ANTI-SEMITISM AND A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
Mar 11, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 25 • By NORMAN PODHORETZ
Aconsensus seems to be developing among conservatives opposed to Patrick J. Buchanan that the best way to express their opposition is to avoid "name- calling" and "ad hominem attacks," to treat him with "respect," to acknowledge the validity of the issues through which he seems to have struck a responsive chord, and to provide better solutions than his to the problems he has succeeded in placing at the very center of this presidential campaign.
In other words, we are to cease and desist from bringing up Buchanan's record of hostility toward Jews, and not only are we to stop denouncing him as an anti-Semite, we are even to avoid such euphemisms as "extremist" in describing that record.
A few of the people who offer us this counsel privately believe that Buchanan is an anti-Semite, but they think that saying so will at best do no good and at worst will drive his supporters out of the Republican coalition and make Bill Clinton's reelection even more probable than it already is. There are, however, others who, while sharing this fear of alienating Buchanan's constituency, at the same time flatly deny that he is an anti- Semite, or declare themselves unconvinced.
My own impolite opinion is that deep down (or maybe not so deep) many of these conservative denlets and putative skeptics know very well that Buchanan is an anti-Semite. But if so, why are they reluctant to admit it? One reason, ! would guess, is that they like his stand on abortion or some other issue and do not wish to see those stands tarnished by association with anti- Semitism. Another reason is that some of them may even be preparing to support him in the no longer inconceivable event that he becomes the Republican candidate for president in 1996--something they would be unable to bring themselves to do if they admitted, even or perhaps especially to themselves, that he is an anti-Semite.
Four years ago, the charge of anti-Semitism against Buchanan was so thoroughly documented in articles by ]oshua uraxzchik, ]acob Weisberg, William E Buckley, Jr., and others that no one who remained, or chose to remain, unpersuaded then is likely to be persuaded. Nevertheless it is important, if only for of mistaken identity, he would have been justified in claiming to have been right all along. In the course of those efforts, however, Buchanan went way beyond any such limited objective as protesting against a miscarraiage of justice.
For example, he pushed the crackpot theory that the exhaust from the diesel engines used in the Treblinka gas chambers did not "emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody." And in one of his columns, he endorsed the vile concept of a "Holocaust Survivors Syndrome" involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics." The implications were spelled out by Joshua Muravchik in an article in Commentary:
In short, Buchanan used the Demjanjuk case as a way of lending plausibility to the main contention of the blatantly anti-Semitic Holocaust revisionists-- that the number of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis had been vastly exaggerated.
Never, not once, did Buchanan retreat from or apologize for any of these anti-Semitic outbursts. On the contrary, falsely alleging that he was the victim of a "preplanned orchestrated smear campaign" by the Anti-Defamation League, he demanded that "the Jews" apologize to him. And only last week, when the Jewish Action Alliance challenged him to disavow his past anti- Semitic statements, he responded by accusing it of anti-Catholic bias.
Not so long ago the price of giving open expression to anti-Semitic ideas or sentiments was relegation to the margins of American political life. Certainly in the first three decades or so after World War II, no person who had said the things about Jews that Buchanan has said would have been considered fit for respectable political society, let alone qualified to run for high political offce. Yet Buchanan has emerged as a serious contender for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
Chances are that most of the voters now supporting Buchanan are unaware of his anti-Semitism. In 1992, when he was merely a protest candidate with little to lose, he defiantly adopted the slogan "America First," in full knowledge that the purpose of the original America First movement, founded in 1940, was in the short run to oppose American aid to the nations of Europe threatened by Nazi Germany and in the longer run to keep the United States from going to war against Hitler. (This identification with the America First movement casts a harsh light on his bizarre solicitude for Nazi war criminals. ) In 1996, he has been more cautious, and if his political fortunes keep improving he will probably become more cautious still: He may even stop pointing to identifiably Jewish names like Goldman Sachs, Greenspan, and Rubin gesthenever he attacks the Mexican bailout. It will, then, be up to others to make sure the voters know that this man appealing for their support in a bid for the presidency is an unrepentant anti-Semite.
We are told to treat Buchanan's supporters with respect, and it is precisely because I do respect them and share their concern over the moral condition of this country that I believe many of them would consider him morally unworthy of their respect if they became aware of his anti- Semitic record. But even if I am mistaken about this, avoiding the issue will still exact a heavy price from the conservative movement.
Buchanan's ideas about the economy and foreign policy are wrong and indeed dangerous, and even if he were not an anti-Semite, they would provide suffcient grounds for working against him. But he is an anti-Semite, which means that for conservatives to remain silent about it while opposing him only because he is a protectionist and an isolationist is inescapably to suggest that anti-Semitism is of no great importance as compared pared with these other issues. Conversely, conservatives who ignore or deny or forgive Buchanan's anti-Semitism because they favor the positions he takes on abortion or immigration bring disgrace upon those very causes by accepting such a man as their leading spokesman.
To say it again: The voters attracted to Buchanan deserve to be taken seriously, and the worries about our society that are driving them into his arms deserve to be addressed. But Buchanan himself deserves no such treatment from conservatives. What he deserves -- and what the honor of the conservative movement demands -- is that his anti-Semitism be taken seriously and that he be disqualified as a candidate because of it and because of it alone.
Norman Podhoretz, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, retire last year after 35 years as editor in chief of Commentary magazine. Among his writings on anti-semitism are the articles "J'Accuse" (1982 about Isreal and the war in Lebanon) and "The Hate Taht Dare NOt Speak Its Name" (1986, about Gore Vidal).