6 October 1999
Our current howler (part II): Going by the book
Synopsis: Pundits slammed Buchanans message. But they rarely got around to his text.
Commentary by William Safire
Meet the Press, NBC, 9/26/99
Commentary by Pat Buchanan
Tim Russert, CNBC, 10/2/99
Smart cookie? Crackpot?
Ben Wattenberg, The Washington Times, 9/23/99
A Republic, Not an Empire
Pat Buchanan, Regnery, 1999
McCains Fresh Air
A.M. Rosenthal, The New York Times, 9/24/99
Commentary by Chris Matthews
Hardball, CNBC, 9/22/99
Pat Buchanan was engaged in an hour of backyard brawling on
cable's outstanding Tim Russert. Midway through,
host Russert played tape of William Safire from the previous week's
Meet the Press:
SAFIRE: Now with this new book, calculated for his campaign,
essentially saying that Hitler was Mr. Nice Guy and all we had
to do was let him defeat the Russians and he wouldn't have bothered
both the Jews of Poland and he wouldn't have bothered the west,
Michael [Kinsley] says that's nutty. I think that's calculated
to try to solidify a hating element in America.
It's no wonder the book has stirred such a flap, if Buchanan
has been making such comments about Hitler. Buchanan disputed
BUCHANAN: With regard to World War II, there is not a line
in that book saying anything that Hitler is a wonderful fella.
He's not a nice guy. He's a beat. He's a pagan, and he's a murderer
as of 1934 when he killed all his colleagues without a trial.
But Safire wasn't the only one making such characterizations
of Buchanan-on-Hitler. Ben Wattenberg, in a syndicated column:
WATTENBERG: Mr. Buchanan says Americans were tricked into entering
the war. It was all a terrible mistake. Prime Minister Hideki
Tojo and Fuehrer Adolf Hitler were misunderstood.
Wattenberg penned repeated passages ironically discussing "misunderstood
Hitler," "the misunderstood Nazis," and "misunderstood
Is Pat Buchanan anti-semitic? At THE HOWLER, we don't really
know. But we do know what he wrote in his bookthey have it on
sale at a local storeand, in fairness, Safire's comments are
hard to reconcile with the book's plain text. For example, here
is Buchanan's opening paragraph about "Mr. Nice Guy,"
BUCHANAN: Hitler had taken power five weeks before Roosevelt.
From its first days, the authoritarian nature of the Nazi regime
was manifest. Dachau had been receiving prisoners as early as
March 1933. Jews were soon being subjected to ugly actions and
discriminatory laws. In 1934 Ernest Roehm, head of Hitler's army
of street-brawling brown-shirts and his only rival for absolute
power, was liquidated...
As an effort to paint Hitler as a misunderstood "nice
guy," this strikes us as pretty strange stuff. One paragraph
later, Buchanan discusses Hitler's 1935 military build-up and
subsequent entry into the Rhineland. Buchanan's view? Hitler should
have been stopped right there:
BUCHANAN: He nervously waited for the Allied reaction, his
generals paralyzed with apprehension. France had 500,000 men under
arms, and the German battalion was under orders to withdraw at
the first sign of French intervention. It never came. Hitler had
gambled and won. The last chance to stop him without risking another
European war had slipped by.
But A.M. Rosenthal, in the Times, offered this:
ROSENTHAL: [Buchanan's] new book does not hide his belief that
it would have been better if Nazi Germany had won the war.
We'll admit we couldn't find it. And here was a tabloid talker,
on an inventive show:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan has written this book months ago,
where he takes the argument that we should not have fought Hitler.
Buchanan's book has a whole section, called "America's
Failure to Prepare," in which he berates President Roosevelt
for failing to respond to the German military build-up of the
1930s, leading to "the pathetic state of America's armed
forces as of September 1, 1939," the day Hitler marched into
The recent criticism is littered with comments which are hard
to reconcile with Buchanan's plain text. "[O]ne by one, the
disasters came," says Buchanan of Hitler's victories after
But what is most striking to us in all this? Not the fact that
the criticism is often hard to square with the text. What's striking
to us is how rarely the critics ever quote from the text to begin
with. The critics accuse Buchanan of a serious moral crime, and
make extreme, damning statements about his historical views. One
would think that pundits would want to be exceptionally careful
in making such serious statements. When William F. Buckley explored
this topic in 1991, for example, he wrote a lengthy, detailed
critique of Buchanan's past work, and offered only tentative conclusions
about the state of his soul. But in recent weeks, the pundits
have rarely made any effort to repeat Buchanan's current
statements. In this practice, they remind us again of the press
corps' sense that it gets to tell the stories it likesthat it
gets to tell us pleasing tales, adjusting the facts as it suits
On Friday, we'll take a look at the larger point Buchanan says
he is arguing. But first, how about that "misunderstood"
Tojo? Here is Buchanan discussing Pearl Harbor:
BUCHANAN: For the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the massacre
of American sailors that Sunday morning, Japan bears absolute
Whether or not it had been America's war before December 7,
it was our war now. In Yeats's line, "All changed, changed
utterly." Americans were united as never before or since
by Japan's treachery in attacking our ships and murdering our
sailors in our sleep, united in the conviction that the Japanese
empire should be destroyed.
If poor old Tojo is misunderstood, he isn't getting much sympathy
What is the state of Buchanan's soul? At THE HOWLER, we aren't
really certain. But we have had a chance to look at his textat
the words he actually put into print. And we were a bit surprised
when we saw what he wrote, after listening to the words of the
Friday: Historians say Buchanan's thesis isn't all that
oddand the press corps ignores his larger argument.
Tomorrow: Tomorrow (Thursday) we'll post a longer article
which we'll be discussing on Thursday night's O'Reilly Factor
(Fox News Channel). The article describes the press corps' love
for improving the news. And oh yes: All praise to Bill O'Reilly,
for allowing such thoughts on the air.