And, though Buchanan has long been, as the president is fond of saying about petty dictators, “on the wrong side of history,” that doesn’t mean one can ignore his cultural heft. Buchanan is also arguably one of the most important living American political figures—he served in the Reagan, Ford and Nixon administrations, and it was his mind that helped develop the racially divisive Southern strategy that would become a successful Republican blueprint for years to come.
So is there anything Buchanan could say to get himself kicked off the air? Probably not. As long as his prejudices are expressed in relatively polite fashion—without the use of an obvious racial epithet, for example—he can skate by.
And really, that’s why MSNBC should keep Pat Buchanan. Not despite his regressive views—but because of them. Social pressure has expelled the expression of ideas like Buchanan’s from polite company, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people who agree with the things he says. He remains on the network because, sadly, there’s still a market, an audience for his views that nod knowingly whenever his pensive scowl appears on the screen. And Buchanan says what a lot of these slick, groomed Republican press flacks are really thinking. Many of these conservatives won’t cop to believing, as he does, that America is “committing suicide” through the abortion of white babies and an influx of “Asian, African, and Latin American children;” there’s a silent minority that agree with many of his views. (A good example of this projection is the bromantic camaraderie between Buchanan and Hardball host Chris Matthews over the Ricci case—Matthews invites Buchanan to talk affirmative action precisely because he can express the kind of white resentment that Matthews himself might get in trouble for admitting.)
In recent years, the GOP has made attempts—some sincere, some not—to reach out to communities of color. These have failed, largely because a substantial amount of the GOP’s shrinking base sees the nation the way Buchanan does, as being destroyed by outsiders who aren’t real Americans. This remains true even as American demographic trends promise certain doom for the party as it currently exists. As long as that’s the case—and as unpleasant as it may be—progressives should hope those reactionaries have a voice. To the extent that Pat Buchanan is hurting someone, it isn’t liberals, Democrats or even people of color. It’s the conservative cause. If anyone should really want Buchanan to be fired from MSNBC, it’s the leadership of the Republican Party.
I say keep him.
Adam Serwer is a writing fellow at the American Prospect.