I first met Pat Buchanan almost 33 years ago, though I can’t say I remember him--I was 8 days old. My dad’s great friend, Victor Lasky, the late, great conservative muckraker, brought Buchanan to attend my bris (the Jewish celebration that brilliantly marries ritual circumcision and smoked fish on a bagel). Lasky introduced the future three-time presidential candidate to my Dad: “This is Pat Buchanan, he’s a terrific redbaiter.” Since my family’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was, for political conservatives, what the catacombs were for Christians in ancient Rome--sanctuary from the pagan authorities--it was probably the only place north of Lincoln Center that someone could be called a “terrific redbaiter” and it would be both offered and received as a high compliment.
The reds are gone for the most part, thank God. But Buchanan remains a great baiter. Now, though, rather than attack the manifest evil of international communism and its sympathizers here at home, Buchanan finds himself arguing about demographics and what immigration is doing to American (read Anglo-American) culture. It is a debate that has marginalized Buchanan and those in his orbit. But far more disturbing, it has marginalized the entire debate about immigration at the exact moment that the issue needs all the intelligent discussion it can get.
At a time when Latinos make up 13% of American citizens, 28 million Americans are foreign-born and tens of millions of Americans are the children or grandchildren of immigrant-success stories, it hardly seems constructive to declare that immigrants, in general, and Mexicans in particular are “enemies” and “invaders” who threaten Western civilization. Rather, a constructive discussion might simply focus on the idea that we want immigrants--no matter where they come from--to become assimilated Americans, not aliens in our midst, and that maybe our current policies at home and on the border are not promoting that effectively.
Instead, we get Buchanan and his new book “The Death of the West,” which warns hysterically that the white race is becoming an “endangered species,” about to be swallowed up by the duskier Third World (defined as all nonwhites no matter how rich, educated or democratic). We get Peter Brimelow, a once-respected conservative voice who now runs the shrill anti-immigration website VDARE.com, named for Virginia Dare, the first British child born in North America. We get syndicated columnist Samuel Francis (widely considered Buchanan’s personal ideologist of choice) who has argued earnestly for “imposing adequate fertility controls on nonwhites.” These are not stupid men--indeed, they are extremely talented individuals--but they have become dismayingly obsessed in recent years with creating, to borrow a phrase from my colleague at the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru, an “identity politics for white people.”
Rather than focusing on how to create a rational immigration policy that recognizes the permanence of America’s ethnic diversity, they live in denial about how to get back to the days when America was 90% white. Buchanan even seems to imply in his book that Russian ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky wasn’t totally off his rocker when he introduced a bill in the Duma denying Russian women the right to leave the country and permitting ethnic Russian men to marry up to five wives.
Hiding out in their bunkers on the web and in the pages of a few obscure publications, these unhappy paleoconservatives and neo-nativists have rallied the troops under a single flag: white supremacy. No, they aren’t Klansmen or skinheads, and, no, they won’t like that label. But they are very serious about keeping America a white country because, in their view, white people, on the whole, make better Americans.
Take Brimelow’s VDARE.com, which features--pardon the expression--a Chinese menu of white-pride dishes. Some authors concentrate on genetic questions, others focus almost entirely on cultural arguments, but pretty much everyone agrees that immigration spells the doom of America (some even claim that all immigration after 1865 was bad for the Republic).
Francis, whose writings Buchanan borrows from heavily, once declared at a conference, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people.”
Whether the emphasis is on race or culture, this sort of thinking is hardly new. Racial doom-and-gloom ideologies have a long history on the right (and on the left--the founder of Planned Parenthood, for example, Margaret Sanger, was a repugnant racist and eugenicist). In many respects, the intellectual antecedent of Buchanan’s “The Death of the West” is Oswald Spengler’s classic “The Decline of the West.” Spengler, too, worried that the darker peoples would overtake Europe and topple the white man as the ruler of the world. Spengler also worried that the introduction of nonwhites and their culture into Western civilization was a cancer. World War II and the Cold War shrank the tumor of this sort of thinking on the right, but it didn’t excise it.
So, why this latest round? You could point to a lot of things, but the most important is that it is a response to the left. Seriously. As the left has sunk ever deeper into multicultural absurdity, many white folks have come to buy into the tribal logic of Afrocentrists, feminists, La Raza fanatics and the like. Perhaps the most recurring theme of resentment on the racial right goes like this: “If Afrocentrism is great, if Asian pride is great, if Hispanics can champion la raza (the race), then how come a preference for Eurocentrism, white pride and the white race is evil?”
When hearing a case about a more qualified white law student being denied a slot in favor of a black, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall noted, “You guys have been discriminating for years. Now it’s our turn.” Well, if we’re just taking turns, then maybe it’s our turn again, reason lots of disgruntled, fed-up but perfectly decent white folks. Yes, the writings of the anti-immigration right are a bonfire of fear and hyperbole. But the multiculturalists provide kindling at every turn. The resulting conflagration draws attention away from what’s really important.
Such as asking what unprecedented levels of immigration--both legal and illegal--do to a culture uncomfortable with demanding assimilation. Or the simple fact that illegal immigration is, well, illegal. No matter what approach you favor, if you aren’t against illegal immigration, you have no policy at all. And, needless to say, no American should start his new life here as a criminal: It breeds contempt for both the law and the lawbreaker and undermines assimilation terribly. Also, simply as a matter of foreign policy, we need to respond to the fact that the president of Mexico is developing political constituencies on both sides of the border to influence politics on both sides of the border. This would be troubling if Mexico were as white as Canada.
Which brings us back to the basic issue: Race isn’t the point, so drop it. Now.
Jonah Goldberg is the editor of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.