Those of you both of you who read Combat! blog regularly know that we grapple with a perennial question around here: do demagogues like Michele Bachmann or Bill O’Reilly actually believe what they say? It’s an unanswerable question, like the exact velocity and location of an electron. To know whether a Bill O’Reilly’s insane falsehoods are delusions or lies is, first, to know whether they are actually false, or if we are the ones who are deluded. Even if we mustered the certainty for that, we would have to further parse whether his audience believes him, or if they view the O’Reilly Factor as an ideologically thrilling romp along the lines of Taken—and if we think we’ve pinned that down, we incur the sub-question of whether O’Reilly is participating in the joke or trying to deceive them. Uncertainty of uncertainties—all is uncertainty. Then I saw this.
Canny invoker Ross Douthat cannily invokes Pat Buchanan in his New York Times column from Monday, in which he suggests that Harvard and other Ivy League institutions discriminate against working class, rural and conservative whites. This position is, of course, extremely popular with white racists, which is why Douthat chooses to open his column with something Buchanan did in 2000. When the former Nixon speechwriter spoke at Harvard in March of that year, he was greeted with jeers, accusations of bigotry, and pretty much every other expression of anger you can carry off in a pink polo shirt. Buchanan’s claim that contemporary America persecutes white Christians is laughable, but Douthat observes that it’s the same note currently sounded by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other vital elements of contemporary conservatism. One of those elements turns out to be Douthat himself, who gives us this third paragraph:
To liberals, these grievances seem at once noxious and ridiculous. (Is there any group with less to complain about, they often wonder, than white Christian Americans?) But to understand the country’s present polarization, it’s worth recognizing what Pat Buchanan got right.
And thus does an old myth smear itself with lipstick before trying on its new dress.