by NABJ Founder and Past President Les Payne
Were our racial politics played out within the pages of DC Comics, Patrick J. Buchanan would likely be cast as the twisted Joker of Gotham City. This erstwhile politician, for reasons not entirely clear in a multicultural society, is allowed to haunt the panel of almost every TV talk show discussing the politics of the day.
Television hosts on Fox and MSNBC are careful not to label the race-based menace that Buchanan pedals, tagging him benignly as a "political analyst." The TV pundit, however, is as subtle as a clenched fist about his "white folks" superiority crusade. In his "Brief for Whitey," a March 21 blog posting, Buchanan argued that slavery was the best treatment for African- Americans, whose "lift up" was executed by Christian "white Americans." Bearing up under this burden even now, whites, he claims, sacrifice mightily to ensure blacks their "freedom and prosperity."
"Where is the gratitude?" this Joker asked with a straight face. His piece of vendetta was aimed at the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his Chicago parishioner, Sen. Barack Obama, who is running for U.S. president. The polemics of Buchanan, in print and on air, earned him the National Association of Black Journalists' annual "Thumbs Down" award. The 4,100- member group cited Buchanan's crudely insensitive, racist, and stereotypical commentary that craters the landscape of racial discourse. Past recipients include columnist Armstrong Williams, former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, and most recently, Black Entertainment Television.
Careful not to cite his recent NABJ recognition, Buchanan countered with a 900-word posting entitled, "Whitey Need Not Apply." This essay criticized the efforts of UNITY-a national consortium of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American journalists-to promote racial and ethnic fairness within media. Buchanan took particular exception to the plan of the "10,000 members of UNITY" to persuade 10 major media outlets to promote at least one additional, non-white, senior manager to their individual staffs by 2010.
So what's Buchanan's problem with this modest goal?
The UNITY campaign, the Joker rages, does not include "journalists of Irish, English, Polish, Italian, German or Jewish ancestry, since they are white." Well, now. It just so happens that, far from being aggrieved, the combination of these groups are precisely the owners, CEO's, producers, senior managers and publishers being petitioned. White group privilege, exclusive as it has been for 222 years, has empowered these media titans who oversee an industry that Unity feels should more reflect the America of the 21st Century.
Buchanan will have none of this. This dour pundit sees a slight against "white folks" behind every non- white advance. "Race," he wrote in his recent "Whitey" piece, is the only reason Obama got nearly 90 percent of the black vote against Hillary Rodham Clinton in a few state primaries. Such black voting patterns, however, are not at all unusual even when the candidates are all white.
President Clinton, for example, received 83 percent of the black vote in the '92 election; 84 percent in '96. Topping this, Al Gore got 90 percent in 2000; followed in '04, by Sen. John Kerry, who, according to CNN exit polls tallied 88 percent of the black vote.Were he not blinded by bigotry, Buchanan might notice that, despite suffering through slavery, Jim Crow and de facto segregation, African-Americans vote what they perceive as their interests--not their race. In the '04 Democratic presidential primary, for example, Al Sharpton got less than 17 percent of the black vote in South Carolina, the overwhelming majority going to white candidates. In his home state of New York, Sharpton managed about the same tally, with Sen. John Kerry attracting more than 60 percent, the remainder going to other white candidates.
Incidentally, Mr. Buchanan, in all the general presidential elections held throughout all the years of the republic, African Americans have voted for white candidates more than 99.99 percent of the time. Such facts, of course, would make no impression on this "analyst" given to false reasoning.
Earlier in Buchanan's life, as with the Joker of the DC Comics, perhaps some macabre, life-altering tragedy twisted his racial view into a lily-white phobia. Clarence Mitchell III, the black, former state senator, grew up a childhood friend of Buchanan in Maryland. Over the years, Mitchell has been repeatedly astonished at his former buddy's venomous "insensitivity to the plight of black Americans."
Mudslinging is a specialty of the blunt-speaking Buchanan who perfected this art after his journalism school days at Columbia University. Just as avoiding the military draft hardened him into a chicken-hawk on the Vietnam War, his journalism degree set him against the Jeffersonian idea of the press as a watchdog on government.
Instead, this nothing of a reporter went young into the craft as an editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe Democrat. Earlier, he had caddied for the sitting U.S. vice-president; so when Richard M. Nixon passed through town, the conflicted journalist put an arm on the politician for a job. "If you're running for president," Buchanan reportedly asked "I'd like to get in on the ground floor." The ersatz journalist quickly transformed himself into a truncheon for politicians soft on civil liberties.
As researcher and speech-writer for President Nixon, Buchanan sharpened the teeth of the conservative hacksaw used against the press. Along the way, he passed up no opportunity to wield his power against those seeking a free, fair and racially integrated society. In 1974, when Nixon resigned ahead of an impending impeachment, his scrappy dirty-trickster, with all the survival skills of the Joker, regained his feet as a syndicated columnist, lecturer and co-host of CNN's "Crossfire." In 1985, Buchanan ventured back into government, this time as the communications director for the Reagan White House.
The point man's bluntness earned him a front- row seat at one of Reagan's major PR blunder: laying a wreath at the graves of Nazi storm-troopers in Bitburg, Germany. Among the 49 Waffen SS troops in the cemetery was one Otto Franz Begel, awarded the German Cross for killing 10 American GI's. The cemetery contained no U.S. soldiers. According to Lou Cannon's biography, "Ronald Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," the visit "was the seminal symbolic disaster of an administration that placed great store in symbolism."
As a staunch supporter of the Presidential honor for the Nazi troops, Buchanan once passionately lectured a group of opposing American Jews visiting the White House, including author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. As if the wreath-laying for the Nazi troops was a patriotic act, Buchanan cautioned those accompanying Wiesel that they were "Americans first."
Compounding the insult, Buchanan was reportedly observed to have written "over and over again in his notebook: "Succumbing to the pressure of the Jews."
Buchanan's primal racial fears have repeatedly surfaced in his determined efforts to conserve an America defined strictly along lily-white racial and ethnic lines. "There is nothing wrong with us sitting down and arguing the issue that we are a European country," he said in opposing the entry of blacks from South Africa. During the apartheid era there, the columnist and White House tactician strongly opposed the democratic process that would give Africans the vote. He argued that the U.S. "Founding Fathers" withheld the vote from the Indians, restricting "the franchise to property- owning [white] males, believing that not every man was qualified to rule, nor every people prepared for self- government."
Buchanan's bold flirtation especially with anti- Semitism sparked even the National Review, the magazine bible of William F. Buckley Jr.'s hard right, to worry aloud about his rough style. "Some of his writings raise serious questions about his judgment and his underlying philosophy," the magazine wrote in an unsigned commentary. "[He] must sometimes wish he could call back the hasty word, the logic gone subtly wrong, the rash epithet, the savage retort."
Buchanan himself, however, has never shown any inclination to back away from verbal, racial assaults.
If anything, he has drawn his "white folks" covered wagons into an even tighter xenophobic, Euro-centric media circle. "The American majority," he wrote in his book, "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War," is "not reproducing itself," and thus allowing "Asian, African, and Latin American children come to inherit the estate the lost generation of American children never got to see."
Such racial narcissism blinds Buchanan to the reality that these newly arriving immigrants--coupled with the rise of Native Americans and black descendants of slaves-need not be a decline of America--but indeed its very salvation! Conveniently, he forgets that not so long ago his Irish-Catholic ancestry, as well as that of the Italians and the Slavs of Eastern Europe, was similarly condemned by earlier arriving white Americans as signaling the doom of the republic as a viable world power.
Despite Buchanan's backward know- nothingness, he reigns nightly as a TV presence on political chat- shows. His countenance recalls nothing so much as that of the Joker, lacking only the red lip smear and the dark eye paint. Flip on almost any channel tonight and there is this scared and scary Buchanan, chopping the air with his hands-pedaling his gospel of hate.
Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and columnist for Newsday. Payne is a Founder of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), served as the association's president from 1981 to 1983, and was recently inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.
An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C., NABJ is the largest organization of journalists of color in the nation, with more than 4,100 members, and provides educational, career development and support to black journalists worldwide.