There is so much I disagree with Pat Buchanan on – from World War II to marriage equality to immigration to my love of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society – that I could write a book in it. But let me say something in his defense: however repellent some of his views, he is intellectually honest. Yes, publicly bigoted, sometimes outrageous, a flame-thrower, a reactionary who flirted at times with what only can be called neo-fascism. But here’s another thing he has always been: true to his own ideas and a gifted writer. He truly believes what he says and has read and researched a huge amount and has thought carefully about his extreme out-of-the-mainstream views. He is a serious figure in that respect. Compared with Al Sharpton or Ed Schultz, he is a paragon of intellectual integrity. He is not a propagandist. He is a passionate writer who loves nothing more than a good argument with a worthy opponent – and he has a serious sense of humor to boot. That his ideas are often repelling should precisely be why he should stay on MSNBC and defend his views against the smartest critiques that can be found. We should stop silencing people and keep debating them. The idea that he was not the target of much subterranean leftist outrage and pressure to fire him, as my colleague Howie Kurtz reports, seems highly unlikely to me. Yes, as Howie rightly reports, Buchanan’s latest inflammatory book was the casus belli. But Phil Griffin’s views of the book and an underground campaign to fire him from the professional left are not mutually exclusive explanations. I believe Pat on this. The pressure on MSNBC management to get rid of this fly in their propagandistic ointment must have been intense – and came in part from two of the more pernicious liberal interest groups in DC, the Gay Human Rights Campaign and the ADL. Replacing him with Michael Steele – who makes Sarah Palin look like Susan Sontag – is to add insult to injury. In many ways, I admired MSNBC for keeping him on for so long. Fox has not a single liberal of his intelligence, experience and background. But they are pure propaganda. MSNBC is, in this move, now completely indistinguishable from Fox in that respect. I have a personal story to relate about Buchanan as well, which Mark Warren noted in his recent profile of me.
Sixteen years ago, when I came out as HIV-positive and quit TNR’s editorship, Buchanan, who had sparred relentlessly in public with me over gay equality, wrote me a personal hand-written note. He wrote he was saddened by what he heard – which was then regarded as an imminent death sentence – and wanted to say how he would pray that I would survive, if only so we could continue to argue and fight and debate for many more years. He was one of only two Washingtonians who did such a thing. I was moved beyond words. But he knew I loved a good argument as well. Over a gulf of ideological and philosophical difference, we could debate reasonably.
He’s a complicated man and I will not defend for a second his views on many things. But he is also a compassionate and decent man in private and an honest intellectual in public. It says everything about the polarization of our discourse and the evolution of cable news into rival sources of propaganda that this ornery figure, still churning out ideas and books while others his age are well in retirement, is now banished.
For shame. Another step backward from real debate on cable “news”.