Friday, July 11, 2008

Pat Buchanan: Tolerable Critic?

Old habits die hard, and one habit I started about fifteen years ago was despising Patrick Buchanan, conservative author, commentator, and former presidential candidate. It's easy to understand how someone as left-leaning as myself could find Pat Buchanan difficult to stomach. He has that effect on us queasy liberal types.

Pat Buchanan had been around for quite a while, serving as an aide to then candidate and president Richard Nixon back in the '60s, but I didn't really come to know of him until he began hosting CNN's Crossfire years later. The presentation Crossfire offered was, of course, that of diametrically opposed political commentators - liberal versus conservative - doing nightly battle over the hot-button topics of the day. Michael Kinsley was the co-host from the left who made the biggest impression on me.

Night after night I found my political and social sensibilities being assaulted by Buchanan, this lunatic from the right. It wasn't long before I loved hating him. On issue after issue, I sensed little or no negotiation. He was a bull dog. But maybe that's what the producers of Crossfire had in mind.

When Buchanan made his deadly serious runs for the White House in 1992 and 1996, I remember being taken aback by his popularity. It unnerved me. Was this country actually at a time and place in history where the likes of Patrick J. Buchanan could ascend to the presidency? Was I that out of touch? Turns out the country decided Buchanan was a little much for its sensibilities as well, and he never really threatened for the Republican nomination seriously.

Buchanan's return to the air waves - not that he ever left them - brought with it what could be described as a suggestion of moderating rhetoric or nuance. No, he couldn't hide his indelible conservative stripes, and I'm offended as much today as I ever was when they surface, but attacking from the fringe just isn't his game anymore. He has morphed into a being with both subtle and complex insights to offer - something I never expected from him. Now, whenever I see and hear him on shows like MSNBC's Morning Joe, his offerings are much more palatable. He likes to put things into historical perspective, and his knowledge, as well as experience, make him well-suited for the task.

In an era of ever-polarizing influences in our political debates, Pat Buchanan, while remaining a staunchly conservative animal, these days gives us more than just fuel for the fire. If this keeps up, maybe I'll even buy one of his books. I said maybe.

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