Better late, even extremely, excruciatingly late, than never. MSNBC's decision to oust Patrick Buchanan as its arch-conservative political commentator last week was long overdue.
Some of Buchanan's erstwhile colleagues at the network are voicing their unhappiness at this development. "Mika [Brzezinski] and I strongly disagree with this outcome," Joe Scarborough wrote on his Politico blog. Praising Buchanan's "relentless genialities" and his "deep, even formidable, loyalty," Chris Matthews told his viewers that "obviously, I'm going to miss his cheerful, fun-loving irascible presence around here."
Before Buchanan is turned into a veritable martyr, a review of the bidding seems in order.
I first crossed swords with Buchanan in 1987 after I had written a New York Times op-ed in which I called for the deportation of Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas, and said that Buchanan's "oft-expressed sympathy" for a succession of such Nazi war criminals was a "constitutionally protected perversion." Sticking to his guns, Buchanan took umbrage in a Letter to the Editor at what he considered a "nasty personal slur" and "flippant libelous insult."
Reiterating his disdain for the U.S. Justice Department officials charged with exposing and prosecuting individuals who had participated in atrocities during World War II and had entered the United States under false pretenses, Buchanan speciously argued that,
Given the destructive blunders made by our revenge-obsessed Nazi hunters, inside and outside government, resulting in irreparable injury and death to innocent Americans, what we ask does not seem outrageous: American justice for American citizens, a fair trial in this free country, where the accused has the right to face his accusers.
Buchanan knew full well, of course, that neither Linnas nor any other Nazi war criminal could be tried in the United States for their crimes. The most the U.S. authorities could do was strip them of their U.S. citizenship and deport them, a legal remedy Buchanan has steadfastly opposed at all times.
In response, I wrote in the Times that, Buchanan
evidently would rather see a Nazi war criminal such as Karl Linnas go free in the West than be brought to justice in the Soviet Union. . . . Mr. Buchanan is wrong in claiming that 'nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.' Nazi war criminals are, by definition, un-American, and far too many of them have lived far too long in the sunlight. And yes, Mr. Buchanan, your unwavering eloquence on their behalf is both outrageous and obscene."
Twenty-two years later, Buchanan likened another Nazi war criminal to Jesus Christ. When John Demjanjuk was about to be deported to Germany, where he would eventually be tried and convicted for his role in the murder of 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp, Buchanan in his syndicated column of April 17, 2009 not only called Demjanjuk an "American Dreyfus" and "the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany's sins," but he wrote that the "spirit" behind the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is "the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago."
As it happens, neither Joe Scarborough nor Chris Matthews ever bothered to challenge Buchanan about this outrageous, even sacrilegious comparison. But then again, they also never confronted him when he disparaged Justice Sonia Sotomayor as a "Quota Queen," or when he wrote in his May 14, 2010, column that with Elena Kagan's confirmation as an Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, "Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats. Is this the Democrats' idea of diversity?"
Buchanan's record of crass anti-Semitism is legendary. Following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Buchanan said on national television that "There are only two groups that are beating the drums right now for war in the Middle East, and that is the Israeli defense ministry and its amen corner in the United States." He has referred to Capitol Hill as "Israeli-occupied territory," and he considers the State of Israel to be "a strategic albatross draped around the neck of the United States."
After John Cardinal O'Connor had deplored Roman Catholic anti-Semitism, Buchanan declared in a September 1993 speech to the Christian Coalition that,
If U.S. Jewry takes the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate as indicative of our submission, it is mistaken. When Cardinal O'Connor of New York seeks to soothe the always irate Elie Wiesel by reassuring him 'there are many Catholics who are not anti-Semitic' . . . he speaks for himself. Be not afraid, Your Eminence; just step aside, there are bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith.
Buchanan has also been a reliable ally of Holocaust deniers and other Nazi sympathizers. In his March 17, 1990 syndicated column, he wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp, and referred to a "so-called Holocaust survivor syndrome" that he described as involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics." Until I outed him and it in May of 2009, he maintained a Holocaust denial forum on his official website.
And then there is Buchanan's equally virulent homophobia. In his 1992 keynote address at the Republican National Convention, he railed against "the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women."
No one says that Buchanan is not bright and personable. He is, however, a bigot so far outside the American political mainstream that he should never have been given legitimacy by MSNBC in the first place. Given his history, the only remaining question regarding his firing last week is: what took them so long?
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He teaches about the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse.