Getting Buchanan Wrong

The New York Times obituary for James Buchanan is up. The opening paragraph contains a whopper of an error:

James M. Buchanan, a scholar and author whose analyses of economic and political decision-making won the 1986 Nobel in economic sciences and shaped a generation of conservative thinking about deficits, taxes and the size of government, died on Wednesday in Blacksburg, Va. He was 93.

The author of the piece, Robert McFadden, might be surprised to learn that in 2005 Buchanan wrote a book titled Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism. McFadden also might be surprised to learn that there are more than two political philosophies. Just because someone is not progressive doesn’t mean, therefore, they are conservative. Buchanan self-identified as a classical liberal, which is a philosophy distinct from both progressivism and conservatism, and has roots reaching as far back as ancient Mesopotamia.

The strict binary view of politics held by most journalists might be convenient for creating compelling election campaign stories. But it is sorely incomplete, and does readers no favors as far as imparting any actual understanding of the issues.