When we read, in his new memoir, Patrick J. Buchanan’s statement that “To some of us, America was ceasing to be a democratic republic,” the thought is familiar coming from him. But this iteration takes us back to the Pat Buchanan of the 1960s and 1970s, who said and wrote such things staunchly, wittily, and combatively, as an affirmation of the beliefs of his father and mother, his family and friends, his teachers, his church, and his community growing up in the nation’s capital (a world that he skillfully evoked in a previous memoir, 1988’s Right from the Beginning).
Washington is a company town. Washingtonians tend to grow up wanting to become important inside the company, which is to say inside the government. Buchanan’s run at importance was notably successful. Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles that Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever takes readers through his filing cabinet, for it is built around the feisty memos that the Nixon speechwriter sent to his boss. It is a follow-up to The Great Comeback (2014), chronicling the years 1965, when he first became a Nixon aide, through the victory over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.
In Oliver Stone’s laughable Nixon (1996), the director’s penchant for inventive history is exampled by a drunken—and randy—Pat Nixon advising her husband to destroy the tapes. “They’re not about you,” she slurs, “they are you.”
This has been certainly seconded by Nixon’s critics. For 40 years, they have zeroed in on the potty mouth (the biggest surprise for my Republican parents), the anti-Semitism, the enemies list (the work of a “fascist,” according to William F. Buckley), the pay-offs, the disturbing plots against political enemies (for example, slipping LSD to hostile reporter Jack Anderson), to present the image of a paranoid, insecure totalitarian.
Democracy has no cure for a corrupt demos. Politicians’ misdeeds taint them alone, so long as their supporters do not embrace them. But when substantial constituencies continue to support their leaders despite their having broken faith, they turn democracy’s process of mutual persuasion into partisan war.