Firing Line Debate: Guests: James Burnham, George F. Will, Elmo R. Zumwalt, Ronald Reagan, Patrick J. Buchanan, Roger W. Fontaine, John S. McCain, and Ellsworth Bunker
NOTE: See video below. Pat is introduced at timeline: 46 min / 14 sec and debates Buckley at 19 min / 24 sec.
Also see this excellent 2016 column: Crisis of the Conservative Intellectual – How populism displaced conservatism in the Republican Party by Matthew Continetti at the Washington Free Beacon.
“…The debate was between two teams of four. Reagan led the opposition. Alongside him were journalist and presidential aide Patrick J. Buchanan, Latin America specialist Roger Fontaine, and Admiral John McCain Jr. Buckley argued pro. His teammates were National Review senior editor James Burnham, syndicated columnist George F. Will, and Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. Former senator Sam Ervin was the judge.
Within seconds you will be struck at the level of discourse between the future president and his interlocutors. The repartee is spirited, intelligent, respectful, detailed, and humorous. It is hard to imagine a similar intra-conservative dialogue being held today.
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And yet, at some level, a replay of the controversy over the Panama Canal Treaty is exactly what the American right has been experiencing over the last 16 months. The conservative movement is divided over the question of Donald Trump, over his suitability for office, over the issues of nationalism, illegal immigration, criminality, corruption, and elitism he has raised in his campaign. The terms of and parties to this dispute are remarkably similar to those in the debate almost 40 years ago. In some cases they are the very same people. The antagonism between the populism of Buchanan and the conservatism of National Review is remarkably persistent.
What makes that episode of Firing Line significant in retrospect is how it threw into high relief the differences between Buckley and the so-called New Right…
It is noteworthy, for example, that Reagan sided with Buchanan and the populists in the debate over the Panama Canal. If he hadn’t done so he would have alienated an increasingly important Republican constituency….
The alliance between a popular U.S. president and a burgeoning social movement benefited both parties. Support for Reagan legitimized the New Right inside the Republican Party and among the other factions of the movement such as the Buckleyites and neocons.
Once again, however, the goodwill was short lived. The first President Bush was the literal offspring of the Eastern Establishment so detested by the New Right. His embrace of a “New World Order” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, his overseas interventions, his support for free trade, his tax increases, and his environmental and disability regulations alienated Viguerie, Weyrich, Phillips, Buchanan, and their associates, followers, political action committees, foundations, and think tanks. Buchanan ran for the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996… Read more at the Washington Free Beacon