On page 902 of Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, Conrad Black states:
“Nixon would have done better with a more credible and substantial spokesman than [Press Secretary Ron] Ziegler, but as [White House Chief of Staff Alexander] Haig pointed out, there were not a great many qualified people eager to be Nixon’s press secretary at this time. (Pat Buchanan might have been more effective, but most press encounters would have become boisterous shouting matches.)”
Now that’s something that I would have liked to have seen! Pat Buchanan as Nixon’s Press Secretary, engaging in confrontational back-and-forth with reporters!
I’m reminded of something that I read in Pat Buchanan’s 1990 autobiography, Right from the Beginning. As a twenty-six year old writer, Buchanan would participate in public debates about the Vietnam War. Buchanan narrates on page 314 that he wasn’t that good at delivering speeches in those days, but that he saw that he had a knack at the question and answer part of the debate. Buchanan would give quick comebacks to questions. For example, when someone from the audience said to him that the United States and South Vietnam dragged their feet on elections after the 1954 Geneva agreements, Buchanan retorted that Ho Chi Minh hadn’t held a free election in North Vietnam in ten years! Thirty people lined up to ask Buchanan a question, and Buchanan apparently relished being the villain of the debate.
I’ve read people who blame Crossfire (which Buchanan often co-hosted) for the current level of political discourse, where left argues against right and partisan debates appear in the place of intelligent discussion. They may have a point, and yet I have a hard time putting Buchanan in the same category as many of the talking heads who shout at each other on Fox News. Granted, he has been one of these talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC, but he adds a touch of humor that I don’t see among the other talking heads. I love his laugh! As Black says on page 919, Buchanan was “humorous” and “likable”.
Moreover, while I don’t embrace everything that Buchanan has said, I do believe that he has contributed important points to the political discourse. I recently watched this interview, in which Buchanan was discussing his controversial book, The Suicide of a Superpower (the book that got him kicked off of MSNBC). Buchanan was asking what exactly united Americans these days. In the past, America had the melting pot and a common culture and Judeo-Christian ethic. What unites America now, when those things have been undermined? Maybe Buchanan idealizes the past, but I still think that he brings an important point to the table. But does America have to go back to the 1950’s to find unity? Couldn’t it unite around other aspects of its heritage, such as pluralism, freedom, and a respect for the rights of all, including minorities?