October 29, 1999


The smears keep coming – our elites, in media and politics, have whipped themselves up into such a frenzy about Patrick J. Buchanan that they can hardly let a day go by without unleashing yet another fusillade. The reason is all too apparent: for, while there are many conservative politicians of one stripe or another, and these do not usually fare too well in the liberal media, the special hatred of PJB and his Buchanan Brigades is reserved for those who dare to challenge our bipartisan policy of global interventionism. The liberal elites are willing to forgive or overlook practically anything: you could be a drunk, a cokehead, or a philanderer of major proportions, but for God's sake don't let them catch you saying we ought not to expand NATO, don't even think of saying that we should stop meddling in the Middle East, and please restrain yourself from questioning the rationale for the Kosovo war. For then the knives will really come out, and you can expect no mercy.


What is truly astonishing is the sheer volume of literature that this controversy has generated: what we are seeing is the creation of a whole new literary genre, the Pat Smear, which seems to be taking the punditocracy by storm. As the genre has grown, with new works being published every day – indeed, it often seems like every hour – the phenomenon has evolved into something more complex. Sub-genres have appeared, variations on the basic theme of Pat as the reincarnation of Hitler, as the Art of Smearing Pat becomes more sophisticated and reaches new heights – or is that depths?


My least favorite is the Basic Pat Smear, exemplified by the frothy-mouthed raving of the New York Post. In style and content, the rantings of editorial chieftain John Podhoretz and his crew resemble nothing so much as PM, published by Marshall Fields in the 1930s, the long-defunct left-wing New York City newspaper which spent much newsprint attacking isolationists – and, not coincidentally, extolling the virtues of the Soviet Union. With Murdoch's deep pockets, however – considerably deeper than Fields' – the Post is unfortunately unlikely to meet a similarly deserved fate anytime in the near future. At any rate, PM's method was simple: link the America Firsters to Nazism in the crudest terms imaginable, by simple repetition. Tearing a leaf from the book of Nazi propaganda as written by Goebbels and Julius Streicher, the idea was to keep repeating a theme so crudely and relentlessly that it becomes accepted as "fact" by default. The Post employs this method expertly, and as example of the Basic Pat Smear we have a veritable masterpiece in the vitriolic Andrea Peyser, who opines:

"Patrick Buchanan is a Ku Klux Klansman who masks his identity behind a smile and a wink instead of a hood. He is an urbane Khalid Muhammad, David Duke with a pedigree. Lately, we've hollered until we're hoarse over the handful of crazies who've managed to grab the microphone in our midst. In the meantime, Buchanan – a racist who scapegoats Jews for leading America down a path of destruction – has been skulking in the daylight of America's mainstream."


After wiping the spittle off your face, look at the above paragraph and see how the Basic Pat Smear operates. First rule: never offer any proof for your basic thesis. It is a given that Pat is evil incarnate, and any attempt to justify or offer even a shred of evidence will only hold you back from your main objective: to smear. Besides, whom are you trying to impress? Do you think a bunch of college professors are reading a newspaper that is two-fifths gossip, two-fifths sports, with the rest divvied up between ads and propaganda?


What is really amazing about this particular article, aside from the fact that it manages to use up the entire repertoire of epithets beloved by the Smear Pat Brigade, is its obliviousness to reality. Blinded by her hate for Pat, her mind clouded by her own vitriol, Ms. Peyser reveals an astonishing fact, quoting Anti-Defamation League official Abe Foxman as saying:

"Pat Buchanan is personally responsible for my being appointed to the United States Holocaust Museum Council. What makes him even more dangerous is that he's – quote, unquote – 'a nice guy.' Some of his best friends are Jews."


As an example of how deluded some in the Smear Pat Brigade can get, we are being asked to believe that Buchanan personally intervening on behalf of Foxman – when he was being blackballed because he is a Democrat – is evidence of . . . anti-Semitism! But how on earth can this be? Where oh where is the logic in it? And how about that for gratitude?! Abe, you oughtta hang your head in shame.


According to Foxman and Peyser, Abe got his dander up over Pat's opposition to the Gulf War, and wrote him a note about it. "He writes back, 'C'mon, Abe, don't defend Congress. You know what it's like!'" "He's a nice guy," says Honest Abe, but this, too, is not good, according to Peyser and Foxman. For it masks his inner evil. Buchanan, in their eyes, is guilty of the one sin which cannot be forgiven: he won't apologize for identifying foreign lobbyists as the spearhead of the effort to drag us into war with Iraq – and exposing their continuing role as the advance guard of the War Party. And so here's how it works: it doesn't matter what you've done for Foxman in the past. This doesn't give you any credit or accumulation of good will. What Abe wants to know is, what can you do for me today – and if you can't, or won't, then you're an anti-Semite.


The problem with the Post School of Pat Smearing, however, is that it is a strictly regional phenomenon: after all, where else, outside of New York City, would Foxman be considered anything other than a complete ingrate? This leaves the field wide open for various other schools of Pat Smearing, some operating on a somewhat higher level: no less vicious, but far more subtle. This is really such a vast topic, that I could not possibly deal with it in a single column: the inventiveness of the smear artists (some of the best and highest paid in the business) knows no bounds. Today, however, we will examine what is to me the most fascinating and exotic sub-genre of Pat Smearing, the Smear by Historical Analogy School.


Of course, comparing Pat to Hitler is a really crude sort of historical analogy. For all those college professors out there, who are not so susceptible to suggestion as the masses, a more sophisticated analogy is required; and so, instead of Hitler, Buchanan is compared to lesser-known figures from the same period, such as the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin. Now, the Coughlin analogy is not really new: back in 1992, Jacob Weisberg and the editorial writers at The New Republic really brought the genre to its full development, with scores of articles in which much was made of the alleged similarities between Buchanan, the star of Crossfire, and Coughlin, the "radio priest" of the 1930s. But the analogy is revived each time Buchanan decides it's time to call out his Brigades and "ride to the sound of the guns" and consequently the genre is enjoying a revival. The basic line was most recently trotted out by Mark F. Nolan, a columnist for the Boston Globe, in "The Last Coughlinite" [October 20, 1999], who wrote:

"The pastor from Royal Oak, Mich., and the polemicist from McLean, Va., derived their fame from the airwaves, not the voters. Their charm and certitude masked a combativeness that soon degenerated into venomous crankiness. Coughlin was ''the radio priest,'' a star on CBS in its infancy. When Ted Turner was building CNN, Buchanan was a glib content provider."


And so here is what Coughlin and Buchanan have in common: charm, certitude, and access to a microphone. But so what? Is that it? Notice how vague is the reader's introduction to the Rev. Charles Coughlin. Like Buchanan, we are told, he was "venomous." But how? Nolan cites the historian David M. Kennedy as saying that Coughlin was a "demagogue" who used radio to stand out from among "the legions of radicals and demagogues and nostrum-mongers and just plain crackpots who flourished in the heated atmosphere of the Depression." This quote – the use of the word "radical" – gives us just a small hint of what is wrong with this line of argument – but how many are likely to follow it up? The authors of these screeds are omnivorous when it comes to plundering history for their political purposes. The name of Coughlin is thrown in there, along with Hitler, Franco, and David Duke, as just another epithet in the arsenal of hate. But who was Coughlin, and what did he advocate?


Charles Coughlin first rose to public notice and political prominence as a fanatically left-wing supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He made long, fervent speeches, with titles like "Roosevelt or Ruin!" and declared to his growing band of followers that "The New Deal is Christ's Deal." Alan Brinkley, in Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression (1982), notes that Coughlin gushed about "how inspiring" it was "to sense the atmosphere in every member of the [Roosevelt] Government from the head of the Cabinet down to the lowliest officer!" He was in constant communication with the White House in the early 1930s, making his last visit there in 1936. While he denounced Communism, he was in effect a socialist. The platform of Coughlin's organization, the National Union for Social Justice, advocated "nationalizing those public resources which by their very nature are too important to be held in the control of private individuals" and "the conscription of wealth as well as the conscription of men" in wartime. In a slogan grown familiar over the years on account of endless repetition by socialists, Coughlin averred that "I believe in preferring the sanctity of human rights to the sanctity of property rights." Add to this a guaranteed annual income, a staunch defense of the National Recovery Act, and vehement opposition to Prohibition, and you have Coughlin's politics, which were unmistakably left-wing and generally recognized as such at the time.


And so here we come into the first big problem with the Coughlin/Buchanan analogy, and that is that Coughlin came from the far Left – from an explicitly anti-capitalist albeit entirely homegrown left-wing populism. Coughlin broke with FDR, not over the war, but because the President failed to enact the economic revolution promised in his speeches. While praising FDR for "driving the moneychangers out of the temple" Coughlin was soon disappointed by the fact that, as he put it, "somehow or other, the cards dealt by the New Deal contained the same joker, the same hidden cards that were found in the old deal." To "the disappointment of millions," he averred, "Mr. Roosevelt's Administration had salvaged private banking and set it upon its feet." ["Two Years of the New Deal," March 3, 1935.]


The key to understanding Coughlin's thought is that he was, more than anything, what is known as a money crank. The program and literature of the National Union for Social Justice mentions the need for a "government-owned central bank" as the one key demand of the Coughlinites, and this was the subject of countless sermons: It seemed to him that the Federal Reserve System, a system of private banks, was "undemocratic": what he proposed was that the Board be elected by the people, with one representative from each state. Coughlin also called for the remonetization of silver and, in effect, for an inflationary policy, as had the Greenbacks and Populists before him. But what has any of this got to do with Pat Buchanan, anyway? The answer is: nothing.


Unlike Coughlin, Pat never attacked private banking as oppressive per se, and, last I heard, had yet to come out for the long-lost cause of Free Silver. And while I am almost sure that Buchanan has his own critique of the Federal Reserve, it is hard to imagine him calling on Alan Greenspan to stand for election.


Motivated by his obsessive focus on "the moneychangers," the left-wing Coughlin became progressively less enamored of his hero, FDR, and began to move in a new direction. Soon, he was excoriating "the Warburgs and the Kuhn-Loebs" – although always careful to throw in the occasional reference to "the Morgans" as the secret manipulators of the nation's misery. Just as, in Germany, many former members of the Stalinized Communist Party became ardent Nazis, so in the US a smaller number of leftists moved in the direction of fascism and national socialism, including Dr. Francis E. Townsend, author of the "Townsend Old Age Revolving Pension Plan," a leftist nostrum of the day, and Senator Huey Long, whose base in the Democratic Party for a while threatened to overtake FDR's. While the ideologically leftist leaders, such as Norman Thomas and the Farmer Labor Party hierarchy, denounced both Coughlin and Long, as Alan Brinkley points out they had a very hard time keeping their followers from joining these "demagogues." Coughlin's demagoguery was none too different from their own.


Nolan, the historical ignoramus, writes that "Coughlinism resonates on every page of Buchanan's A Republic, Not An Empire, a treatise that tries to make isolationism not only respectable but mandatory. In his distinctively argumentative prose, Pat reduces figures in history to stick figures and hapless ideologues. Henry Clay, welcome to Crossfire." Yet Nolan reduces Coughlin to a stick figure, giving us almost no solid information except that the radio priest was anti-Semitic and "isolationist." But Coughlin's isolationism, as Alan Brinkley points out, was less wedded to a principled opposition to internationalism than it was, toward the end, by open admiration for Hitler's Germany and "the corporate state" – in the name of "social justice," of course. Coughlin was a left-wing priest, who took seriously the anticapitalist "liberation theology" of his day – Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, or On the Condition of the Working Class – became a leading and powerful supporter of the most left-wing President in American history, and then began to move (with perfect consistency) toward national socialism.


On the other hand, Buchanan comes from an entirely different tradition, not the party of FDR but the party of Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater (circa 1964). While Nolan is quick to note that the Union Party platform warned against "entangling alliances," the original authors of that particular bit of advice were none other than the Founding Fathers. (The national platforms of the two major parties also contained similar language, and none were more isolationist than Roosevelt, who pledged "again and again and again" that "I will not take your boys into war.") Pat's legacy can be traced back not to the obscure ramblings of the Radio Priest, but to the prescient insights of the conservatives and "isolationists" of yesteryear – the men and women of the Old Right, who fought against Roosevelt and his wartime dictatorship. This is the heritage we defend, and the Smear Brigade is determined to undermine and destroy it with such devices as the Coughlin Analogy. What the charlatan "historians" of Nolan's caliber are depending on is the nearly universal ignorance of most people on the rather abstruse subject of Father Coughlin. But even the most casual student of the Radio Priest's life and belief system soon discovers that, far from being similar, Buchanan and Coughlin are in many ways opposites: for "the corporate state" is indeed the antipode of the decentralized, de-federalized America Pat Buchanan envisions.


But anyone who is deceived into thinking for a moment that we have exhausted our critique of the Smear by Historical Analogy has grievously underestimated the productivity and ingenuity of the Smear Brigade – these guys are nothing if not prolific. Alas, the hour is late, and there is no time to examine Geoffey Wheatcroft's screed, "America's Christian Socialist," in the Wall Street Journal, another major literary factory of Anti-Buchananiana. Wheatcroft's smear technique is truly innovative, and takes the historical analogist school of slander one step beyond the Father Coughlin gambit in unearthing an even more obscure historical figure – none other than Karl Lueger, "the mayor of Vienna 100 years ago" who was "anticapitalist, antiliberal, and anti-Semitic"! Good Lord! Is there to be no end to this little game, in which the smear-mongers cite ever more obscure figures out of their rogues gallery? Is the task of exploding their lies never done?


Well, then, why should anybody care? I have said it before and will say it again: because this is a test case. The idea is that anyone who is an "isolationist" (i.e. a non-interventionist) is to be driven out of American politics, and, not only that, but forever branded as an ideological outlaw, to be shunned, demonized, and eventually silenced. Whatever disagreements one may have with Buchanan, all advocates of a peaceful and indeed a rational foreign policy must certainly agree that this must not be allowed to happen. That is why I have spent the last few columns on this subject. For all opponents of war, for leftists, greens, pacifists, and independents, as well as libertarians and conservative opponents of intervention, the demonization of Buchanan means the exclusion of all non-interventionists from the public debate over the foreign policy of our nation. If Buchanan can be exiled to the fever swamps, and relentlessly smeared for daring to question our policy of global intervention, then who among us is safe? The concerted attack on Buchanan is meant to close off the possibility of any meaningful discussion on the most vital issue of the day: it is meant to clear the decks for the next war, and nip the opposition in the bud. And that cannot be allowed to happen – not as long as Antiwar.com holds high the banner of "isolationism" (i.e. peace) in cyberspace.


I cannot resist adding this little item, found on Frontpage, the cyber-journal of David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Here is the Frontpage "Quote of the Day" from yesterday;

"Members and front organizations must continually embarrass, discredit, and degrade our critics. When obstructionists become too irritating, label them as fascist or Nazi or anti-Semitic. Constantly associate those who oppose us with those names that already have a bad smell. The association will, after enough repetition, become 'fact' in the public mind."

~ Central Committee of the Communist Party, 1943, in an instruction sent to Communists around the world. Quotation courtesy of FrontPage reader Michael Koller."

This is a great quote – it sounds like the instructions issued by the High Command of the Smear Pat Brigade to their servitors in the media. The irony is that Horowitz has himself been the most dependable smearer of Buchanan on the Internet (yes, even more so than Salon). Frontpage has run practically every smear of Pat – including the "Christian Socialist" article mentioned above and the Norman Podhoretz piece debunked in my last column – no matter how mindless and vicious it may be. What is especially striking, here, is the unconsciousness of the irony – Horowitz doesn't even realize how or why this little gem of a quote underscores his own hypocrisy. The good news is that plenty of his readers will not be so oblivious. Hats off to Michael Koller for (perhaps inadvertently) hoisting Horowitz on his own petard.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, “China and the New Cold War”

“Behind the Headlines” appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

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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 U.S. 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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