Pat Buchanan is a man of many bigotries. He’s praised Hitler’s “courage,” argued that black folks should be grateful that slavery took them out of Africa, fretted that Hispanic immigrants would cause the U.S. to “lose the American southwest,” compared homosexuality to alcoholism and appeared several times on a “pro-white” radio show. Buchanan’s incendiary views prompted Jamison Foser of Media Matters to ask, “What would Pat Buchanan have to say to get himself fired from MSNBC?”
The thing is, Pat Buchanan shouldn’t be fired. His rants, while offensive, aren’t persuasive to anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. But they discredit the notion that the Republican Party has entirely moved on from its regressive views on race.
For the most part, people have been inclined to shrug off Buchanan’s unapologetic racism, seeing him as a relic of an earlier era. As a commentator on MSNBC, most of Buchanan’s views are unremarkable, but sometimes they’re interesting.
It’s on issues of race and identity that Buchanan becomes most objectionable, and recently, his objectionable half has won out, driving his commentary on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor—who would, if confirmed, be the first Puerto Rican justice on the Supreme Court. Buchanan has questioned Sotomayor’s intelligence, temperament, even her ability to speak English. (However, this critique quickly boomeranged. Appearing at a conference with white nationalist Peter Brimelow, Buchanan mocked the decorated judge under a banner that misspelled the word “conference.”) And in his compulsive focus on her since-reversed ruling in an affirmative action case that denied white firefighter Frank Ricci a promotion, he has appeared a man possessed: He used her one-page bench opinion to argue that she is a proponent of “tribal justice.”
Few people understand tribal justice better than Buchanan, who seems to view competition for success and prosperity as a battle between whites and non-whites. If Sotomayor had ruled in Ricci’s favor, she would have been disregarding precedent—exactly the kind of “activist” behavior Buchanan claims to abhor. Buchanan’s objection, therefore, was not on the same legal grounds that the Supreme Court has since used to strike down Sotomayor’s decision, but on the grounds that it hurt a white man like himself. Or in his words, “What is happening now to white men right now is exactly what was done to black folks for years.” As he wrote in his 2006 book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, “Race matters. Ethnicity matters. History matters. Faith matters. Nationality matters. While they are not everything, they are not nothing. Multiculturalism be damned, this is what history teaches us.”
Further, over at the conservative Web site Human Events, Buchanan proclaimed that "one prefers the old bigotry. At least it was honest, and not, as Abraham Lincoln observed, adulterated 'with the base alloy of hypocrisy.'” Of course, there’s plenty hypocritical about a slaveholding nation being founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But none of that matters. It would probably be more truthful to say that Buchanan prefers “the old bigotry” because it wasn’t directed at him.
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.