At some point in the last decade or so, the general perception of Pat Buchanan has evolved from that of a screeching bigot to a lovable old codger on MSNBC. A rogue Republican who opposed the invasion of Iraq, Buchanan has duped some liberal cable news junkies into warming up to him as the Friendly Wingnut -- the squinty, high-pitched Spitting Image puppet who somehow managed to win over Rachel Maddow, so much so that he was invited to participate in a reoccurring feature titled "It's Pat" during the early weeks of Maddow's MSNBC show.
Being an occasional observer of Buchanan's Gump-like career for the last 20 or so years, I've sometimes hypothesized that maybe he compensates for his crazier opinions by being extraordinarily charming off the air. How else could he possibly worm his way onto television so often otherwise? Or maybe he's simply a little Tourette's-ish and can't quite wean himself from his more dastardly views -- sometimes accidentally blurting out controversial white supremacist screeds, but then snapping back to a place where his MSNBC colleagues could take him seriously and ask him back next time.
Case in point. During the primary campaign when then-Senator Obama delivered his historic Philadelphia Address, even some conservatives embraced the boldness and profundity of the speech. Not Buchanan, of course, who fired off a column titled, A Brief for Whitey. In it, he referred to the speech as "the same old shakedown" and a "con" from "black hustlers."
He continued by lording food stamps and welfare over the heads of African Americans as kindly gifts from the benevolent white man. "Where's the gratitude?" Buchanan asked -- ostensibly taking credit for programs that he doesn't even support. Food stamps and welfare, in Buchanan's view, should more than compensate for centuries of slavery followed by another 100 years of Jim Crow, lynchings, terrorism, neo-slavery and segregation. Ingrates.
But then, as if the Whitey column never happened, he was back to being the jolly, candy-like geezer who called President Obama's Democratic convention acceptance speech "magnificent" -- and earlier the same day was seen on television grinning from ear-to-ear in his hipster "Blues Brothers" shades while his fellow MSNBC panelists boogied to Stevie Wonder's performance at Invesco Field.
Nevertheless, in the last 10 days or so as Judge Sotomayor moves closer to becoming the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, White Supremacist Pat is back in full voice, and I'm convinced now more than ever that the real Buchanan is definitely not the Friendly Wingnut he's tricked some viewers into believing.
"What is happening now to white men right now," Buchanan said recently on MSNBC about Judge Sotomayor, "is exactly what was done to black folks for years."
This is classic default Buchanan. This is the same Buchanan who supported a white supremacist for the Supreme Court (Harold Carswell in 1970). This is the same Buchanan who incited the anti-black, anti-gay modern culture war during his 1992 Republican convention speech. This is a man whose worldview is so twisted that he honestly believes that white men, a demographic group that's controlled most corridors of global power for centuries on end and thusly enjoyed untold riches, privileges and worship, are somehow being treated like subhuman chattel today. White men, Buchanan believes, are the new second class race/gender.
But that's not exactly the crazy part.
It's the implication of this analysis that so completely disqualifies him from enjoying the respect of any reasonable person on television or off. Buchanan's philosophy appears to be that any minority, ethnic or racial, is only advanced due to the oppression of white men. In other words, it's Buchanan's opinion that minorities aren't generally capable of success based upon their own quality. He seems to be suggesting (and not for the first time) that either minorities conspire to promote other minorities, or a minority is promoted via "Jim Crow Liberalism," as he's called it, on the oppressed shoulders of white men. Backdoor white supremacy, in the latter case -- whites are the dominant race, his theory goes, even when they're being dominated.
While furthering this agenda, and perfectly in line with his favorite anti-Obama word "exotic", Buchanan has been allowed to freely repeat a variety of racial or sexist dog whistles like "anti-white", "quota queen", "tribal" and "that woman" -- even referring to Judge Sotomayor by her first name in his syndicated column (a not-so-subtle trick to diminish her reputation).
How is any of this more acceptable or more serious than "nappy headed hos"? If I were Don Imus right now I'd be changing my adult diaper and shouting, "WTF!" For an oppressed white man, Buchanan is strangely invincible, no?
Which leads us to MSNBC. Inviting Pat Buchanan or Tom Tancredo (who both share a racist employee, by the way) on the air to discuss racial issues while fully aware of their positions in this regard isn't a tip of the hat to both sides, nor does it fulfill any requirement for ideological balance. It's a deliberately incendiary television gimmick, and they're paying Pat Buchanan to do it, even though he and Tancredo hold entirely ludicrous views on race that only really deserve airing in the context of a segment about race-baiting crackpottery. Maybe.
Put another way, it'd be like watching Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969, then Cronkite cutting to an in-studio guest who has a wild theory about how the astronauts are really on a movie set. It'd be like discussing the Ground Zero memorial and inviting Alex Jones into the discussion to rant about controlled demolitions and other truther nonsense.
I can't accept that Pat Buchanan is the only conservative with media training available in Washington and New York on an hourly basis. I mean, thawing him out of his green room cryochamber is every day can't be easy or cheap. But it's not really shocking from the network that's increasingly favoring staged he-said-she-said "smackdowns" over serious journalism and commentary.
Ultimately, though, Buchanan's presence on television is less of a deliberate nod to race-baiting, and more of an acceptance of inside-Washington masturbation. He's familiar and available and he's an emeritus type, so he qualifies for very serious cable news debates. And besides, it's all just a game anyway, right? It's all about the horse race and which player did a better job "closing the deal." The actual substance and systemic harm that's done to the country is irrelevant to the drama of the coverage itself. So when they need an alluring gesturing conservative granddad to augment the drama, thaw out Buchanan and wheel him onto the set. And when they need a shockingly racist monster to amplify the drama, thaw him out and wheel him onto the set. Repeat.
And finally, the next time Buchanan feels like an oppressed minority, perhaps he should take it up with Gene Robinson and Tamron Hall -- the only two African Americans on an otherwise all-white network. Where's their gratitude to whitey? Ingrates.