Missing Pat Buchanan

by Stanley Fish – The New York Times

“I miss him already,” the MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews said Friday. The “him” Matthews is already missing is Patrick J. Buchanan, and in this year of a national campaign I miss him too, and have been missing him since early fall, when he disappeared from MSNBC because of protests following the publication of his book “Suicide of a Superpower.”

In that book Buchanan admits nostalgia for the America he knew as a young man and the privileged position of the white race, then taken for granted. He asserts that there has been “a long and successful campaign to expel Christianity from the public square” and to “reduce its role to that of just another religion.” He declares that nothing in the Constitution “mandated social, racial or gender equality.” He asks, “What motivates people who insist that America’s doors be held open wide open until the European majority has disappeared?” He refuses to apologize for seeking to “preserve the country we grew up in.” He maintains that when “black and white lived apart, went to different schools and churches, played on different playgrounds,” we still “shared a country and a culture” and “were one nation.”

It was in response to sentiments like those that MSNBC President Phil Griffin declared himself uncomfortable with having Buchanan’s views in the mix of his network’s opinions. But Griffin is a little late to that party, given that Buchanan had been saying the same things for at least 40 years, from the time he appeared in defense of his boss Richard Nixon at the Watergate hearings to the electrifying and controversial speech he gave at the 1992 Republican convention to the fiery exchanges with Michael Kinsley on the TV program “Crossfire” to the extended debate he had with the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, a nomination he saw as inspired by affirmative action.

Many of those who have protested MSNBC’s decision to part company with Buchanan cite the point-counterpoint type debates with Kinsley, Maddow, Matthews and others as evidence that the conservative Buchanan contributed a salutary balance to programming that was predominantly left-leaning. He offered another perspective, they say, and they wonder about what they see as intolerance displayed by a network that typically champions liberal virtues.

My own disappointment at Buchanan’s departure goes in another direction — in fact in two. First, Buchanan is an extraordinarily acute observer of the political scene. His knowledge of past campaigns — including knowledge of what went on behind the scenes — is encyclopedic. No one is more skilled at contextualizing a present moment in our political drama so that viewers can understand the history informing a decision or action that appears on its surface to be inexplicable, even zany. When Buchanan offers that kind of analysis, his pugnacious junkyard-dog persona falls away and is replaced by a precision that is almost professorial. It is a pleasure to watch, just as it is a pleasure to watch some coaches-turned-analyst who can explain what is going on in an athletic contest because they have been there.

Buchanan has also been there. That is the second thing I will miss: the contributions of someone who is not only reporting on history in the making, but has been part of that history himself….

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