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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pat Buchanan Is America's Zhirinovsky

Patrick Buchanan was promising the voters of New Hampshire that the day he became president he would pull the United States out of the GATT world trade system, withdraw U.S. troops from Bosnia, impose massive tariffs on China and Japan, and suddenly it clicked: We were watching the American version of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


At that moment, Russian and American politics made sense, in this bizarre year when they share presidential elections. The competing candidates in the two countries are mirror images of one another. Buchanan is Zhirinovsky, and Bill Clinton is Boris Yeltsin, the president already in power who is widely unpopular and not too trusted. But many political experts think he will win re-election when the voters look to the uninspiring alternatives.


Beyond the wintry weather, which has draped the New Hampshire primary in deep snow, the parallels continue. Senator Robert Dole, the Republican leader in the Senate, who has the backing of the party machine and looks like the front-runner, is the equivalent of Gennady Zyuganov.


In Yavlinsky, the Russian voters have an economic reformer who says he has a simple plan to fix the economy, cut taxes, end inflation and produce an economic miracle. The Republicans in the United States have an economic reformer who has a simple plan to do just the same in Steve Forbes, the multi-millionaire publisher with his flat-tax idea.


In retired General Alexander Lebed, the Russian voters have a candidate who looks very attractive on paper, but seems to have trouble getting votes, and not too many people are sure what he stands for, least of all himself. The Republican voters who went to the polls in this week's New Hampshire primary had a very similar figure in former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander.


But the parallel that really comes to mind is the uncanny resemblance between Buchanan and Zhirinovsky. They are both passionate nationalists. They both attract racists and extremists and neo-Nazis. The two populist demagogues hold very traditional views about the status of women, and they both have a streak of humor, a sudden flash of self-mocking irony that makes them look less terrifying than their speeches sound.


The mood at Buchanan rallies is of constant, simmering anger, stirred up by a demagogue of extraordinary skill. His attacks on corporate greed and the Republican establishment are bringing in more and more blue-collar supporters, workers and their wives, worried for their jobs. "They laughed when I first got into this race," Buchanan told his adoring crowd of supporters.


"Those fat cats in the Republican establishment are worried now, my friends," Buchanan continues, relishing his own performance. "They hear the shouts of the peasants from over the hill. Those knights and barons are fleeing into the castle and pulling up the drawbridge, as they hear the peasants coming with their pitchforks."


"When we move into Washington, all those federal bureaucrats will flee. They'll get out of town in covered wagons -- leave more room for my limousine," Buchanan added.


Then he grimaced as he tried to hold in his laughter, just as we have seen Zhirinovsky grin at his own antics. In Russia as in America, demagogues are always ham actors who love the exuberance of their own skills. But something unusual is under way in both countries to make voters so ready to listen to them.