Why, Pat, Why

If Pat Buchanan had not roared, grinning and sweaty, through the American political scene this year, someone would have invented him: America was waiting for someone to come along and push all the most sensitive buttons on our feverish and raw body politic, and push them hard all at once.

The symptoms of America's "funk" are widely recognized...now: 21 years of slow economic growth, trade deficits, job loss, and declining incomes for the many, accompanied by a deep cultural confusion about America's shared values. The new civil religion of cultural relativism, as preached in the public schools and mass media, has proven completely unsatisfying. During these same two decades America has experienced the growing pains-some might call it "backlash"-associated with making room in the mainstream for blacks, women, and gays.

A large number of ordinary people in America's white working families have come, understandably, to feel that no one speaks for, or even listens to, them. As Mark Shields, one of Washington's few class-conscious pundits, has noted, the people who seem to care about white working people's values (the Republican Right) don't care about their economic plight, and the people who claim to care about economic justice (the Democratic Left) are indifferent, or even hostile, toward working-class cultural concerns.

Any observer with the use of one allegorical eye should be able to see the inevitable outcome of this situation. A hole the size of a Mack truck is waiting to be filled by a movement that fuses cultural traditionalism and economic radicalism.

For a while this year, Pat Buchanan seemed to occupy that gap. But he didn't really, for reasons both economic and cultural. Buchanan is right about NAFTA and GATT. No progress for anyone, of any color, in the vast American non-professional majority is possible as long as our manufacturing jobs are shipped to the highest bidder and our wage scale competes with the Third World.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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