It is obvious to the folks at Bob Jones University that I do not belong. For starters, I am the only woman on campus wearing pants: The university dress code requires female students and faculty to clothe themselves in more appropriate attire--dresses or skirts, mostly of the floor-length variety. What's more, I have a small press pass dangling around my neck. Just by looking at me, therefore, locals can instantly tell that I hail not only from the liberalmediaelite but from the secular-avant-garde-that-scorns-the-traditional-moralvalues-- that-decent-Americans-hold-sacred. Thank God I left my nose ring at home.
I'm here to watch a longtime, card-carrying member of the antiliberalmediaelite, Pat Buchanan, try to kick-start his general election campaign. Initially, Buchanan's selection of BJU as his launchpad looked like your run-of-the-mill political stunt. After being sidelined for weeks while doctors tended to his gallbladder and the Federal Election Commission ruled on whether he could claim the Reform Party's millions in matching funds, Buchanan is desperate to remind voters that he is still running for president. And what more effective--and grossly opportunistic--way to drum up media buzz than for a practicing Catholic with a black running mate to hawk his wares at an institution best-known for its freshly repealed ban on interracial dating and its belief that Catholics are damned?
But this evening, tucked into a seat in the university's Rodeheaver Auditorium, I begin to see the larger philosophical appeal of the venue. Though Buchanan's speech is a little less fiery than usual--losing a gallbladder and, with it, 15 pounds can take the stuffing out of even the sassiest candidate--the audience kindles to his trademark us-versus-them rhetoric. (The students at Bob Jones are not the whooping and barking type--they are, in fact, eerily polite. But some older folks who have dropped by get a bit rowdy.) The crowd's warm response shouldn't come as a surprise. Yes, the folks at BJU have been known to make unflattering remarks about the candidate's chosen faith--for example, calling Catholicism a "satanic system" and the pope "an Antichrist." But, really, this is just a sectarian quibble. The important point is that the Bob Jones crowd at least believes that some easily defined chunk of folks is damned for all eternity. Because, in the end, it doesn't matter to Pitchfork Pat whom you hate, fear, or disdain, as long as your hate, fear, or disdain is deeply felt--and can be marshaled to fight the forces that disapprove of (and will ultimately attempt to curtail!) your particular prejudices.
In this way, the Bob Jones kickoff crystallizes the emerging essence of the Buchanan campaign. Call it "Big-Tent Bigotry"--or maybe "Prejudice With a Purpose" (the overarching purpose, of course, being to keep Pat's political career afloat). To some extent, it's a strategy forced upon Buchanan by circumstances. First, he had to abandon a GOP hell-bent on nominating a "compassionate conservative" (in Patspeak, a spineless moral relativist). Then his third-party run was complicated by the fact that, for the first time, voters seeking an anti-globalization candidate have more than one option--and most voters not specifically looking for a guy who's into race-baiting, conspiracy theories, and the early works of General Franco are backing Ralph Nader. This has left Buchanan scrambling to cobble together a coalition among the one demographic group with which he holds an undisputed edge: bigots. But while in past years Buchanan has been content with angry white men convinced that their way of life was being destroyed by the Chinese, Mexicans, Jews, or feminists, this time around he has had to branch out. After all, the country is becoming more diverse. So, this year, black, white, protestant, Catholic--if you have a grudge against some subset of people, Pat Buchanan is your man.
To wit, in his efforts to secure the Reform nomination last fall, Buchanan allied himself with Lenora Fulani, a Marxist (Patspeak: godless) black radical with virtually nothing in common with Pat save a penchant for making anti-Semitic remarks. So what if she was a Commie? At least she was angry. But, when family feuding ruptured the Buchanan-Fulani alliance (and with it the Reform Party), Pat had to try again. In looking around for a running mate, he found another bigot who could help make his campaign look like America: Ezola Foster, an African American former schoolteacher with a loathing of all things liberal but a particularly distinguished history of hard-core, pull-no-punches immigrant-bashing. (Pat waved the Foster choice around like a certificate of non-bigotry--See? Toldya I'm not a racist!--which seemed odd considering Foster clearly is a bigot.) Now, just weeks before Election Day, Buchanan has very publicly reached out to the everyone-but-us-is-serving-Satan crowd at Bob Jones. At this rate, sometime in mid-October we can expect him to be bonding with Louis Farrakhan over the treachery of the white devils created by the scientist Yakub.
To some degree, Buchanan's strategy is the evil twin of Joe Lieberman's. Although an Orthodox Jew, Al Gore's running mate has hit it off with believers of all stripes by assuring them that a shared faith in basic moral principles can help us work through specific differences and bring us closer together. Buchanan, on the other hand, isn't looking so much to bring everyone together as to establish a range of bogeyman "others"--Marxists, globalists, gays, Jews, secularists, and assorted "elites"--decisively and permanently apart.
Thus Bob Jones University. Introducing Buchanan, university President Bob Jones III gushes, "Both he and BJU are mavericks and make no apology for that--no apology for being out of the mainstream. Besides, considering where that stream is headed, the direction society is going, I think he and I--indeed this institution--would be both quite embarrassed to find ourselves in the mainstream." Again, after Buchanan's speech, Jones cheers the candidate's commitment to straight talk while getting in a not-so-subtle dig at George W. Bush: "The only chance of anyone winning this election from the Democrats will be to go to someone who is willing to step out of the pack and decide he's not going to look like Mr. Gore and talk like Mr. Gore and say the acceptable pabulum sort of things that are carefully tailored to offend no one." Although avoiding a formal endorsement, Jones notes that Buchanan is clearly "such a man." Let's hear it for the papist!
Naturally, such praise makes Pat beam with pride. These people truly understand him. After all, his entire campaign is built on the human tendency to be offended by "the other side." And he certainly doesn't intend to stop inflaming those prejudices at this stage of the game. If anything, we can look forward to an escalation in rhetoric as Buchanan makes a final push for the votes he'll need to win another round of matching funds and continue building his Reform Party. For, make no mistake, it is his party from here on out (at least what's left of it). "We need a new fighting conservative traditionalist party," he tells the congregation at Bob Jones in closing. "I believe and I hope that one day we can take America back. That is why we're building this Gideon's Army: We're headed for Armageddon to do battle for the Lord." And we're doing it together.