January 17, 2001

What Goes Around
Ashcroft Versus the Smear Machine

I almost gagged when I heard Bill Bennett, on one of the Sunday talk shows, defend John Ashcroft by opining that "all the haters pretty much left the Republican party with Pat Buchanan." The mordant irony of this slander is that the smearing of Buchanan paved the way for the borking of Ashcroft. If some of the accusations hurled at Dubya's pick for Attorney General sound familiar, that's because these very same mudballs were first hurled at Pat. Let's go back, waaaay back to March of last year when, oh goodness gracious, screeched the arbiters of political correctness, Pat Buchanan is listed as a "senior advisor" to that "neo-Confederate" hate sheet, The Southern Partisan! Now Ashcroft is being excoriated for allowing the Southern Partisan to interview him. Tim Russert on Meet the Press made a very big deal out of this, and it is worth citing a good chunk of Russert's malicious assault on Buchanan to get a preview of what Ashcroft will have to endure:

TIM RUSSERT: "You know someone named Richard Quinn?"

PAT BUCHANAN: "Richard Quinn is the campaign manager for John McCain down in South Carolina."

RUSSERT: "And Pat Robertson and Ronald Reagan, but he has a magazine called Southern Partisan."

BUCHANAN: "He does indeed."

RUSSERT: "And you're a senior adviser."

BUCHANAN: "I am an honorary editor, or something like that."

RUSSERT: "Well, here, I'll show you on the screen from – this is their Web site."

BUCHANAN: "Sure."

RUSSERT: "You can pull it up right now. Richard Quinn, Southern Partisan..."

BUCHANAN: "Right."

RUSSERT " ... meet the staff. Senior adviser: Patrick J. Buchanan. Do you know what he writes in his magazine and many people contribute to his magazine?"

BUCHANAN: "I read Southern Partisan. And in my judgment, it's a good magazine, it's a fine magazine. And I have seen quotes from it that were thrown up to Senator McCain that he disagrees with and I would disagree with, just as I imagine editors of the New York Times would disagree with those ads in the New York Times from the head of North Korea praising the Communist regime."

RUSSERT: "But Southern Partisan magazine also sold different goods to people across the country. Had a catalog which they urged their readers to buy, so it would help support the magazine. This is one T-shirt they sold. It's Abraham Lincoln. You recognize Sic Semper Tyrannis. It's what John Wilkes Booth said when he assassinated the president."

BUCHANAN: "I think that's the motto of the state of Virginia, too. I'm not sure." [Editor's note: Pat had it right.]

RUSSERT: "Well, let me show you some bumper stickers here..."

BUCHANAN: "Sure."

RUSSERT "... and give you a sense of what else they were selling. 'If I had known this, I would have picked my own cotton.' 'Stop a riot, buy a gun.' 'Clinton's military, a gay at every porthole, a fag in every foxhole.' That's intemperate language, at least, Mr. Buchanan."

BUCHANAN: "Oh, it's more than intemperate. It's very nasty and it's very crude. It's John Rocker language, and we ought not to use it in public discourse... "

RUSSERT: "Why be associated with such a magazine?"

BUCHANAN: " Look, let me tell you something, Tim. I'm honorary editor of the Dartmouth Review. Every two years, I usually get a call from the New York Times. They say, "Are you an editor of the Dartmouth Review?" You know what I do? I slam down the phone, call up my friend [Professor] Jeff[rey] Hart, who's at Dartmouth, [and] I say, 'What did they do now?'"

BOB JONES, AGAIN

Moving right along, Russert, following a by-now-all-too-familiar script, proceeded on to Bob Jones University. His tone was curt, accusing: "You mentioned to us that you went to Bob Jones University and spoke." Pat's proud answer: "Twice." I very much hope that Ashcroft can stand up to this kind of withering, relentless interrogation, which is like something out of the Moscow Trials, but somehow I doubt he will acquit himself as well as Pat did.

WHO'S SORRY NOW?

Early on in that same interview, Russert cited Buchanan's "brothers on the right, William Bennett, William Safire, William F. Buckley, George Will" who "have all used very similar terms to describe you [as] fascist or anti-Semitic." These alleged conservatives turned on Buchanan when he dared challenge the old cold war conservative orthodoxy and called for a noninterventionist foreign policy: they gladly joined in the left-wing assault on Buchanan, and gleefully echoed the charge of the Left: that Buchanan is a racist homophobic hate-monger. But Ashcroft, on matters of domestic policy at any rate, is closer to Buchanan than he is to Bill Bennett, and I would go so far as to say that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between PJB and Bush's would-be AG. The same interest groups that targeted Buchanan now have Ashcroft in their sights: the black mis-leadership, the gays, the militant atheists, the feminists, and the professional "extremist"-hunters made into instant "experts" by the liberal media, such as Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates. Now that the same methods – and even the same recycled "evidence" – are being used against the Bush administration's appointees, the conservative defenders of Ashcroft are effectively disarmed. This is why Team Bush has been thrown on the defensive even before Inauguration Day.

BAD KARMA

So quit your crying, Bill Bennett, and stop whining about the "unfairness" of the slime now being slung at Ashcroft and at poor Gale Norton – she, too, it appears, has committed the hate crime of mentioning the Confederacy without pronouncing it anathema to all that's good and decent. You haven't got a leg to stand on, Bill, because you practically invented this kind of unfairness. You and your neoconservative buddies thought you could ally with the Left to purge the conservative movement, maligning your opponents on the right as little short of neo-Nazis on the basis of the flimsiest "evidence" and flat-out lies, taking quotes out of context, and indulging in the basest sort of guilt-by-association. You didn't just remain silent while this lynching was going on, you enthusiastically cooperated with the Left, egging on and loudly echoing the same interest groups that are now out for Ashcroft's scalp. Get off it, Bill, you guys pioneered this kind of stuff, and now – in a remarkable demonstration of the ancient Hindu concept of karmathe shit is blowing right back in your faces.

SINS OF THE FOUR BILLS

The Democrats are following a strategy identical to the one pursued by Tony Blair and New Labor in Merrie Olde England: as Antiwar.com columnist Emmanuel Goldstein has pointed out, the Blair method has been to smear his opponents as "extremists" and "racists" who are politically beyond the pale. In a 1999 speech to his Labor comrades, Blair defined the strategic objective of his party as an effort to "sweep away those forces of conservatism to set the people free." Part of this sweeping away process is to delegitimize anyone and everyone to your right as "extreme". "The forces of conservatism allied to racism are why one of the heroes of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, is dead," declaimed Blair, to thunderous applause. The Blair strategy might be summed up as the implementation of the Three D's: delegitimize, demonize, and destroy, That is what is happening in American politics today, and it didn't start with John Ashcroft. The neocons paid a high price for the attempted destruction of Pat Buchanan – unilateral disarmament in the face of a relentless smear attack. Too bad a nice guy like Ashcroft has to be sacrificed for the sins of the four Bills – Bennett, Kristol, Safire, and Buckley – but if his nomination comes out of this alive it will be no thanks to them.

THE BED OF PROCRUSTES

The lesson here, paraphrasing Father Martin Niemoller, is this: "First they came for the Buchananites, but I did nothing because I'm not a Buchananite. Then they came for the Christian Coalition, but I did nothing because I'm not a Christian. Then they came for the pro-lifers, but I did nothing because I'm a libertarian conservative. Finally, they came for me, but by then there was no one left to help me." In short, Bill, what goes around, comes around. You made Ashcroft's procrustean bed – and now every conservative who aspires to office, elected or appointed, has to sleep in it.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

 

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