By Alter, Jonathan
Newsweek , Vol. 134, No. 14
In 1996, I saw Pat Buchanan give his brilliant "peasants with pitchforks" speech at a crowded Sunday rally in New Hampshire. Although he's a phony populist--he supports windfall tax cuts for the rich--the name "Pitchfork Pat" stuck. But after last week, Buchanan will forever be "Crackpot Pat," the man who managed, at his moment of maximum leverage over the American political system, to dishonor "the greatest generation."
Give John McCain credit for shrewd deployment of principle: he calmly derided Buchanan's views on World War II and said he had no place in the Republican Party. George W. Bush, choosing his political hide over bedrock historical principle, urged Buchanan to stay loyal to the GOP. Pat blew a gasket and demanded an apology from McCain. Like all bullies, Buchanan goes to pieces when confronted with a fraction of the abuse he heaps on other people every day. If he leaves the Republicans and gets under the hood with Ross Perot, which is now likely, he won't be as big a spoiler as he seemed to be just a couple of weeks ago.
I actually thought McCain was too easy on Buchanan. Pat is a charming man off camera, kind to his wife and co-workers; Adolf was a vegetarian, kind to pets. Comparing Buchanan to Hitler? Awfully low blow.
Well, not really, at least not according to Buchanan. In his view, communism was much worse than fascism, which means that Nazi comparisons should be less insulting to him than his long history of Red-baiting was to his targets. Besides, Buchanan believes Hitler had his good side: "Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core," he once wrote in his newspaper column, "he was also an individual of great courage... His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality, that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path." Note that Buchanan didn't call him an "evil genius," just a genius. Nowhere in his writings could I find Buchanan condemning Hitler with anywhere near the venom he reserves for, say, Franklin Roosevelt.
Buchanan's critique of Western leaders wouldn't be so crazy if the "mushiness" he decried was appeasement. But we learn in "A Republic, Not an Empire," his new isolationist tour of American history, that he thinks the Allies should have done less to stop Hitler. He argues that Great Britain and France should not have declared war when Germany attacked independent Poland in 1939, that Hitler after 1940 posed "no physical threat" to "vital American interests" and sought only "mastery of Europe," which was apparently none of our business. All of this is conveyed in the guise of careful revisionist history, but the thrust is unmistakable--that the Allies should have let Hitler sweep eastward and smash Bolshevism. …