Pat Buchanan is making trouble again. We‘re used to “Pitchfork Pat,” the barnstorming conservative contrarian ready to unleash his army on liberals and Mexicans, but the Pat Buchanan I’m talking to can sound disconcertingly like a liberal himself, if not yet like a guy who‘s ready to tear down the borders.
Seated in his sparsely furnished office at MSNBC in the nation’s capital, the scourge of the left is lunching on . . . red meat? Barbecued spare ribs? No, a dainty fruit salad. And he‘s criticizing . . . gay-rights activists? The multiculterati? On the contrary. Both in person and in his new biweekly magazine, The American Conservative, the people Buchanan seems most upset with are his old anti-communist buddies from the Cold War days. Particularly galling are those trigger-happy “neoconservatives,” headquartered at Fox News and journals like The Weekly Standard and National Review, who are itching for a showdown with Iraq. In Buchanan’s opinion, they have betrayed the true conservative faith, which is to preserve what is good and mind your own business.
“What do the neoconservatives want? I think they want an exciting life,” he says of the Republican Party‘s pro-war wing. “They’ve had boring little lives as aides, and they want to be part of a global empire. They want to hang around Versailles. They want to be courtiers to Louis XIV. This is what it‘s all about to these guys. They’re puffed-up people.”
If Buchanan the anti-war crusader isn‘t enough of a surprise, here’s another one: His partner in crime at The American Conservative (TAC) is Peter Theodoracopulos (universally known as “Taki”), a columnist and Greek-American playboy who once spent three months in a British jail for possession of cocaine. Taki, normally so right-wing he‘s off the charts, isn’t sounding like much of a fascist these days either, even if he does have a dog named Benito. He calls Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard, “a little dictator who wants Kristol first, the U.S. second and the world third, in that order.”
Five afternoons a week, Buchanan is on Buchanan & Press, a political talk show he co-hosts on MSNBC with Bill Press, a liberal sparring partner from his Crossfire days. The guest he‘s most interested in today is Michael Ledeen, author of the new book The War Against the Terror Masters. It’s not, to put it mildly, Buchanan‘s kind of thing. Ledeen is a radical neocon who advocates war not just on Iraq, but on Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia as well. To make matters worse, he’s also late, still en route from the airport. But at the last moment he strolls into the cramped television studio dressed in a rumpled wool sweater and sneakers, not having had time to change. Too busy, too many planes to catch — for hawks, these are stirring times.
Face to face with the enemy, Buchanan betrays no ill will. He‘s warm, friendly, his manner one of slightly barbed bonhomie. “We gave you a great review in The American Conservative, Michael,” he jokes as they wait to go on air, referring to the thorough lambasting of Ledeen’s book that has just appeared in the magazine‘s fourth issue.
“Yeah, I saw that,” Ledeen replies equably as a blond makeup artist brushes powder onto his bald pate. (“Oh, that feels so good,” he comments lasciviously.) And then the show starts. It’s November 8, and the U.N. has just voted to send inspectors back into Iraq. “The president has his U.N. resolution, inspectors are going into Iraq, and there may well be war with Iraq,” Buchanan says, looking into the camera. “Our guest is Michael Ledeen, author of . . .” Buchanan pauses. He‘s forgotten the name of the book. Or is he making a not-so-subtle point about it? Offscreen, Ledeen coolly provides the prompt. “. . . author of The War Against the Terror Masters, which is a very controversial book,” Buchanan continues. Then, rather like a carny introducing a circus freak, he says, “There it is, folks. Take a look at that cover! Michael Ledeen, a very controversial author!”
It’s not, surely, the preface Ledeen would have wished for, but if he‘s annoyed he doesn’t show it. Anyway, compared to what reviewer Justin Raimondo said about his opus in Buchanan‘s magazine, this is nothing. But Ledeen is on the defensive today, because U.N. inspector Hans Blix is on his way to Baghdad. “Look, I’ve read your book,” Buchanan says, “and from your standpoint this U.N. thing was a debacle, and it has diminished the United States‘ power and authority to do what we ought to do in our national interests.”
Ledeen regretfully agrees. Power has now shifted from George Bush to Hans Blix, he admits. As long as Blix is in Iraq, Bush’s hands are tied. “My view was we should have kept on going after Afghanistan — that we should be already now supporting the Iranian people to get rid of this terrible regime that they all hate.”
“Do you agree with Ariel Sharon that we ought to take down Iran right after Iraq?” Buchanan demands.
“I think we should take down Iran before Iraq,” Ledeen counters. “I don‘t understand why people think that the Iranian people are less worthy of support to be free than were the Filipinos or the Yugoslavs or the Hungarians or the Poles. I just don’t get it.”
Ledeen is a very smooth character. Give him a cell phone and a credit card and he looks like he‘d be at home anywhere.
“You’re very candid, Michael, I‘ll give you that,” Buchanan says after the interview is over and they’ve cut to a commercial.
“Well, I‘m a revolutionary, you know. I’ve never changed,” Ledeen responds. As he‘s leaving, P he mentions that he’ll be in Rome all next week.
“Never been to Rome,” Buchanan replies chirpily, as if even the most fleeting visit to foreign soil might be faintly traitorous.
Taki has been to Rome. In fact, the 66-year-old heir to a Greek shipping fortune, who owns homes in Manhattan, London and Gstaad (not to mention a yacht), has been just about everywhere, and that‘s only one reason why commentators wonder what he and the mildly xenophobic Buchanan are doing publishing a magazine together. This October, Taki celebrated 25 years as the “High Life” columnist for the London Spectator, a conservative weekly prized for its eccentricity. He has also written for Vanity Fair, the New York Post, the London Sunday Times, Esquire and many other publications. P.J. O’Rourke has called him “the meanest, funniest Greek since Aristophanes — plus he‘s not dead and you can spell his name.” Bill Kristol, on the other hand, has called him “repulsive.”
But the main reason why media watchers did a double take over the partnership is Taki’s long history as a womanizer — hardly something of which the uxorious Buchanan would approve. In his Spectator column, Taki refers to his wife, Princess Alexandra Schoenberg of Austria, as “the mother of my children” while recounting escapades with aristocratic beauties less than half his age. Then there‘s the matter of that jail sentence. One fine summer day in 1984, Taki had just been waved through customs at London’s Heathrow Airport when the customs officer called out after him to say that an envelope was about to fall out of his back pocket. “Oh, thank you,” Taki replied. “If only you knew what was in it!” The officer took the bait. Inside the envelope were 23 grams of cocaine, purchased the previous night for $1,800 at Studio 54. Not really being a druggie — he‘s a self-confessed “boozer” — Taki had forgotten all about it. In fact, he hadn’t even touched it. In court, he pleaded guilty and served his sentence among drug dealers, murderers and thieves.
I meet “the poor little Greek boy” (as Taki likes to refer to himself) at his townhouse on Manhattan‘s Upper East Side. As expected — he’s a former Olympian who has represented his native country in skiing, tennis and karate — he is trim, tan, and impeccably turned out in a blue blazer (buttoned), a striped shirt and tie, beige trousers and tasseled loafers. “I am Taki Theodoracopulos,” he says in a voice that combines weariness, vitality and irritation in equal measure.
So why has Taki chosen to ally himself with churchgoing Pat Buchanan? What made him decide not just to write for The American Conservative, but to back it financially to the tune of an estimated $5 million? The reason, he tells me, is that he and his fellow conservatives were being excluded from the mainstream media.
“We were shut out, starting with myself, because of my strong opinions about the Palestinians, and multiculturalism, and political correctness. People were starting to get awfully nervous. Pat Buchanan, ditto. And Scott McConnell [TAC‘s executive editor], because, as editorial director of the New York Post, he wrote an editorial stating that Puerto Rico would be better off staying the way it is rather than become a state that would have to pay taxes, and he got fired just for that! By his best friend, too — Eric Breindel. So basically we got together as people who were out of the loop, because of our politics or because of the way we think.”
Given the way Taki thinks — or writes, anyway — it’s no surprise that he hasn‘t been invited on Nightline lately or asked to contribute to The New York Times op-ed page. A 1997 Spectator piece he wrote denouncing New York’s notoriously rowdy Puerto Rican Day parade so enraged then-Mayor Giuliani that Hizzoner (unaware the writer was an American citizen) tried to have Taki deported. “There has never been — nor will there ever be — a single positive contribution by a Puerto Rican outside of receiving American welfare and beating the system,” Taki wrote. “Why in hell should the taxpayer carry the load for a bunch of semi-savages to march down Fifth Avenue?”
Understatement isn‘t Taki’s style. Mocking Hollywood liberals for turning into conservative property-rights advocates when some kids accidentally crossed the line onto David Geffen‘s beach, he wrote: “This sand is my sand, according to the rich, lefty pricks, and to hell with children when it comes to my privacy.” A typical Taki commentary will contain sentences such as “May the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits” and “It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Belgian foreign minister, Louis Michel, was born of the union between a cockroach and a cow.” Perhaps all you need to know about Taki is that he was the favorite columnist of both Jesse Helms — no surprise there — and Joseph Heller, the leftist author of one of the funniest books of the 20th century, Catch-22. That Heller was a fan is something Taki learned only recently, when he met the novelist’s widow at a party. When he asked why Heller had liked him so much, he was told: “Because you hate everybody! You hate the modern world!”
For the last few years, Taki‘s only American outlet (he’s much better known in Britain than here) has been New York Press, where, until recently, he edited a stand-alone section called Taki‘s Top Drawer. This summer, he left the alternative weekly in order to launch his new venture with Buchanan. Russ Smith, Press’ owner, says he was sorry to see him go. Not only was Taki‘s section popular with readers, but Taki himself was a personal favorite with the staff.
“Taki’s a great guy, a great fellow. He‘s remarkably fit, and a superb athlete who looks 15 years younger than his age,” Smith says. “To me, he’s the Keith Richards of journalism, because he really does drink enormously. He‘ll stay out until 4 in the morning, then get up at 7 and play tennis. Then he can meet you for lunch in a suit and tie, and you’d never guess that he‘d been out all night. He’s a terrific storyteller, a real gentleman in the old-fashioned European style, and a lot of fun to be around — a lot of fun.”
At its best, Top Drawer was one of the liveliest newspaper sections in the country, featuring the philosophical musings of Jim Holt, the social mishaps of Toby Young, and the political analysis, or satire in some cases, of Taki, George Szamuely, Scott McConnell, Charles Glass and others. There was also the occasional contribution by Claus von Bulow and the even more ghoulish-sounding Clement von Franckenstein (actually a Hollywood actor). Given TAC‘s tiny circulation (15,000 versus New York Press’ 115,000), I ask if Taki isn‘t making a mistake by changing gigs.
“I wanted to have some kind of voice with people who count,” Taki replies. “I don’t mean it to sound snobby. It‘s nice to be read by someone who might draft a law or something. And that’s what we‘re doing. We’re targeting those people. We‘re sending it to every fucking policy wonk in Washington. I’ve had my run, I‘ve had 35 years as a journalist, and now I want a little bit more gravitas. I’m not going to be writing about how I got drunk and fell on the floor and chased some pussy.”
Still, even if Taki isn‘t writing about his drunken exploits for TAC (he saves them for his Spectator column), he doesn’t yet sound like the typical Washington drone. Far from it. By TAC‘s second issue he was already in full draconian mode, suggesting that sports stars who beat up women should be flogged rather than fined. There was more talk of thrashings two columns later, when he recalled how after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, he and Buchanan were not overly moved by the novelist’s plight. “If memory serves,” Taki wrote, “Pat suggested that the Anglo-Indian go to Nicaragua for help, Rushdie having advertised the Sandinistas as the best government on the planet. My suggestion was a good beating by the faithful, perhaps even a kneecapping.”
In person, Taki sounds a lot less reactionary than he does in print. (“I do that to piss off politically correct journalists,” he says when I bring up his remarks about flogging.) Nor does he see eye to eye with Buchanan on some of the social issues, like abortion, though he is very tactful about it. “Look, I disagree with him,” he says, “and in view of the fact that I haven‘t been a saint as far as that’s concerned at various times in my life, I‘m not going to be a hypocrite about it. But you know, he’s very devout, and I respect that.”
On many topics, Taki says that he and Buchanan are “completely” on the left now, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Like his co-editor, he thinks America is better off not spreading itself around the world, though probably for reasons that have more to do with aesthetics and Euro snobbery than with Buchanan‘s non-interventionist philosophy. Americans, in his opinion, just don’t have what it takes to be good imperialists. “When the English went abroad, they went native,” he says, puffing on a cigarette. “They fell in love with the climate, with the boys . . . Americans go somewhere, they open a McDonald‘s. I think they’re much better off here than anywhere else.”
Talking to Taki is a bit like conversing with the verbal equivalent of a machine gun — anecdotes, one-liners, curses and theories are fired off in response to every question. When I ask him if the magazine is willing to endorse the development of alternative sources of energy, he launches into a tirade against Saudi Arabian princes (“camel drivers, as I call them, I refuse to use the word princes”); SUVs (“If they stop people carrying guns, why don‘t they stop people driving almost lethal automobiles? God, they drive me mad”); and, bizarrely, cigarette boats and water skis off the South of France. (“In the old days, you had a yacht to get away from the huddled masses. Now you can’t, because they have these goddamn water skis! It‘s maddening! You can’t swim anymore or you‘ll be beheaded. I mean, you need to go up to Alaska to find peace.”)
But behind the scattershot ranting there is a serious, even moral point being made. Namely that capitalism as it’s currently practiced is not the capitalism he signed up for. “All these toys are invented simply to enrich the companies that make them,” he complains. “Why should the manufacturers benefit while they pollute the water? When people say, ‘Let the government off our back,’ I say, ‘No, let them off our back as far as opening a small business is concerned.’ But the government should protect people from these excesses. They don‘t do that. The lobbies are too strong. How are you going to go up against the SUV lobby in Detroit? The politicians need the money, so it’s a joke.”
Seated in his luxuriously furnished living room, Taki rails against the multinationals and globalism as fiercely as any Seattle protester, even if he wouldn‘t be caught dead at an actual protest. “The American worker has not enriched himself at all,” he fumes. “He makes less money now than he did 20 years ago. Some guy takes 600 million — Koslowsky and Welch — I mean, that’s not capitalism. That‘s the kind of capitalism that Russia has today. Sixty people grabbed all the money. What is this bullshit?”
Though they had met several times over the years, it wasn’t until 1997, when Buchanan traveled to London to attend a funeral service for the anti-globalist tycoon Sir James Goldsmith, that Taki and Buchanan first sat down for an extended chat. Some time later they met again in New York, this time with TAC‘s executive editor, Scott McConnell, and began to discuss putting out a magazine together. So far, Buchanan says he’s very pleased by how it‘s gone, and believes that he and Taki are fundamentally in agreement on the issues. “He’s a very entertaining fellow, a likable fellow, and like me a bit out of the mainstream,” he says.
In some quarters, there is a suspicion that what really unites Buchanan and Taki is a shared hostility to Israel that verges on anti-Semitism. Though he is skeptical of the anti-semitism charge, Benjamin Schwarz, an editor at the Atlantic Monthly, does note the oddity of a nativist like Buchanan casting his lot with someone many people would dismiss as Eurotrash. (Taki did, in fact, write a column called “Eurotrash” for the East Side Express in the 1980s.) “I don‘t know if Buchanan’s an anti-Semite. All I know is that his positions don‘t make him one ipso facto,” says Schwarz. “I think his position on Israel is an intellectually rigorous one, it’s completely defensible, and from what I know of Taki‘s position, one could say the same thing.”
But how does Buchanan answer the charge? I put it to him that the only link most people see between him and Taki is that both men have a strong anti-Israel bent.
“We’re on the same wavelength, I think, on the hegemony of the neoconservatives,” Buchanan replies gravely, knowing perfectly well what I‘m getting at. “We don’t think they represent true conservatism. We clearly do not believe the sun rises and sets on the head of Ariel Sharon. As I have written, I really think the Israeli lobby simply exercises too much power and leverage and control of U.S. foreign policy. I want an independent America-first foreign policy. Our magazine is going to be economic nationalist, America-first, strong on American sovereignty and economic independence. So we do have a real overlap, and I think we have in common folks whom we do not like — to express it as simply as I can!”
There are people in public life who wear perpetual P smiles on television, but when you meet them in private they‘re scowling. Buchanan is the opposite. Pugnacious on the box, in person he seems almost shy, and his dark eyes peer out at you with genial curiosity. Thanks to his controversial views on abortion, homosexuality, immigration, Israel and other topics, he is one of the most reviled figures in American politics, but he is very popular among his peers. His last book, The Death of the West, argued that low birth rates, high immigration, loss of religious faith and the cult of pleasure spell doom for people of European descent, both here and in Europe itself. The book received dismissive notices all across the political spectrum, from The Nation to National Review, but sales were strong.
“I think Europeans are going to face a choice,” Buchanan says. “They are dying off, and they’re going to have to cut the welfare state or bring in more immigrants. I feel like a country doctor, and I come in and tell somebody, ‘You look healthy, but my chart shows that you have pancreatic cancer and you’ve got about 18 months to live. I‘m not as trained as the fellows up in Minnesota, and you’ve definitely got to get a second and third opinion, but I‘m telling you what all the data says to me from my experience. Now you can take it or leave it, but this is what I believe.’ And that‘s what I believe.”
Buchanan likes to take the long view, as is evidenced by his character, which seems almost to belong to another era, and his conversation, which is laden with historical and religious references. He believes that America is a good country and that we ought to think about it in ways that will enable it to survive as a viable democracy. Neoconservatives who want to police the world, invade foreign nations and put their trust in a hyperglobal economy while piling up trade deficits, alienating allies and allowing foreigners to pour across America’s borders unchecked, are risking everything for short-term profits, cheap labor and power.
“I simply am a non-interventionist,” he says. “Once we win the Cold War, I believe you bring the troops home and you have a traditional American defense, and that‘s how the republic endures. Nothing lasts forever, but for as long as possible. And we are undertaking an imperialist, almost crypto–British Empire foreign policy that I believe is going to lead to disaster.”
When it comes to the famous “root causes” of 911, Buchanan concurs with the left that the assault on the World Trade Center would not have happened had we removed our troops from Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in 1991, and been more evenhanded in the Middle East. He doesn’t doubt that America will win a war with Iraq. It‘s the aftermath he’s worried about, and the fear that the neocons will press for war elsewhere in the Muslim world. In his view, the best way to confront Islam is to fight terrorism but otherwise leave the Arabs alone. Eventually, Muslims will realize that theocratic governments are great on rhetoric but lousy on results, and will turn toward democracy. Nor is he interested in suppressing Islam. “I don‘t think we can anyhow. It’s been around for 1,400 years. Even the Crusades didn‘t work, and they were a good idea!”
Undaunted by the hostile reception for The Death of the West, Buchanan is writing a new book about what he believes are the real threats facing our country. Those would include terrorism, the forthcoming collapse of the global economy, the deindustrialization of the U.S., and what he calls the “deconstruction” of America by its intellectual elites.
“The old America is like a beautiful building. If you take it apart and reduce it to the wood, and the molding, and the bricks, and the rest of it, it’s just a pile of junk,” he says, his voice dropping almost to a whisper, as it does when he is particularly passionate about something. “It‘s held together by myth, and belief, and a lot of things, and I think they’re all under assault. I think that‘s what’s going on in society. It‘s sad, and there’s not a lot I can do about it.”
Then he adds, laughing because he knows that what he‘s about to say amounts to self-parody, “The ’50s were a great time! It was a great country! They talk about how people were mistreated in Catholic schools — I wasn‘t mistreated at all! It was wonderful!”
Taki likes the old days, too, school included. (He came to America in 1949, aged 12.) “The Italians were called wops, the Jews were called hymies, I was of course a greaseball, and every Hispanic was a spic,” he says in his rat-a-tat style, which wouldn’t be out of place in a remake of Casablanca. “Well, we all got along famously! It was rough, but it was fine. Obviously, one doesn‘t like to be called a greaseball, but you know — Greek, greaseball . . . Now, of course, all that is very, very unacceptable.”
When I ask him what kind of America he’d like to see, he tells me about a film called Since You Went Away, a World War II home-front tearjerker he watched the previous night on television. In it, Claudette Colbert plays the mother of two teenage girls (“You can‘t imagine to have such wonderful children,” says Taki), and while her husband is off fighting the war, his friend (Joseph Cotten) falls in love with her. Taki looks positively beatific as he describes the movie. His dark eyes shine, lost in nostalgic reverie.
“They go to bars . . . the women wear hats . . . they’re drinking . . . people smoking . . . girls mooning over . . . Everybody so polite to each other! The man comes over and says he doesn‘t have money to pay . . . The other says, don’t worry, here‘s the food . . . That’s what I‘d like to see! Obviously, it’s a pipe dream . . .”
Obviously — even to a romantic like Taki. His own son, he tells me, is a “wigger” who‘s had a few run-ins with the law due to his habit of spray-painting graffiti around New York. But though Taki seems quite proud that his bad-boy genes have been successfully passed on to the next generation, he still deplores the coarseness of the culture. (He excuses his own bad language on the grounds that he went “through hell” in the Navy.) And like Buchanan, who was an Eddie Murphy fan until he came across one of the comedian’s more obscene productions, Taki is extremely critical of present-day Hollywood. “I truly believe that they‘re responsible for the mess,” he says. “The day that Hollywood stops blowing up cars, using drug dealers and tough guys as icons, and the F word, I think the culture and civility will improve.”
On the subject of the possible war with Iraq, I note that the magazine seems fixated on Israel’s influence on American foreign policy. But if one wants to be cynical about U.S. motives, isn‘t getting our hands on Iraqi oil a far greater inducement than pleasing the Likud?
“I think it’s oil, and I think it‘s Israel, 50-50,” Taki replies. “Look, Israel has the right to do as much as they can in order to get their side across. If I were Sharon, I’d be doing exactly what he‘s doing. I think that the Israelis have convinced the administration after 911 that the best way to settle the terrorist question is by imposing themselves. In other words, they really want to drive the Palestinians off. And they think that if America takes over Iraq and stays there, then Iran will be quiet. So this is a plan that is not necessarily Israeli, but it’s an Israeli way of thinking.”
As for Iraq, Taki doubts whether, for the average citizen, Saddam‘s dictatorship is quite so nightmarish as it’s said to be in the media. “I‘ve been to Iraq many times, and I don’t think if you mind your own business Saddam bothers you. I do think that if you get involved in politics you‘re finished. The Iraqi people are the only Arab people with a middle class, a serious middle class, and they are suffering and blaming the Americans for the embargo. They’re not blaming Saddam. That‘s the truth the way I see it. The rest I see as bullshit. Will they be happy if Saddam is overthrown? They’ll be in the streets screaming and yelling, the way they would if Saddam had won. Exactly the same thing. The Arabs act like that. Whoever‘s in power is good.”
And what happens to the magazine if we do invade, and we win easily, and the Iraqis are happy?
“We’ll have egg on our faces,” Taki concedes, “and I, for one, will write that we had it wrong. And I like to do that, because no other journalist ever does it! What will make the magazine save face is that there will be terrorism — unfortunately. Believe me, I don‘t want it. What I’d like to see is Bush pull back, Saddam let in the inspectors, and then for us to say, ‘We told you so. This was the right thing to do.’ Then all the neocons will go after Bush, and we‘ll come to his aid. Then we’ll really go get ‘em.”
So is The American Conservative any good? Despite being bankrolled by Taki, the magazine is very much a shoestring operation. With its circulation of 15,000, it also gets far less exposure than The Weekly Standard (60,000) or The Nation and The New Republic (100,000 each). Taki, McConnell and Buchanan all work for free. The layout is uninspired, the paper cheap, the cartoons so-so, and the text peppered with an embarrassing number of typos. On the bright side, there have been long, closely argued articles against the war, as well as some informative, hard-hitting pieces on immigration, multiculturalism and “greed is good” capitalism. There have also been some surprises, such as Mark Gavreau Judge’s dissection of the work of the popular social historian Haynes Johnson, in which, by comparing Johnson‘s early and later work, he reveals the corrosive effect of political correctness on journalism.
Overall, the impression is of a publication still struggling to find its voice, hardly surprising given it is only seven issues old. A recent cover story, an interview with Norman Mailer conducted by Taki, McConnell and managing editor Kara Hopkins, had an unintentionally worshipful tone, as if a group of bad-boy right-wingers had sought out a renegade liberal cardinal in hope of benediction. Immigration (“Open borders mean the end of the country,” says Taki) also seems to weigh heavily on the editors, since it’s hard to ask for even a temporary slowdown without appearing mean or out of touch. Many people, of course, think they are out of touch.
“I just think the world has changed and Pat has not,” says Bill Press, who likes Buchanan personally despite their many onscreen dustups. “Immigration is just not the issue that it was in the 1980s, or the 1990s, either in California or in the nation. You could not organize a Prop. 187 today, because even in these bad economic times, the fear of all these illegal immigrants taking over just doesn‘t exist anymore. People accept they’re here, they‘re not going back, they’re working, they‘ve got jobs, they’ve got families, they‘ve got homes, and so there has to be some other solution. Pat still feels we ought to close all the borders, put them all on buses and send them back. It’s not going to happen!”
The New York Press‘ Russ Smith, a Republican in the free-trade, open-borders vein, says that “white supremacist” is too strong a term for the magazine, but thinks that Buchanan would like to erect a Great Wall of China around the country. He is also bothered by what he sees as Buchanan’s anti-Semitism, a charge that, to a lesser extent, he levels at his pal Taki as well. “Taki tosses off one-liners, whereas Buchanan has a whole treatise,” he says. “Which isn‘t to excuse it.”
And what of Taki’s end-paper column? Worryingly for his fans, it sometimes feels strained, as if laboring under the weight of “gravitas” and all those Buchananite moral imperatives. (“Taki‘s been defanged,” Smith says bluntly.) What makes Taki Taki is that he is beholden to no one. In the past he was dubbed “a terrorist among the rich” because of the fearless way he assailed the moneyed and powerful. The fact that he also attacked minorities and the poor — witness his remarks about the Puerto Rican Day parade — only enhanced the impression of a journalist who didn’t give a damn. Now he does, with the result that too often his prose is in a straitjacket, and the ribaldry that enlivens his Spectator column dies on his keyboard.
Perhaps Taki simply respects Buchanan too much. While the magazine was in its planning stage, he promised Buchanan and his wife that he wouldn‘t cause them any embarrassment. Buchanan, of course, operates under no such constraints. One can’t imagine him approaching Mailer on bended knee, though one can certainly envision an illuminating dialogue between the two. (Mailer did, in fact, interview Buchanan for Esquire in 1996.) Moreover, by theorizing that the Republicans are now split between “value” conservatives (whom he respects) and “flag conservatives” (whom he reviles), Mailer gave a passing nod of assent to at least part of the Buchananite program. While the flag-wavers are manipulative and power-hungry, Mailer stated, value conservatives “believe in what most people think of as the standard conservative values — family, home, faith, hard work, duty, allegiance — dependable human virtues.”
And, as Taki says, “That‘s Pat.”