A NOT-SO-NEUTRAL CORNER by Ciro Scotti September 30, 1999

The Tarring of Pat Buchanan
Knives to the Right of him, knives to the Left of him. Why?

"What are you doing?" asked the Good Republican on the other end of the phone Sunday night.

"Reading A Republic, Not an Empire," I replied.


"You know, the Buchanan book."

"Oh, my God."

"What's wrong?"

[Exasperated throat-clearing sound]: "He is SUCH a head-case."

So to the Pat Buchanan epithets, add head-case. Right after right-wing crackpot, demagogue, anti-Semite, race-baiter, and now, Hitler-lover. Is Buchanan any or all of these? Who knows? In fact, after Clinton, who has any idea what really lies in the hearts of the complex characters seeking to be our next President? The only thing about Buchanan that can be said with some certainty is that he is a conservative populist inclined to make outrageous statements that provoke people -- sometimes even to the point of thought.

Often, Buchanan seems a victim of his own glibness -- unable to resist those politically incorrect, crowd-pleasing lines he writes for his own amusement, and quite often, the amusement of others.

At the GOP's Iowa Straw Poll last summer, Buchanan's single-digit share of the vote must have been demoralizing for the old warrior. But nobody -- not George W. or Steve Forbes or Elizabeth Dole -- got the crowd roaring like Pat when he said his first act as President would be to turn to Bill Clinton and say: "Sir, you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney...."


Playing devil's advocate isn't the same thing as being the devil

Buchanan's inability to put down his pitchfork for a moment, to be a bit more judicious in his public utterances, is a failing that he shares with plenty of other commentators, columnists, and journalists. But playing devil's advocate doesn't make you a devil.

So why are Buchanan and his book, largely ignored until a few weeks ago, suddenly being demonized by fellow Republican politicians like Senator John McCain and talking heads like right-wing editor William Kristol? The answer, of course, is Buchanan's threat to bolt the GOP to seek the nomination of the Reform Party and the $12 million-plus in federal campaign funds that goes with it. Polls suggest that a Buchanan candidacy would draw enough votes from George W. to put a Democrat within striking distance of victory -- even if the nominee were Albert Gore doing his best Herman Munster impersonation.

Smelling blood in the water, Democrats also attacked Buchanan. Surely, they saw an opportunity to drive a stake through the chest of a longtime foe with no small measure of appeal to blue-collar Reagan Democrats. The effort to paint Buchanan as a Hitler admirer whose A Republic, Not an Empire supposedly decries this country's entry into World War II has been ferocious -- and effective.

OVEREXTENDED. But if Buchanan and his book are guilty of anything, it is what Buchanan is always guilty of -- going too far to make a point. And his point is that like Great Britian in World War II and a string of other empires thoughout history, America is overextending itself and ensuring its downfall by guaranteeing the security of nations where we have little or no vital interests.

Had Britain and France not given guarantees to Poland, Buchanan writes, "Hitler would almost surely have delivered his first great blow to Stalin's Russia. Britain and France would have had additional years to build up their air forces and armies.... If the revealed horrors of Nazism in the East mandated a war, the Allies could have chosen the time and place to strike.... Had Britain and France not given the war guarantees to Poland, there might have been no Dunkirk, no blitz, no Vichy, no destruction of the Jewish populations of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, or even Italy."

Those hardly seem to be the writings of a Nazi apologist or a bigot, but the tarring of Buchanan will go on. Because these days in America, strong opinions are silenced with character assassination of the most virulent variety. Call a man a racist or an anti-Semite or a Hitler-lover, and you shut him up but good. You also shut down discourse, and that's the lifeblood of a democracy.

Scotti, BW senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week for BW Online

EDITED BY DOUGLAS HARBRECHT _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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