Monday, March 05, 2012

The Tawdry And Racist Political Career Of Patrick J. Buchanan

Right-wing political pundit Pat Buchanan recently expressed surprise that some believe Barack Obama has already clinched his re-election as president. Then he made a joke about Obama’s origins.  “A couple of months ago, Obama was so low in the polls even the Kenyans were saying he was born in the United States,” Buchanan quipped on the March 2 edition of Sean Hannity’s Fox News program (See the clip at 

In an earlier post, I discussed why Birtherism – the idea that President Obama is an illegal alien born in Kenya who is therefore ineligible to serve as president – is intrinsically racist.  Based on a blanket denial of inconvenient facts, including Obama’s 2008 release of his Hawaii birth certificate and his 2011 release of his “long form” certification of live birth – this conspiracy theory stems from the anxiety of right-wing whites who live mostly in former Confederate states. 

Birthers fear they have “lost the country” to black and brown people, Muslims, gays and feminists.  To Birthers, the United States is a white country, built by white people, and the nation will only collapse in the hands of lesser people of color.

It is no surprise that Buchanan, even jokingly, would stoke these fears.  Frightening people about what an earlier generation of eugenicists called “a rising tide of color” has been the bread and butter of Buchanan’s long career as a politician and a pundit.

A young Patrick J. Buchanan formulating the Republican "Southern Strategy" to appeal to white bigots  during his days in the Nixon White House.  (Photo from Wikipedia at

 In spite his many years as an outspoken white supremacist, Buchanan has had a startlingly high-profile career, twice reaching the corridors of power in the White House. The Nixon speechwriter, Reagan communications director, syndicated columnist and talking head on CNN, MSNBC and on long-running syndicated shows like The McLaughlin Group, has always had an electronic and print platform to trumpet his apocalyptic warnings about the evils of integration, immigration, and multi-culturalism.  For decades, the so-called “liberal media” has generously provided him a bullhorn for his ideas, no matter how offensive.

A Virginian, Buchanan is descended from a Confederate war veteran and has expressed admiration for Robert E. Lee, the Confederate war commander. In a syndicated column published July 28, 1993, Buchanan would deny that the Civil War was fought over slavery. “The War Between the States was about independence, about self-determination, about the right of a people to break free of a government to which they could no longer give allegiance,” he wrote, oblivious to the right of black people to break free of exploitation as the property of white masters. “How long is this endless groveling before every cry of ‘racism’ going to continue before the whole country collectively throws up?” Apparently Buchanan has never understood that the “whole country” doesn’t consist entirely of white folks. Throughout his unpleasant career, Buchanan would frequently lie about history, moving from trivializing the evils of slavery to apologizing for Hitler.

(A side note: Pat Buchanan is just one of many white Southern Neo-Confederates who literally try to whitewash the history of the Civil War and to minimize the evils of slavery.  Neo-Confederates like Buchanan argue that the Southern states seceded because of some vague threat that had been posed to the region’s “freedom.”  Based entirely on the willful omission of facts, “Neo-Confederacy”  is the American version of Holocaust Denial. 

Pat Buchanan argues the the Confederacy was not racist and that the Southern effort to secede from the Union was a struggle for freedom.  This badly scarred slave might have disagreed. (Photo from the Rolling Crone blog at

Contrary to what Buchanan wrote, it’s not whiney African Americans and do-gooder white liberals who claim that the Civil War was fought over slavery.  The Confederates themselves did.  Southern newspapers warned before the presidential election of 1860 that if the Republicans gained control of the White House, slavery would be abolished and American civilization would collapse.  The victory of anti-slavery Republicans, a letter writer to the Dallas Herald warned on January 18, 1860, would cause the entire world to take “a step backwards for 500 years . . . Mongrelism, as seen in Mexico and Central America, will become  . . . characteristic . . . This destructive, abhorrent, damnable, intermixture of the races . . .  white women marrying black negro men and vice versa."  Buchanan’s frequent jeremiads about immigration echo such original Confederates’ apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of abolitionism

Every ordinance of secession passed by the Confederate states listed the threat to slavery from Abraham Lincoln and other Republicans as the primary reason for secession.  One of the few differences between the Confederate Constitution and that of the United States was that the former document denied the right of the Confederate Congress to ever abolish slavery. 

Alexander Stephens of Georgia, the Confederate Vice President, in his March 1861 inaugural speech declared that while the Founders of the United States like Thomas Jefferson had assumed that slavery “was in violation of the laws of nature” but that the Confederate Constitution government was “founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”)

 (For more on the insidiousness of Neo-Confederate beliefs, see my interview with the Texas Observer from February 2011 at  The greatest expert on Neo-Confederacy is Ed Sebesta.  Visit his website on the topic at  You should also check out his book Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction at

 At only 26, Pat Buchanan became assistant editorial page editor at the St. Louis Globe-Dispatch.  After a stint working as an opposition researcher for Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, Buchanan became a speechwriter for the new president and one of the architects of the so-called  “Southern Strategy” by which the White House sought to exploit white racial resentments.   Nixon once described Buchanan’s position on Jim Crow schools as “segregation forever.”   In his 1988 autobiography, Right From the Beginning, Buchanan waxed nostalgic about Jim Crow.  “There were no politics to polarize us then, to magnify every slight. The 'negroes' of Washington had their public schools, restaurants, bars, movie houses, playgrounds and churches; and we had ours."  Buchanan apparently comforts himself that the separate facilities provided under Jim Crow – the tragically underfunded and overcrowded schools, hospitals and housing – were indeed “equal,” as lying Southerners insisted a generation ago.

 “There were no politics to polarize us then, to magnify every slight," Buchanan said fondly of the days of segregation. "The 'negroes' . . .  had their public schools, restaurants, bars, movie houses, playgrounds and churches; and we had ours." A white anti-integration protest in Little Rock Arkansas in the 1950s.  (Photo at the FreshJive website at

Buchanan advised Nixon to not visit Dr. King’s widow on the first anniversary of the Civil Rights leader’s assassination because, Buchanan wrote, King was “one of the most divisive men in contemporary history.” After Nixon’s 1972 reelection, Buchanan urged the president to not “fritter away his present high support in the nation for an ill-advised governmental effort to forcibly integrate races."

In a memo to Nixon, Buchanan once defended the infamous massacre by South Africa’s white supremacist police of 67 blacks during an anti-apartheid uprising in Sharpsville in 1960.  He vigorously defended the fascistic apartheid state of South Africa (as he also vociferously supported Fascist dictator Francisco Franco in Spain) as long as the state existed.  The police murder of black dissidents, the censorship of the press, the cruel poverty of the black townships and the violent crackdown on even white opponents of South Africa’s racial dictatorship never bothered Buchanan. Rationalizing apartheid in a February 7, 1990 column, he denounced the notion that "white rule of a black majority is inherently wrong. Where did we get that idea? The Founding Fathers did not believe this."

Like Nixon, Buchanan was not above using the n-word.  Buchanan dismissed Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as "the house nigger of the Politburo."  Towards the end of his tenure, a disillusioned Buchanan bemoaned that “conservatives were the niggers of the Nixon administration.”  (For more on Buchanan’s career as a Nixon speechwriter, check out Rick Perlstein’s excellent book, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America at

Temporarily leaving public life, Buchanan returned to his roots as a right-wing newspaper columnist after leaving the Nixon administration and on August 25, 1977 the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published a column in which Buchanan argued that Adolf Hitler had a positive side.  Buchanan wrote that:

"Those of us in childhood during the war years were introduced to Hitler only as a caricature . . . Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him. But Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."(For the source of these quotes, see and

It appears that for a time –until he started opposing American imperialism in places like Iraw -- nothing Buchanan said was too outrageous for Republican Party elites.  President Ronald Reagan appointed Buchanan as White House Communications Director, where he served from 1985 to 1987.  His most notable contribution to the White House this time was to convince Reagan, during a visit to Europe, to stop in May 1985 at Germany’s Bitburg cemetery, where the remains of SS troops complicit in the Holocaust were buried.  The trip was to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II and it seems that Buchanan was confused over whether the right side had won.  Jewish leaders urged Reagan to not go to Bitburg. 

In a tense meeting at the White House, Buchanan snapped at them that they were “Americans first” and should support the president’s trip. Buchanan’s notes from the meeting apparently were covered with the handwritten phrase, “Succumbing to the pressure of the Jews." He apparently co-authored Reagan’s speech at the cemetery and wrote a remarkably callous remark that the 49 SS men buried there were "victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.”  In discussing slavery, Nazi Germany, or apartheid South Africa, Buchanan could not distinguish victim from victimizer.  (For more, see

By this point, one would assume that Buchanan would have been written out of polite society.  Instead, in the 1980s and 1990s it became possible to see him on television seven days a week.  He was a regular on CNN programs like Crossfire and The Capital Gang and on the syndicated talking head show The McLaughlin Group.  At the same time, Buchanan made a hobby of defending wanted Nazi war criminals found in the United States like John Demjanjuk, a butcher from the Treblinka death camp once known as “Ivan the Terrible.”  Buchanan condemned the deportation proceedings against the Cleveland auto worker, who entered the United States under a false name, as a “lynching choreographed by the KGB [the Soviet secret police.]” 

Buchanan very nearly embraced outright Holocaust Denial in 1990 when, in one of his newspaper columns, he ludicrously suggested that poison gas could not have been used to murder Jews at death camps like Treblinka as Demjanjuk was accused of doing. 

“The problem is: diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody,” Buchanan claimed.  “The Environmental Protection Agency never requires emission inspections of diesel cars or trucks. In 1988, ninety-seven youths, trapped 400 feet underground in a D.C. tunnel, while two locomotives spewed diesel exhaust into the car, emerged unharmed after forty-five minutes. Demjanjuk's weapon of mass murder cannot kill." ( For more, see,1)

The argument Buchanan made here was stupid on its face.  Jews in death camps were densely packed, skin to skin, into shower rooms while guards like Demjanjuk pumped in diesel and other poison gas.  The conditions are not remotely the same to being trapped in a large tunnel designed to accommodate trains and where plenty of pockets of oxygen would be available to breathe.   In the same column, Buchanan belittled elderly Jews who survived the Nazi horror show of the 1930s and 1940s as suffering from “group fantasies of martyrdom.” 

Pst Buchanan wrote in a newspaper column that the Nazis couldn't have used gas to kill Jews in te concentration camps.  Here's the architectural plans for the Krema II gas chamber in Auschwitz.  (Photo from

Most establishment Republicans were horrified when David Duke, the former American Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader, won a term as a member of the Louisiana state legislature representing the New Orleans suburb of Metarie in 1989.   Not Pat. In a February 27, 1989 syndicated column, Buchanan wrote:

“The way to do battle with David Duke is not to go ballistic because Duke, as a teenager, paraded around in a Nazi costume to protest [anti-war radical lawyer] William Kunstler during Vietnam, or to shout to the heavens that Duke had the same phone number last year as the Ku Klux Klan. Everybody in Metairie knew that. The way to deal with Duke is the way the GOP dealt with the far more formidable challenge of [segregationist Alabama governor and frequent presidential candidate in the 1960s and 1970s] George Wallace. Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues; and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles.

Duke did not beat [GOP establishment candidate] John Treen because he is an ex-wizard; he beat him in spite of it; he beat him because he was tougher on taxes and made an issue of urban crime, the primary source of which is the urban underclass; he beat Treen because he lit into set-asides and ‘affirmative action’ in hiring, scholarships, and promotions, i.e. reverse discrimination against white folks who happen to make up 99 percent of his electorate.

What Duke did, after he turned in his robes and signed up with the GOP, was run over and seize terrain vacated by the GOP. Duke walked into the political vacuum left when conservative Republicans in the Reagan years were intimidated into shucking off winning social issues so we might be able to pass moral muster with [African American civil rights leaders Benjamin] Hooks and [Martin Luther] King.

When was the last time a Republican president attacked the injustice and immorality of quotas? When was the last time the GOP denounced social engineers and their endless plans for the forced integration of neighborhoods and schools? Where was the GOP when Yonkers was being kicked around by that federal judge?

The Republican Party, post-election, is getting wonderful press embracing Jesse Jackson, flirting with Ben Hooks, Andy Young and King. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong at all; so long as the GOP does not pay for its press clipping in the currency of old principles. Right now, though, my sense is the GOP is throwing away a winning hand, and Duke is only the first fellow to pick up the discards.”

Pat Buchanan thought the Republican Party had something to learn from David Duke when the former Klansman won a seat in the Louisiana State Legislature in 1989. (Photo from the Undercover Black Man Blog at

In Buchanan’s mind, criminal Klan thugs like Duke were the moral equivalent of civil rights leaders like Dr. King.  Even this warm praise for the leader of a hate group, like his earlier expressed admiration for Hitler and defense of wanted Nazi war criminals, did not get Buchanan excommunicated from the Washington press corps, who continued to treat him like an eccentric but avuncular man of passion. 

This only encouraged the already extremist Buchanan to move further to the fringe.  The Washington press corps remaine almost completely tone deaf to white racism if expressed by anyone with slightly more subtlety than David Duke.  Buchanan, speaking of immigration on the television show “This Week With David Brinkley” in January 1991, suggested that black immigrants couldn’t fit into the United States like Europeans.  "If we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them up in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia?"  After saying that, Buchanan would be welcome on the show again and again.  So what if he praised dictatorships, ridiculed black intelligence, mocked Holocaust survivors, apologized for the SS, racist South Africa and American slavery and found nice things to say about Hitler?  Pat was the press club’s buddy at the poker table.

The Republican Party since the 1960s had moved towards the Buchanan view of race. In spite of his public record, enough Republicans saw him as preferable to President George H.W. Bush in 1992 for the erstwhile talking head to mount a serious threat to the incumbent in 1992.  Hating black people and denying the Holocaust were apparently less serious sins than breaking a pledge to not raise taxes. About  40 percent of New Hampshire Republicans supported the former speechwriter in that state’s primary that year.  (For more, see 

Buchanan would ultimately fail, and would not gain the party nomination in 1996 either.  His opposition to the 1991 Gulf War and free trade treaties like NAFTA seemed like a more serious liability to GOP voters than anything he ever said about Hitler or African Ameircans. He ran as the nominee in 2000 of the Reform Party earlier founded by Ross Perot.  Buchanan’s main contribution to that race came, ironically, when elderly Jewish voters in Florida apparently accidentally voted for him because they were baffled by the hard-to-read “butterfly ballots.”  These mistakes, combined with a Republican effort to stop a legitimate vote count in Florida allowed George W. Bush to steal that year’s election.  Thus concluded Buchanan’s ignoble career in electoral politics, but unfortunately his career as a writer did not also end.

Pat Buchanan: Hitler apologist, anti-black racist  and just a member of the Washington press boys' club. (Photo from the Talking Points Memo website  at

This past year, MSNBC fired Buchanan for the racist content of his newest book Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?  The supposedly liberal network is right: Buchanan’s latest work is racist.  But the network is also hypocritical because Suicide is no more racist than Buchanan’s previous oeuvre.  Consider his 2000 book, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations And Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization, which argued that population growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America, along with demographic declines in Europe and among white Americans, threatened the future of the world.   The book carried a hardcore eugenicist viewpoint of race as destiny, suggesting that brown and black people are backwards intellectually and morally. Buchanan’s footnotes even cited, as reported by the anti-hate group organization the Southern Poverty Law Center,  the writings of William Pierce, the late founder of the Neo-Nazi group the Naitonal Alliance and author of The Turner Diaries (a novel about a future race war that served as inspiration for Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the federal center in Oklahoma City.)

Buchanan’s 2006 book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of Americahas almost an identical theme to last year’s Suicide: that black and brown people will destroy the grand civilization built by white Americans. Once again he argues that what made America a nation was not shared ideas and historical experiences, but the Founders’ common European ancestry. 

As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, in State of Emergency Buchanan describes the emerging Latino majority in the American Southwest as "one of the greatest tragedies in human history."  In its article on the book, the SLC observes Buchanan’s thesis is that:

“America must retain a white majority to survive as a nation. It is rooted in a blood-and-soil nationalism that is more blood than soil. The echoes of Nazi ideology are clear and chilling  . . . State of Emergency unapologetically reflects Buchanan's insistence on the centrality of race to the United States and its culture. "This idea of America as a creedal nation bound together not by 'blood or birth or soil' but by 'ideals' that must be taught and learned … is demonstrably false," Buchanan writes in the book.

As Alexander Zaitchik of the SPLC reports, “Simply put, America is not a nation of ideas. It is a nation of people -- white people. Buchanan is especially overt in making this case when he endorses the view of his late mentor and editor, Sam Francis, that American and European civilizations could never have been created without the ‘genetic endowments’ of whites . . .  

Once again, to make his case in State of Emergency, Buchanan relies on a trove of extreme-right sources. His urgent call for thwarting the ‘invasion’ of non-European immigrants leans heavily on material written by hate group members or postings on hate sites, with citations to nearly every sector of the hate movement, from neo-Nazis to neo-Confederates.”  

In interviews promoting State of Emergency, Buchanan was more explicit in his white supremacist ideology, stating as fact that European civilization was on a higher plane than the African, Asian and Native American cultures they conquered and destroyed. "Was not Western civilization vastly superior to the indigenous civilizations it encountered and crushed?" he asked in one interview. (For more, see 

In 2009, Buchanan turned from hateful immigrant bashing and white supremacy to another of his disturbing obsessions: apologizing for Hitler.  His Churchill, Hitler And “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire And The West Lost The World contends that Hitler was forced into World War II by an unreasonable Winston Churchill; that if the German dictator had been given huge gobs of Polish territory by the Allies, that he would not have launched a genocidal war against the Russians or initiated the Holocaust; and that the enemies the West should have been worried about were in Moscow, not in Berlin.  Buchanan makes his case by ignoring everything Hitler said about the alleged German need for Lebenstraum  in his tract Mein Kampf or his frequent predictions that next next world war would be a necessary final confrontation with “international Jewry.”  In short, he lies about Nazis the way he lies about the antebellum South.  (For a devastating critique of this book, read the review by the late Christopher Hitchens at

In short, MSNBC should have known what it had it Buchanan: a Klansman without sheets and a minimizer of Nazi crimes if not an actual Holocaust Denier. It could have been no shock that in Suicide Buchanan grimly predicts that Latino immigration spells doom for the United States:

“The white population will begin to shrink and, should present birth rates persist, slowly disappear. Hispanics already comprise 42 percent of New Mexico’s population, 37 percent of California’s, 38 percent of Texas’s, and over half the population of Arizona under the age of twenty. ……. Will this Mexican nation within a nation advance the goals of the Constitution—to ‘insure domestic tranquility’ and ‘make us a more perfect union’? Or has our passivity in the face of this invasion imperiled our union?

Buchanan’s gloomy answer is that Latinos are not biologically endowed with the gifts to be true Americans. “ .  . . Our intellectual, cultural, and political elites are today engaged in one of the most audacious and ambitious experiments in history,” he moans.  “They are trying to transform a Western Christian republic into an egalitarian democracy made up of all the tribes, races, creeds, and cultures of planet Earth. They have dethroned our God, purged our cradle faith from public life, and repudiated the Judeo-Christian moral code by which previous generations sought to live.”

For Buchanan, a multi-racial, multi-faith democracy represents a nightmare.  He would prefer the world of the Jim Crow South or the South African where Nelson Mandela rotted in a prison.  How a man who pumped so much poison into the public discourse has for so long been presented as respectable and part of the mainstream clearly illustrates the moral ineptitude of the corporate-dominated American media.  Buchanan didn’t suddenly become a divisive, hate-filled figure this past year.  The extremism of Suicide of a Superpower simply reflects the man’s lifelong values, a system of morals at odds with people who yearn for justice and freedom.  This has never mattered to the Washington press insiders.  Pat has always been just of the boys, part of the “Capital Gang.”  And from this favored media perch, his ideas on race have poisoned a major American political power.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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