Revisiting a Transformational Speech: The Culture War Scorecard Reply

Michael Barone assesses the state of the culture war 26 years after Pat Buchanan’s famous speech at the 1992 Republican convention where the term “culture war” entered public discourse. I tend to concur with Barone’s analysis. The Left has won on sexual and religious issues, and for the most part on abortion (with some exceptions). But the Right has done better on guns, welfare, education and crime.

By Michael Barone

The American Conservative

On Monday, August 17, 1992, Patrick Buchanan took the stage at the Republican National Convention in Houston. Buchanan had run against incumbent President George H. W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination and in the first primary, in New Hampshire in February, had won 37 percent of the vote to Bush’s 53 percent. That turned out to be Buchanan’s high point: overall he won just 23 percent of primary votes to Bush’s 73 percent, and under Republicans’ winner-take-all delegate allocation rules he had only a handful of delegates at the convention—the official roll call credited him with just 18. In contrast, the last challenger of an incumbent Democratic president, Edward Kennedy, held the loyalty of about 40 percent of the delegates at the party’s 1980 national convention.

Buchanan, unlike Kennedy, warmly endorsed the president who defeated him. He credited Ronald Reagan, not Bush, with “leading America to victory in the Cold War,” but noted that “under President George Bush more human beings escaped from the prison house of tyranny to freedom than in any other four-year period in history.” But he had little else to say about foreign policy. And on the economy—thought then to be in a recession which, the official arbiters ruled later, had bottomed out in March 1991—Buchanan was emphatically downbeat, devoting long stretches of his speech to people he’d met on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Georgia, and California who were terrified of losing their jobs. This was hardly helpful to an incumbent seeking a second term.

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