Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Divider

I imagine that almost any political junkie eventually develops a special relationship with the raspy cadences of Pat Buchanan's voice. We all can picture him as he begins to speak, sharpening and extending his sibilants: "Chris, the thing is this . . . ." He sits very still, hands extended before his chest--some distance apart--as though he was about to tell us about a fish (a conceit that rapidly evaporates with the introduction of the cleaver-like motion that Buchanan uses to emphasize every word). For me, the voice produces a sensation around the back of my neck that suggests the proximity of a blade.

Buchanan occupies a special place in liberal demonology because of a memo he wrote to Richard Nixon in 1971, as a young White House staffer, suggesting that Nixon's reelection campaign engage the issue of race. "In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half;" Buchanan wrote, adding the immortal coda, "my view is that we would have far the larger half."

Buchanan's approach to racial politics has not moderated with age. Responding to Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech about race in America, Buchanan wrote a post on his blog entitled "A Brief for Whitey," which included this stunning passage:

America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

Given his outlook and history, it would be no surprise if Buchanan's cavalier approach to racial issues eventually endangered his broadcast career at MSNBC. The campaign of Barack Obama, in particular, has seemed to push Buchanan ever closer to the edge of the cliff. With any media figure, it is always uncertain which incidents will spark a career-changing reaction and which will more or less pass without comment, nevertheless some of Buchanan's comments in the wake of John Edwards' endorsement of Barack Obama may give him a headache:

If the media decides to run with the story, some of the language Buchanan uses will be quite difficult to explain:

What were the African-American community in Philadelphia that gave him 90% voting on if not the fact that Barack Obama was one of them. West Virginia, Hillary, was one of us. That's the same thing. But West Virginia gets trashed, and Philadelphia is wonderful.

I'd guess that won't be enough to get MSNBC to take him off the air, but it's clear that Obama's continued success puts Buchanan in increasing jeopardy. If nothing else, we can thank Obama for that.

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