In recent weeks, Patrick Buchanan has vehemently denied accusations of bigotry that stem from his new book questioning U.S. intervention in World War II. And he has accused the news media - including CNN, which provided the national platform from which he has repeatedly catapulted into presidential politics -- of distorted reporting.
Since Buchanan sees himself as a student of history, it's appropriate to check the historical record of Buchanan's own comments and writings. This refresher course in Buchananism sheds light on whether mainstream media have been unfair to him -- or too soft.
Part of the current controversy revolves around Buchanan's insensitivity to the demise of European Jews at the hands of Adolph Hitler. In a 1977 column acknowledging Hitler's anti-Semitism and genocidal bent, Buchanan argued that Hitler was "also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe.... 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."
Hitler, a "genius" with "great courage"? Few in the media took exception when Buchanan wrote it. When a similar characterization was offered by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan -- Hitler was a "great man" albeit "wicked" and "evil" -- mainstream journalists went ballistic.
On the issue of the Nazi extermination of Jews, Buchanan is unique as a national figure who has challenged basic facts of the Holocaust and opposed the effort to prosecute war criminals. In 1987, columnist Buchanan urged Ronald Reagan to shut down the Justice Department office pursuing Nazi war criminals -- which Buchanan ridiculed for "running down 70-year-old camp guards."
Decrying "group fantasies of martyrdom," Buchanan questioned the historical record that thousands of Jews at Treblinka had been gassed by diesel exhaust: "Diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody," he wrote in a 1990 column. Not only was he wrong on the science, but when asked to provide a source for his claims on Treblinka, the best Buchanan could answer -- "Somebody sent it to me." It turned out that he was circulating one of the canards of those who claim the death camps were a Zionist invention.
Another current Buchanan controversy surrounds his accusations about Jewish influence over foreign policy. Back in 1985, as White House Communications Director, Buchanan pushed hard for President Reagan to visit the cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, where Nazi SS troops are buried - and reportedly wrote the controversial line in Reagan's speech that the SS soldiers were "victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps." The trip went forward despite broad protests, including complaints made at a White House meeting by American Jewish leaders, who claim Buchanan lectured them to start acting like Americans first.
In 1990, many Americans opposed the drive toward war in the Persian Gulf; Buchanan was one of the few critics who saw a Jewish plot. "There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East - the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States," he asserted on TV's "McLaughlin Group." While dozens of powerful pundit and policy voices advocated war with Iraq, Buchanan felt the need to single out four saber-rattlers -- A.M. Rosenthal, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer and Henry Kissinger -- all Jews.
Here again Buchanan's apparent prejudices about Jews seemed to blind him to the facts. On the key January 1991 Capitol Hill vote authorizing war in the Gulf, most Jewish members of Congress voted no -- on Buchanan's side, not Kissinger's.
Fears about Israeli plotting in Washington D.C. remained evident during Buchanan's 1996 run for the presidency. On his campaign web site, an article blamed the death of Clinton Administration aide Vincent Foster on the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. The article, which alleged that Foster and Hillary Clinton were Mossad spies, was removed after a Jewish news service reported on it.
Buchanan of course says he is neither a bigot nor extremist. Here's a sampling of his views.
In a 1993 column attacking Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun for blocking a patent for a Confederate flag insignia, Buchanan accused her of "putting on an act" by linking the Confederacy with 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....How long is this endless groveling before every cry of 'racism' going to continue before the whole country collectively throws up?"
In his 1988 autobiography, "Right from the Beginning," on race relations in the late 1940s and early 1950s: "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."
In his autobiography, Buchanan - who has opposed virtually every civil rights law or court decision of recent decades -- boasted that as an editorial writer for a conservative daily in the 1960s, he had published FBI smears of Martin Luther King Jr. as his own editorials: "We were among Hoover's conduits to the American people."
A 1969 memo from then-White House advisor Buchanan urged President Richard Nixon not to visit "the Widow King" on the first anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King: "Dr. King is one of the most divisive men in contemporary history."
In another Buchanan memo to Nixon: "There is a legitimate grievance in my view of white working-class people that every time, on every issue, that the black militants loud-mouth it, we come up with more money.... If we can give 50 Phantoms [jet fighters] to the Jews, and a multi-billion dollar welfare program for the blacks...why not help the Catholics save their collapsing school system." (Note the equation of the State of Israel with "the Jews" and welfare with "the blacks.")
In a 1988 column, Buchanan issued his oft-repeated assertion that President Reagan had done so much for African-Americans that civil rights groups have no reason to exist: "George Bush should have told the [NAACP convention] that black America has grown up; that the NAACP should close up shop, that its members should go home and reflect on JFK's admonition: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country.'"
In a 1989 column sympathizing with the views of ex-Klansman David Duke, Buchanan scolded the Republican Party for overreacting to Duke and his Nazi "costume": "Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles...[such as] reverse discrimination against white folks."
In a 1990 column that attempted to justify apartheid in South Africa, 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." A 1989 column referred admiringly to the apartheid regime as the "Boer Republic": "Why are Americans collaborating in a UN conspiracy to ruin her with sanctions?"
Buchanan has repeatedly referred to gays as "sodomites"; a 1991 column called them "the pederast proletariat." In a 1977 column urging a "thrashing" of gay groups: "Homosexuality is not a civil right. Its rise almost always is accompanied, as in the Weimar Republic, with a decay of society and a collapse of its basic cinder block, the family."
In 1983: "The poor homosexuals -- they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution (AIDS)." Later that year, Buchanan demanded that New York City Mayor Ed Koch and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo cancel the Gay Pride Parade or else "be held personally responsible for the spread of the AIDS plague." In a 1990 column: "With 80,000 dead of AIDS, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide."
In a 1983 column: "Rail as they will about 'discrimination,' women are simply not endowed by nature with the same measures of single-minded ambition and the will to succeed in the fiercely competitive world of Western capitalism."
In his autobiography: "The real liberators of American women were not the feminist noise-makers, they were the automobile, the supermarket, the shopping center, the dishwasher, the washer-dryer, the freezer." And: "If a woman has come to believe that divorce is the answer to every difficult marriage, that career comes before children ... no democratic government can impose another set of values upon her."
In his autobiography, Buchanan offered praise for Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, calling him a "Catholic savior." A 1989 column called Franco, along with Chile's Gen. Pinochet, "soldier-patriots." Both men overthrew democracy in their countries.
In his "From the Right" newsletter in 1990, Buchanan attacked the "democratist temptation, the worship of democracy as a form of governance.... Like all idolatries, democratism substitutes a false god for the real, a love of process for a love of country." A 1991 column suggested that "quasi-dictatorial rule" might be the solution to the problems of big municipalities and the federal fiscal crisis: "If the people are corrupt, the more democracy, the worse the government." He has written dismissively of the "one man, one vote Earl Warren system."
Buchanan devoted a chapter of his autobiography -- "As We Remember Joe" -- to a defense of inquisitional Sen. Joe McCarthy (blaming his demise on two Jewish aides). Buchanan advocated that Nixon "burn the tapes" during Watergate, and criticized Reagan for failing to pardon Oliver North over Iran-contra.
Given Buchanan's long, consistent and vituperative history -- his new book mostly restates old views - it's understandable why he's squawking about the recent scrutiny and criticism in mainstream media. He'd simply grown accustomed to soft treatment over the years.
Powerful conservative pundits had long been quiet about Buchanan's extremist utterances while he remained a loyal Republican. Funny how some of them have found their voices now that Buchanan may bolt the GOP and split the conservative vote. (George Will even concluded of late that Buchanan exhibits a fascist "sensibility.")
Buchanan didn't always complain about media coverage of his presidential aspirations. In a Los Angeles Times interview during the 1996 campaign, he praised the media for fairness: "I've gotten balanced coverage and broad coverage.... For heaven sakes, we kid about the liberal media, but every Republican on Earth does that."