Pat Buchanan, William F. Buckley Jr., and Right-Wing Anti-Semitism

A column commemorating the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II has raised, for the umpteenth time, the question of whether or not Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite. The column, "Did Hitler Want War?", is a misleading and distasteful exercise in revisionism which paints the Fuhrer as a reluctant warlord. Later I'll address this historical howler, but for now I'd like to look at William F. Buckley Jr.'s reponse to Buchanan's penchant for criticizing Jews and Israel, and the glaring difference between Buckley's intellectual honesty and the timidity of the present conservative leadership.

In December 1991, Buckley's magazine, the National Review, devoted its entire issue to his 40,000-word essay, "In Search of Anti-Semitism." The piece opened with two startling admissions about Buckley's wealthy Irish-Catholic family: his father was an anti-Semite; and in 1937, the year before Kristallnacht, four of his siblings burned a cross outside a Jewish resort near their family estate in Sharon, Connecticut. But Buckley himself was instrumental in ostracizing anti-Semites from the conservative movement in the 1950s and 60s. He denounced the John Birch Society and barred contributors to the Jew-baiting American Mercury from appearing in the National Review. So he was being consistent when he decided that his old comrade-in-ideological arms Buchanan was guilty of more than "mischievous generalizations" after attacking four prominent American Jews -- Henry Kissinger, A.M. Rosenthal, Richard Perle, and Charles Krauthammer -- for their support of Desert Storm. Buckely cited four other vocal hawks who were spared Buchanan's poison pen: James J. Kilpatrick, George Will, Frank Gaffney, and Alexander Haig. But their Christian faith presumably exempted them from suspicion.

For this is the thing about Buchanan: he believes Jews can't be fully trusted because they have divided loyalties. They will always place Israel's interests above those of the United States. (Of course Buchanan has no problem with the divided loyalties of right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami, many of whom call Cuba their "patria.") A hallmark of anti-Semitism is the insistence that Jews are unassimilable; they are forever alien, no matter how many generations their families have resided in a country. Buckley condemned Buchanan's coded prediction that "kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzalez, and Leroy Brown" would be the ones bleeding and dying in Iraq: "There was no way to read that sentence without concluding that Pat Buchanan was suggesting that American Jews manage to avoid personal military exposure even while advancing military policies they (uniquely?) engender."

Buckley was unequivocal in his assessment: Buchanan was an anti-Semite. And he understood that the conservative movement would lose credibility if it abided such vileness. But today there's no one of comparable stature to take on Rush Limbaugh, whose racism has become shrill and blatant since President Obama's inauguration. Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, and David Brooks have tried to raise the alarm, but they can't be heard above the clamor of fear and hatred.

Meanwhile, Buchanan remains a fixture at MSNBC. Oh, every now and then he's put in the penalty box until something he says or writes blows over. This happened after his row with Rachel Maddow over the Sotomayor confirmation, during which he made the outrageous claim that white people were almost wholly responsible for the greatness of America. But soon he's back on Morning Joe and Hardball, wheezing and tomahawk-chopping and interrupting at whim. Outside the studio he's reputedly the ideal dinner party guest. But as David Frum put it, we must measure him by his words, "and not in his friends' polite comments about what an affable chap he is."

Such words can be found in "Did Hitler Want War?" Here we are told that the Fuhrer didn't want to invade Poland. He was pushed into doing it by the Poles, who unreasonably refused to cede one of their cities, Danzig, to Germany. The Poles were emboldened by a promise from the British to come to their defense should the Nazis attack. "Was Danzig worth a war?" asks Buchanan. "Comes the reponse: The war guarantee was not about Danzig, or even about Poland. It was about the moral and strategic imperative 'to stop Hitler' after he showed, by tearing up the Munich pact and Czechoslovakia with it, that he was out to conquer the world. And the Nazi beast could not be allowed to do that."

So how does Buchanan explain Hitler's desire for Lebensraum, "living space"? In his brilliant and comprehensive study of the Nazi economy, The Wages of Destruction, Adam Tooze writes that Hitler felt Germany could only compete with the United States, whose superpower status he foresaw, by organizing "one last great land grab in the East." U.S. hegemony was a racial and cultural threat. In Hitler's mind, the Jews controlled everything: Hollywood, Wall Street, the White House (FDR was their puppet). War was never in doubt. And after the land was taken, the indigenous peoples would be exterminated or enslaved. By September 1939, Hitler was ready; he'd strengthened his western fortifications and signed a nonaggression pact with Stalin. There was nothing to stop him from implementing his plan to establish a contiguous empire. World conquest was a pipe dream, but Buchanan's whitewashing is an unconscionable distortion of the truth. Why did Hitler invade Poland? Easy. Because it was there.