think the Democrats understand the consequences of it more than the Republicans and, frankly, another disagreement I’ve got with Republicans is that they are compulsive interventionists. They seem to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from what happened in Iraq when they are talking about doing the same thing in Iran. Clearly, I’m a conservative and I think the ideas I have represent a new kind of conservatism. It’s rooted in conservative principles, and consistent with what we’ve argued before, but there is no single individual that I’ve endorsed. All of them have ideas that are consistent with mine, but all of them have some ideas where we don’t agree. So there’s no ideal candidate for me.
Q: So is this book of yours sort of a stalking horse or a “stalking platform” for another run at the presidency by you as an independent?
A: No. It’s too late to get on the ballot and you don’t have the money and we’ve done that. An independent candidacy by a conservative pro-life Republican who is running on “secure the borders,” “stop exporting the jobs” and “bring the troops home” could do pretty well. But it would result in the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton. And that’s not why I went into politics, ha, ha, ha, ha.