Incense for the Emperor

Thirty years ago this past Thursday, Patrick J. Buchanan gave a primetime address at the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. Buchanan had lost every primary to President George H.W. Bush, though he did garner just short of three-million votes against the incumbent’s nine. Yet he came to Houston with no confusion about who his enemies were: the Democrats who had just held their own convention in New York City the month before, and not the Bush-backing Republicans who made up his audience.

Buchanan described that earlier meeting as a “giant masquerade ball up at Madison Square Garden—where 20,000 liberals and radicals came dressed up as moderates and centrists—in the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history.”

In those last days of the American Century, not even Pat Buchanan could have known how much worse it was going to get. We don’t have hard numbers ready at hand, but I’d be willing to bet there is more cross-dressing per capita in American public libraries today than you might have had the misfortune of finding at the Democrats’ 1992 convention.

That was the point all along. Buchanan’s ‘92 address has gone down in history as the “culture war speech,” after one pivotal line: “There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.”

He warned his comrades in that fight of “the agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America—abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units.” On all of these and more, Buchanan’s words have proven prophetic.

Abortion especially was then at a pivotal point. Buchanan observed that Pennsylvania’s Governor Bob Casey—a member of the already vanishing species of pro-life Democrat—had been denied the opportunity to speak on the sanctity of life at that year’s DNC. By virtue of his office, Casey had just lent his name to the now-infamous Supreme Court case in which Pennsylvania’s pro-life law was gutted and Roe v. Wade was reaffirmed.

It seemed in the wake of Planned Parenthood v. Casey that the genocide of the unborn would march on unrelentingly until the end of time—or, at least, until the end of America. But Buchanan has lived to see Roe v. Wade completely overturned. Dobbs, though, marks not an end to the culture war but merely the start of a new campaign. The rhetoric of spiritual combat that Buchanan employed a generation ago is only more relevant now that Roe’s demise has pushed it back into the open.

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