Friday, February 17, 2012

Pat Buchanan’s long goodbye

On Thursday, about four months after he was absented from the political analysts’ bullpen at MSNBC, Pat Buchanan was formally separated from employment at that network. The former Nixon speechwriter, presidential candidate and champion of white Christian supremacy vacated his pundit’s post in the wake of the content of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?," published Oct. 18.

In the obligatory Tersely Worded Statement, the network said that "after 10 years, we have decided to part ways with Pat Buchanan. We wish him well."

On Friday, Buchanan, a syndicated columnist and the author of 11 books, wrote in his column at Human Events: “My days as a political analyst at MSNBC have come to an end.

“After 10 enjoyable years, I am departing, after an incessant clamor from the left that to permit me continued access to the microphones of MSNBC would be an outrage against decency, and dangerous.”

Buchanan was taken to task for statements in the book, including advancement of the idea that racial, ethnic and cultural diversity have polluted the American ideal and corrupted what, in his view, is now and always essentially a white Christian nation.

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Buchanan’s Friday column condemned advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League and (maybe the loudest) Color of Change, Color of Change, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization involved in lobbying, public education and grassroots political action on behalf of black and minority Americans.

In an Oct. 25 e-mail to supporters, calling for Buchanan’s ouster in the wake of his latest book, Color of Change said Buchanan was advancing “a vision of America that portrays white people and ‘white culture’ as genuinely American, and diversity and multiculturalism as a threat to America. Buchanan tries to blame the country's economic problems on programs like affirmative action, welfare, and food stamps — programs which help vulnerable and disadvantaged Americans of every race, but which Buchanan and others on the far right have portrayed as only helping lazy and undeserving minorities. He takes every opportunity to stoke the racial anxiety and fear that exists among some white people ...

“If Buchanan didn't have a powerful media platform, he'd be just another person with outdated, extremist ideas. But it's irresponsible and dangerous for MSNBC to promote his hateful views to an audience of millions.”

Buchanan fires back via Human Events, bloodied but unbowed: “The modus operandi of these thought police at Color of Change and ADL is to brand as racists and anti-Semites any writer who dares to venture outside the narrow corral in which they seek to confine debate. …

"I know these blacklisters,” Buchanan wrote. “They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight."

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Buchanan had his defenders at MSNBC, as you could reasonably expect after 10 years at the network, rhetorically jousting with other thought leaders on the political scene. "Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski issued a statement after the deal went down:

"Everyone at Morning Joe considers Pat Buchanan to be a friend and a member of the family. Even though we strongly disagree with the contents of Pat's latest book, Mika and I believe those differences should have been debated in public. An open dialogue with Morning Joe regulars like Al Sharpton and Harold Ford, Jr. could have developed into an important debate on the future of race relations in America.

"Because we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, Mika and I strongly disagree with this outcome. We understand that the parting was amicable. Still, we will miss Pat."

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But Scarborough and Brzezinski, with the willful short-sightedness that friendship observes, have overlooked the historicity of this situation, focusing in their statement on only the latest of 11 books, rather than looking at the decades-long throughline of thought that made those books possible.

Ari Rabin-Havt, executive vice president of Media Matters, told The Huffington Post that the October book "was not his first, nor his worst offense. He's been making the same racially insensitive, anti-Semitic and homophobic statements for the past 50 years."

Buchanan has flirted with anti-Semitic positions for decades. The patron saint of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., wrote about Buchanan’s columns on the gulf war. In a 1991 National Review essay, Buckley said it was “impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism ...”

A 1990 dalliance with Holocaust denial is one of 10 of Buchanan’s most extravagant outrages — a kind of greatest-hits collection — assembled by

Victoria Lamb Hatch, a commenter at ThinkProgress, weighed in: “I marvel at how this guy can claim to love his country while hating almost everybody in it.”

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But for all the sturm und drang over the rightness of Buchanan’s dismissal, and whether he’s really being silenced or just shunted onto a new siding in the media railroad switchyards (paging Fox News!), there’s the brutal truth of perceived anachronism.

Buchanan’s paleoconservative world view not only didn’t dovetail with MSNBC and its evolving public identity. Buchanan was also at odds with the emerging, increasingly complex nation he loves. The idea that MSNBC, or any network, should be obligated to subscribe by association to views that are, with even a casual reading, intolerant of the identities and histories of that network’s audience, is patently ridiculous.

I asked the question back in October: “How can you lean forward and backward at the same time?”

MSNBC has wisely decided the obvious: You can’t.

Image credits: Buchanan: Bbsrock. MSNBC logo: © 2012 MSNBC. Color of Change logo: Full disclosure: I worked for six years as a reporter, news editor and producer at

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