DES MOINES, Iowa. -- News commentator turned presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan opens a speech to senior citizens by profusely thanking them -- "the greatest generation in American history" -- for winning World War II and the 45-year Cold War that followed.
He means it. By his own account, the life and death of the Cold War has been the most powerful motivating force in his life.
From his youngest days at the dinner table of his accountant father in Chevy Chase, Md., to his current days on the campaign trail, the Cold War and the specter of communism have always been with him.
As part of a family of seven boys and two girls, Pat Buchanan grew up under that cloud, as described and despised by his late father, William B. Buchanan. The son remembers him as "an Al Smith Democrat" who became disenchanted with President Franklin Roosevelt and became a committed Republican whose heroes included Joseph R. McCarthy.
Young Pat was in the second grade of his parochial school when World War II ended. As he puts it now, "the fear and loathing of anti-communism" gripped America "and the Soviet Union was on the move all over the world."
His politics were shaped, he says, by the Alger Hiss spy case, "the fall of China" to the Communists, development of the Soviet Union's atomic bomb, the Korean War and the firing of Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, another of his father's heroes.
Around the dinner table, he recalls, "that's all we talked about -- politics, and sports."
So it was not surprising that after Georgetown University, Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and a stint as a newspaper editorial writer in St. Louis, Mr. Buchanan became an aide in 1965 to Richard M. Nixon, (a man for whom he had once caddied), as Mr. Nixon planned a second bid for the presidency.
They shared a fixation with politics in general and anti-communism in particular, two interests that later joined Mr. Buchanan and Ronald Reagan in the White House.
The end of the Cold War, he says, spawned the ideas -- he calls them "economic nationalism" -- that now drive his candidacy.
Now, he says, "I feel the United States should move toward a more traditional foreign policy. That means we should review all the alliances and commitments of the Cold War era, we should keep those which are still in the vital interests of this country, and let others lapse.
NB "It also means that now that the Cold War is over we've got to
start looking at former allies and nations like Germany and Japan and Europe realistically as what they are -- potential rivals and trade adversaries who are trying to capture our markets and seize the future even as we're defending them. So we need a brand-new foreign policy."
If that sounds like the pugnacious Mr. Buchanan is bent on trading one war for another one on a non-militaristic battleground, he does not back away from that reading.
"All the trade concessions we used to make to countries like Korea and Japan and nations in Europe in order to build them up after World War II into staunch anti-Communist allies -- we can't afford to make those kinds of concessions anymore at the expense of American workers and American business," Mr. Buchanan says.
He recalls having been "the foremost free-trader in the White House with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan." But deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), he says, have not worked to the benefit of either American workers or businesses.
"We see the real standard of living of American workers falling year in and year out for the last decade," he says with a preacher's fervor. "We see factories shutting down all over America and moving their plants abroad; good jobs going overseas, textile factories shutting down everywhere."
He cites losses in America's electronics, auto, computer and steel industries, and declares: "We can't keep exporting the industrial base of the United States of America and expect to remain the greatest power on earth in the 21st century."
While Mr. Buchanan began forming these views intellectually as a conservative news analyst before his first, failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992, he acknowledges that they came together emotionally for him a few days before Christmas 1991 inside the James River Paper Co. in Groveton, N.H. It was the start of the 1992 GOP primary campaign, where he went on to win 37 percent of the vote and put a scare into President George Bush's campaign.
Angry-looking workers at the plant, which had suffered heavy layoffs, were lined up to receive free Christmas turkeys. When Mr. Buchanan nervously walked over and started shaking hands, he recalls, one of the men "looked up, and the guy's eyes welled up with tears. He just said, 'Save our jobs.' It just went right through me. It was very genuine. It wasn't talk or discussion. It was just a plea."
He didn't know what to say or do about it, Mr. Buchanan recalls. Then, a few days later, somebody sent him a newspaper clipping, he says, about "the [U.S.] Export-Import Bank financing a new paper plant in Mexico. That was the kicker on the story."
This basic theme, the candidate says, "now runs through all the issues, not only the trade issue. It's the foreign aid issue. What are we doing sending our money overseas to balance the budgets of foreign governments when we can't balance our own? What are we doing surrendering our sovereignty, our freedom of action, to these institutions?
"What are we doing with 100,000 American troops sitting in Bavaria defending a border that doesn't exist anymore against an army that went home five years ago? We Americans have got to start looking out for America and Americans first for a change."
In focusing on Americans first, the traditional Republican takes a surprisingly tough stance toward U.S. industry.
"In the 1950s," he says, " General Motors was the greatest corporation in the world and 98 percent of its employees were Americans. But if GM is moving factories to Mexico to increase corporate profits, then what's good for GM is not good for America."
"I'm a free marketeer, but I don't worship at the altar of efficiency. To get the cheapest possible goods at the lowest possible price isn't the highest thing in life, and if we have to pay a little more here and there in order to keep something else, let's consider what it is we're keeping -- the values of family, faith and country."
It is precisely in the area of values, however, where Mr. Buchanan's notions make him controversial. He insists that his zealous opposition to abortion, illegal immigration and affirmative action are all part of the same motivating view: Now that the Cold War is over, America must turn inward to improve "the quality and sanctity" of its community life and faith.
"People say, 'Aren't you just like [George] McGovern?' McGovern said, 'Come home, America' while we were in the middle of the Vietnam war. I say, 'Come home, America, the Cold War is over and we won it.' "
Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy and English from Georgetown University, 1961. Master's degree in journalism, Columbia School of Journalism, 1962.
Career: Editorial writer at St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Special assistant and speechwriter for President Nixon, 1969-1972. Columnist, radio and television commentator, 1975-1985. Communications director, Reagan White House, 1985-1987. Resumed commentary; ran for Republican presidental nomination, 1992. Went back to commentary and hosted radio talk show.
Family: Wife, Shelley.
Income: Estimated to be about $1 million a year. Assets of
between $3.46 million to roughly $7.7 million.