Nothing Timid About My Nationalism

by Patrick J. Buchanan – October 30, 1995

The Washington Post

Little of late has done more to persuade me that economic nationalism is gaining converts than the sudden yawping of George Will.

In his Oct. 15 op-ed column “Statist Republican,” Will reads me out of the company of “conservatives and other friends of freedom” for allegedly having embraced FDR’s “statist liberalism” and “bossy, knowing, favor-dispensing government.” He writes:

“Buchananism promises know-it-all government using tariffs to erase the trade deficit with Japan, because government knows best what trade balances should be…. Buchananism is a timid nationalism, worried about competition with a Mexican economy 5 percent the size of America’s.

Contrary to what Will says, I do not recommend reducing the contributions individuals may give candidates or that candidates may spend. What I propose is that:

Congressmen give up their free direct mail privileges, accept term limits, shut down a scandalous pension system that amounts to larceny, raise campaign funds in their own districts and accept the same restrictions on gift-taking that applied to me when I worked in Ronald Reagan’s White House. Is that so damnably oppressive?

And, yes, as president I would insist that Cabinet and senior staff pledge never to go to work for foreign regimes. Service in Congress–and the White House–should be an honor, not an apprenticeship to a six-figure salary working in the D.C. rice paddies of Japan Inc.

As for Will’s disparagement of tariffs, it is rooted in an ignorance of his nation’s past. It was FDR, the statist, who moved us away from tariffs to reliance on high income taxes. America’s conservatives–Washington, Hamilton, Clay, Webster, Cooldge–all believed in a tariff wall to protect the standard of living of workers and ensure our independence from foreign countries for national needs.

All four presidents on Mount Rushmore believed, as I do, in economic nationalism. “I thank God I am not a free trader,” said Theodore Roosevelt. Was TR a “timid nationalist”?

Every nation to rise to industrial power in modern times–Britain before 1850, America and Germany between 1865 and 1914, postwar Japan–did so by first protecting the home market.

Yes, Ronald Reagan preached free trade, but he also imposed quotas on imported autos, steel and machine tools, and slammed a 50 percent tariff on motor bikes to keep Tokyo’s predators from killing Harley-Davidson. Every industry Reagan “protected” was restored to health. Should we have abandoned them to massage the ideology of kennel-fed conservatives who celebrate “market forces” from their endowed and upholstered chairs at think tanks?

I am not afraid of Mexico. But to force $10-an-hour single mothers in Carolina textile plants to compete with Mexicans who have to work for $1 an hour in plants with no health and safety standards is “un-Arnerican.”

The real wages of working Arnericans have fallen 20 percent in 20 years. Wed, sniffs Will, workers must accept that “[c]hange . . . can be painful.” But if this city of parasites that produces nothing ever had to experience the social and economic disruption of factories shut down and jobs gone it would be howling for protectionism.

Who cares what the trade deficit is? asks Will.

Yet since our trade surpluses have vanished, and our trade deficits have mounted to $150 billion a year, the dollar has collapsed against the yen; manufacturing’s share of our labor force has sunk from 24 percent to 14 percent; hundreds of company towns have become ghost towns; and U.S. dependence on foreigners for everything from electronics to oil (50 percent) to computer chips for U.S. missile systems has grown.

We have become the world’s greatest debtor nation. So deep are we into dependency that, to prevent a corrupt Mexican regime from defaulting and bringing down our banks, Clinton put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for $50 billion in loans and loan guarantees–money we will never see again.

Is there social dynamite in our cities, as Will says? Perhaps it is because the good jobs that were once there have been exported to Mexico, Taiwan, Korea and China.

Sovereignty, the stability of towns and cities, the standard of living of workers and families–what else must we sacrifice on the high altar of the golden calf of GATT?

Will calls me a statist and leftist, but the great statist and leftist of the 19th century agreed not with me but with him:

“The protective system . . . is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point … [T]he free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone . . . that I vote in favor of free trade.”