By: Scot Bear Re: Re: Buchanan's Family Values THE DAILY IOWAN 111 Communications Center,I
By: Scot Bear
Re: Re: Buchanan's Family Values
THE DAILY IOWAN
111 Communications Center,Iowa City,Ia.,52242
-(Fax 319-335-6184 - or- 335-6297, print run 12,400)
(NOTE: The Daily Iowan welcomes letters to the editor from
anyone in the country.)
Monday, January 29, 1996
COLUMN BY KIM PAINTER
BUCHANAN'S DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY VALUES
Values. Family values. It is a sign of the times that
politicians say these words more than the rest of us; a
sign of how words are cheapened by political ambition when
no two people can agree on a definition.
At the core of the values debate stands Pat Buchanan.
William Bennett and his "Book of Virtues" aside, it is Buchanan
who waves the broadest banner with the least shame. America
is great, he tells us, because of Americans. Men and women
who believe in God, marry for life, refuse to mollycoddle
their children and know right from wrong. Buchanan's is
a doctrine of tidiness in a world of mayhem, and it is earning
him more followers than most people care to admit.
Having Buchanan at the core of any debate tends to give
it the flavor of a barroom brawl. If one could smell the
Buchanan doctrine, it would no doubt carry an aroma of hops,
barley and aftershave. There is a reason for this.
The alcohol and abuse that formed Buchanan's politics
found their purest expression in his grandfather, who drank
excessively and regularly beat his father. In his 1988 memoir
"Right from the Beginning," Buchanan doesn't hesitate in
revealing the story of his upbringing, replete with boxing
on command and beatings galore.
"To show emotion and feeling was considered an unmanly
thing to do; we were to be stoic about pain," he writes.
"Take your punishment. Don't let anyone see you cry. Whenever
I read in today's press about some individual,especially
some man, 'revealing himself' (e.g., bleeding and bleating
in print about his 'feelings' and 'hurt'), I always feel
a profound sense of embarrassment."
In the Jan. 22 New Republic, author Charles Lane finds
and explores a relationship between Buchanan's book and
"The Authoritarian Personality," a book detailing the experiments
and observations of Theodor Adorno and colleagues at the
University of California. A social scientist and philosopher,
Adorno found in the '40s that "those who scored highest
on a test designed to measure bigotry came from homes where
the parents ruled by force."
In a presidential election year, while Buchanan's is
the more immediately compelling tome, a chilling long-term
vision is provided by Adorno's counterpoint. If a hard-core
family-values crowd gains control of more than one branch
of government, the result could be a moral throwback --
the return to an era no better than our own by any objective
standard, but one less discretionary and more brutish. I
hear knuckles scraping the pavement in Washington when I
imagine more right-wing election victories.
One must be fair, even to those who renounce human feeling
as a matter of principle. Stories abound in Buchanan's book
of values that do resonate,values that managed to transcend
the racism and juvenile heckling of outsiders Buchanan was
encouraged to partake in as a youth. Help was offered regardless
of race or station in life, but only to those who had proven
loyalty to the family.
So it seems Buchanan and I could sit down over beers
for a swell visit. If he liked me, he might even get me
a job as a sub on "Crossfire." But when issues affecting
the lives of millions of gay and lesbian Americans arose,he'd
stand square on the other side of the fence, growling about
"special rights for none." It's as if a devotion to justice
for any group of people is beyond his level of emotional
development. He'll deal with one African-American person,
or one Jew, but after that back off. He's not currying favor
with any special interests. He's an American man. He can
do it alone, bite his lip and fight a damned good fight.
But the fact is he can't do it alone, especially if
he wants to lead a nation. History shows the basis for the
totalitarian regime has always been the megalomania of one
leader doing it all alone. Life doesn't work that way,nor
should it. The proof lies in the twisted nature of totalitarian
regimes. Show me the benign despot and I'll withdraw my
point, which is that absolutism, and the absolute power
of one who's always right, breeds evil. Yet, the valuesnik
trumpets the return of the absolute as a panacea for today's
The greatest value in any family is understanding. Our
emotional muscles benefit from the work of understanding
others. It's called humanity, but it doesn't belong to the
catalog of family values in vogue today.
Maybe that's the problem with valuesniks. They haven't
come to terms with their humanity yet. It's sad to see that
in an individual. In a large movement, it's an open invitation
to despotism. That the valuesniks scoff away this criticism,
offered by the "moral dreck" of the nation, speaks volumes
about America's vanishing sense of historical immediacy.
Hopefully,some sense of immediacy will infuse this debate
before it turns into a mass delusion. Such a delusion would
no doubt lead us all straight to hell, where our future
would look remarkably like Pat Buchanan's childhood.
(Kim Painter's column appears Mondays on the Viewpoints
Page. She is on line at KPainter@blue.weeg.uiowa.edu)
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank