Mar 1 1992

Buchanan and Duke

Playing the Same Hand

Patrick Buchanan and David Duke today find themselves in the same place–using nearly identical issues and rhetoric to challenge George Bush from the right. But they took different paths to get to this point: Duke rose to prominence through the use of KKK robes; Buchanan rode a more conventional vehicle: television.

Although Duke recently received soft treatment on national TV (see Extra!, 1-2/92), he’s still considered outside the mainstream by the political press corps. By contrast, Buchanan is one of the boys. Among TV pundits, he’s been the leader of the packthe only one to appear on national TV seven days a week, as co-host of CNN‘s Crossfire, host of Capital Gang, and a regular member of the McLaughlin Group. Besides these recurring gigs, he’s been a frequent guest on ABC‘s Nightline and Good Morning America.

Buchanan has served up his far-right positions so incessantly, they’ve become almost commonplace. His fellow TV pundits (see box on page 12) appear incapable of noticing the stark similarities in the ideologies of Buchanan and Duke. Buchanan, like Duke, has long displayed authoritarian inclinations and sympathy for fascism. In his autobiography, Right from the Beginning, Buchanan waxes nostalgic about his dad’s hero, Gen. Francisco Franco, Buchanan has referred to the Spanish dictator as a “Catholic savior” and, along with Chile’s Gen. Pinochet, as a “soldier-patriot who saved his country from Communism,” Buchanan also admires South Africa–which he calls the “Boer Republic”–and asks (9/17/89 column): “Why are Americans collaborating in a U.N. conspiracy to ruin her with sanctions?”

For years Buchanan has championed accused Nazi war criminals, and campaigned for the U.S, Justice Department to stop “running down 70-year-old camp guards.” His columns questioning the historical record about the gassing of Jews at Treblinka have run in pro-Nazi publications that claim the death camps are a Jewish hoax. Buchanan is credited with crafting Reagan’s line that called the Nazi troops buried at Bitburg “victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.”

In a bizarre 1977 column, Buchanan said that despite Hitler’s anti-Semitic and genocidal tendencies, he was also

an individual of great courage. . . . 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.

Buchanan is contemptuous of what he calls “the democratist temptation, the worship of democracy as a form of governance, The would-he president writes: “Like all idolatries, democrats substitutes a false god for the real, a love of process for a love of country.” He has written disparagingly of “the one man, one vote Earl Warren system.” In one column (1/9/91) he 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,”

Like Duke, Buchanan has a demonstrated attraction to white-supremacist views. In the Nixon White House, he called an Atlantic magazine article about the genetic basis of intelligence “a seminal piece of major significance for U.S. society.” (See Boston Globe, 1/4/92.) The piece, he wrote to Nixon, indicates that

integration of blacks and whites–but even more so, poor and well-to-do–is less likely to result in accommodation than it is in perpetual friction–as the incapable are placed consciously by government side by side with the capable.

Buchanan was one of the first to advocate that the Republican Party exploit racial issues. In another memo to Nixon, he wrote:

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, welcome up with more money…. The time has come to say–we have done enough for the poor blacks; right now we want to give some relief for working-class ethnics and Catholics–and make an unabashed appeal to these patient working people, who always get the short end of the stick. If we can give 50 Phantoms to the Jews, and a multibillion dollar welfare program for the blacks…why not help the Catholics save their collapsing school system.

Today, Buchanan couches many of his campaign themes, from trade policy to the “underclass,” in racial terms. In a recent discussion of immigration, he asked contemptuously whether “Zulus” or “Englishmen” would be easier to assimilate.

It’s ironic to see Buchanan now trying to distance himself from Duke. (He complains that Republican officials treat him “no different than Duke.”) Three years ago, when Duke ran for the Louisiana state legislature and shared a phone with the Klan, Buchanan ridiculed national Republican leaders (2/25/89 column) 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.”

Buchanan said Duke was right on target attacking “reverse discrimination against white folks” and crime committed by the “urban underclass”–Buchanan’s codephrase for blacks. He saluted Duke for walking “into the vacuum left when conservative Republicans in the Reagan years were intimidated into shucking off winning social issues.”

The column concluded: “The GOP is throwing away a winning hand, and David Duke is only the first fellow to pick up the discards.” But Buchanan’s friends in the media seem unlikely to look too closely at the cards Buchanan is holding.

Some have gone out of their way to blur perceptions of Buchanan’s far-right views: William Safire (New York Times, 12/16/91) described Buchanan’s supporters as a “network of the nativist right and isolationist left,” while Stephen Rosenfeld in the Washington Post (12/13/91) wrote that Buchanan’s America First platform raises “fair questions,” but he worried that the “come-home movement” might be “captured or severely tainted by extremists, including David Duke.”