Right from the Beginning
Patrick Buchanan’s Right from the Beginning is the conservative celebrity’s first book. It is an intimate, first-person account of how the third son in a devout Catholic family of nine children rose to become the youngest editorial writer in the United States and, soon thereafter, a trusted confidant to Richard M. Nixon in his dramatic political comeback. A projected sequel will detail more specifically Buchanan’s present family life and his prominent service to and allegiances within the Nixon and Reagan White Houses.
In equal parts polemical and biographical, Right from the Beginning filters Buchanan’s past and present for the reader through the lens of an unrepentant conservatism, undergirded by an orthodox Catholicism and a profound respect for tradition. In his prose, Buchanan is always, above all, a controversialist—a man unwilling to yield even the smallest point in any debate he feels compelled to enter and who explicitly patterns both his writing style and his public persona after such bygone curmudgeons of the print media as H. L. Mencken and Westbrook Pegler. Few contemporary conservative pundits have managed to marry endearing modesty and searing malevolence toward “liberalism” as adeptly as Buchanan has in his columns and televised commentary. Referred to as “the attack dog of the right” by some of his colleagues and friendly foes, Buchanan has nearly usurped the mantle of “Mr. Conservative” from venerable conservative writer and editor William F. Buckley, Jr., whom Buchanan regards as his mentor.
Buchanan begins his memoir with a scene from the end of 1987, a breezy account of his abortive campaign for the presidency; as friends and relatives urged him to continue his quest, he declared that he must drop out—primarily because he is convinced that he could not win and that he might hurt the candidacy of one of his fellow conservatives, especially Congressman Jack Kemp from New York. Buchanan proceeds from the second chapter, then, to tell his story “from the beginning,” from childhood onward. It is as if Buchanan wrote the book as a consolation prize for his absence from the presidential battles of 1988—as well as to underscore the agenda for public policy he would have pursued as a candidate. In a sense, Buchanan has decided that he would rather be “right”—in both senses of the word—than president. Disbelieving the cliché than one cannot “turn back the clock,” he offers a political platform—deftly diffused throughout his account of chosen events of his life—structured upon the moral values he acquired during an upbringing experienced in the shadow of Washington, D.C. These values, not surprisingly, are those typical of the peaceful, postwar, fiercely anticommunist America Buchanan observed and discerned as he grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Most striking, therefore, in the volume is the weight Buchanan places upon his childhood and adolescence, and the influence of his parents and his eight siblings in the building of his character and convictions. Though Buchanan proceeds in a superficially chronological sequence, he frequently intersperses vignettes of his family life and schooling—conversations, incidents, vivid images—within a narrative that has moved far beyond his adolescence and undergraduate years. In the hands of many writers such digressions would seem both contrived and irrelevant; here they form and inform the superstructure of Buchanan’s political faith, the raison d’être of his current prominence among policymakers and political operatives from the Right and the Left.
Buchanan describes his family milieu as a “benevolent dictatorship,” a traditional Catholic household in which the father was the unquestioned head of his home. William Buchanan taught each of his sons to box, never to run from a fight, and never to give in to any aggressor. He reinforced the basic values of hard work, loyalty, and faithfulness with a stern discipline that included corporal punishment. The Buchanan children from their birth inhabited a world of absolutes, a world dominated by a proud religious faith wherein competition and struggle were intrinsic to human life, and where reciting the Rosary and hitting a punching bag four hundred times a day could prepare one best for life’s challenges. These childhood values constitute a legacy Pat Buchanan feels privileged both to embrace and to promote within a culture he believes to have lost its moorings. From his perch both above and below the political maneuverings of his fellows, he observes an America that can and must come back to its roots—the roots of his own Catholic childhood and adolescence—in order to regain the international prestige and moral strength it once marshaled.
That America is sketched most poignantly in Buchanan’s chapter, “Then and Now: A Tale of Two Cities,” which...
(The entire section is 2001 words.)