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MSNBC and Pat Buchanan

Ronald Radosh

A few days ago, MSNBC made it official: The cable station fired Pat Buchanan from his regular gig as a commentator on various programs, including, most usually, Morning Joe. Buchanan made his dismissal public with the following widely reprinted editorial, which he wrote for the website of The American Conservative, the paleo-con magazine where he once served as founding editor. “After 10 enjoyable years,” he wrote, “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.”

Now all defenders of the First Amendment should be upset if someone is fired because of “clamor from the left.” That would mean the political left-wing has the power to fire someone because he is not an advocate of their side. If one such firing is allowed and overlooked, then someone else whom you approve of but others do not could be next.

So let us look more carefully at Buchanan’s case. Let me state my position on the issue at the beginning, before my analysis. I believe Pat Buchanan is a demagogue, an anti-Semite, as well as a man who holds to a simplistic analysis that others have regularly torn apart over the years. On the issue of his well-discussed anti-Semitism, I give you two sources: First, there is In Search of Anti-Semitism, by William F. Buckley, Jr., which features a reprint of a 1991 article in National Review where the late dean of conservatism reluctantly concluded that Buchanan was indeed an anti-Semite.

The second source are two articles by Joshua Muravchick, this one here, and another one which he later wrote here. At the time, I wrote my own analysis for PJM, and concluded by asking the following question: “Isn’t about time that responsible conservatives stop giving him any credibility?” So, I believe that any network, including MSNBC, should not have hired Buchanan in the first place, given that he is hardly a person who can be considered serious on essential issues.

The other commentary I would cite about him was written by Christopher Hitchens, and may indeed be the single most devastating assault Buchanan ever received. Hitch wrote a review of Buchanan’s book Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. Here is Hitch’s penultimate paragraph skewering Buchanan:

As the book develops, Buchanan begins to unmask his true colors more and more. It is one thing to make the case that Germany was ill-used, and German minorities harshly maltreated, as a consequence of the 1914 war of which Germany's grim emperor was one of the prime instigators. It's quite another thing to say that the Nazi decision to embark on a Holocaust of European Jewry was "not a cause of the war but an awful consequence of the war." Not only is Buchanan claiming that Hitler's fanatical racism did not hugely increase the likelihood of war, but he is also making the insinuation that those who wanted to resist him are the ones who are equally if not indeed mainly responsible for the murder of the Jews!

And this is the man, Buchanan, who some take as a serious analyst whose views we must consider as well thought out and rational. As Hitch put it so well, Buchanan’s views “stink,” as does the book he wrote.

As for Buchanan’s notion that he has been blacklisted? This is rather ridiculous. MSNBC, a private corporate entity, fired him — which is their right. So who are those blacklisting him? Knowing Buchanan, and since he particularly names Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League, he is again implying that the blacklisters are, of course, the Jews. Remember, this is the man who once said at the time of the first Iraq war that the “amen corner” and their lobby was responsible for Bush 41 going to war at the time of Iraq’s attack on Kuwait.

Here is Buchanan’s defense of himself:

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. All the while prattling about their love of dissent and devotion to the First Amendment, they seek systematically to silence and censor dissent.

Without a hearing, they smear and stigmatize as racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic any who contradict what George Orwell once called their "smelly little orthodoxies." They then demand that the heretic recant, grovel, apologize, and pledge to go forth and sin no more.

Well, if there are any “smelly little orthodoxies” George Orwell would have despised, it would have been those he would have gone to war with via his pen after reading Pat Buchanan. Indeed, were Christopher Hitchens still with us, he more than anyone else would have been infuriated beyond belief that Pat Buchanan would dare invoke the name of George Orwell in his own defense. Orwell, after all, was a proud socialist and an opponent of all totalitarianism, including the kind for which Buchanan has so long acted as apologist.

But Buchanan writes: “I know these blacklisters. 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.” Does he really think MSNBC fired him because of Abe Foxman and Color of Change?

As Alana Goodman points out, one reason MSNBC hired Buchanan is rather obvious: “The left still wishes all conservatives were as easy to demonize as Pat Buchanan.” He is a rather easy target, and to have him on a left-wing channel as the most prominent spokesman for the Right, they can use him as bait to trash other conservatives.

There is one problem with that, however. Rarely was Buchanan used to comment on the topics that would get him off on the subjects mentioned in this article. Indeed, on his regular Morning Joe appearances, he usually made astute political comments of a rather bland and non-partisan nature; i.e., was a particular candidate too far away from the mainstream to gain currency in his campaign, and so forth. Only once, when he was on the same day as Dan Senor, did I see him lose it. The discussion turned to foreign policy — Senor’s forte — and Buchanan uttered “Your people got us into the Iraq war,” to which Senor replied, as I recall, “Are you referring to Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld?”

Buchanan did not reply.

As for MSNBC, they have added to their line-up the repulsive and largely simplistic Rev. Al Sharpton, whose comments and campaigns over the years have reeked of anti-Semitism, demagoguery (remember the Tawana Brawley affair?), and worse. Recall that isolation of Sharpton during the 2008 Obama campaign, when candidate Obama went out of his way to keep away from the revered, who, if anything, might have reminded the public of Obama’s mentor Jeremiah Wright, who, after the videos of his sermons surfaced, was also sent out to the pasture. And if you want to bring up Rev. Sharpton’s past actions and protest his being hired — guess what? You will not get too far.

So now to my conclusion. And it is not one you will suspect from me. Having made the mistake of first hiring Pat Buchanan, I believe that MSNBC had no good cause to fire him. I do not go so far as Andrew Sullivan, who argues that Buchanan is a “paragon of intellectual integrity” compared to Sharpton and Ed Schultz, and who acknowledges that he is “publicly bigoted, sometimes outrageous, a flame-thrower, a reactionary who flirted at times with what only can be called neo-fascism,” but should be honored because at the same time he is “true to his own ideas and a gifted writer.”

If that is the criterion for being on MSNBC or any other network, almost anyone who writes and believes his own myths should have a program. The point is that MSNBC got rid of him at a moment of rising right-wing populism, and perhaps, I suspect, they feared Buchanan would see the likes of Ron Paul quite favorably, and would lend his support to the type of candidate they least appreciate. I suspect — and yes, these are hunches only — that the NBC brass did not want further trouble from minority pressure groups as Buchanan appeared to them as a TV stand-in for retrograde politics from the far-Right populists.

Sullivan also writes that Buchanan “is also a compassionate and decent man in private and an honest intellectual in public.” Sullivan likes him because he sees him as a person with whom he could debate reasonably and because, when it was announced Sullivan was HIV positive, he sent him a warm and lovely note that he would pray for him recovering his health, despite his own well-known position on gay issues. What Sullivan does not mention, one must note, is his own agreement with Buchanan on foreign policy issues, particularly the idea that the Israel lobby is largely responsible for pressuring our country into a wrong-headed war in Iraq. This is a strange omission given how easy it is to find resemblances between Buchanan and Sullivan’s own comments on the Iraq war and who bears responsibility.

But yes, my own limited contact with Buchanan reveals him to be charming, polite, and cordial. He believes what he says, and on a personal level, he never has been hostile or nasty when I have had the chance to speak with him.

So, anyone who believes in civil liberties, and welcomes debate with those with whom you believe are seriously wrong on major issues, should not be happy at Buchanan’s dismissal. First they came for Buchanan, as the old saying goes cribbed from Pastor Martin Niemoller, and next they will come for Joe Scarborough. Before you know it, Scarborough will be gone, and Christopher Hayes of The Nation, who now has the weekend slot, will replace Scarborough on the weekdays. MSNBC will then be the all far-Left network — being far less in the mainstream than Fox News is on the other side of the spectrum.

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