Embrace Buchanan? Dishonor Thy Father

Among the monuments on the lawn behind the Texas Capitol building is a pair of big, shiny marble tablets commemorating the Ten Commandments. Gov. George W. Bush probably sees them occasionally, whenever he is in Austin. Even if he hasn’t glanced at those lawn tablets lately, the Texas Governor is a devout born-again Methodist and probably has a copy of the Old Testament lying around somewhere.

After his recent plea to Patrick Buchanan to remain a Republican, however, Mr. Bush may need to review again those injunctions translated from the ancient Hebrew–especially the one that comes fifth in my edition of the King James Bible. He seems to have misremembered that particular Godly instruction as “dishonor thy father.” For when the Republican front-runner chose not to criticize Mr. Buchanan’s attempt to rewrite Hitler’s role in history, his worst sin was to dishonor his own father, along with all the brave men and women who fought the Good War.

The only truly moving passages in his father’s 1988 campaign autobiography, Looking Forward , are the elder Bush’s recollections of his wartime service as a Navy pilot, his memories of a generation threatened by fascism and their euphoria when victory finally came. George Herbert Walker Bush must be a little dismayed by Dubya’s feeble effort to “unite the Republican Party” by placating Mr. Buchanan.

The Bushes are supposed to be above the appeals to ethnic prejudice that are the subtext of the Buchanan message. The “old man,” as his sons call him, tried to distance himself from the racist implications of the notorious Willie Horton commercials in 1988. As President four years later, Mr. Bush inadvertently stirred up latent anti-Semitism when he complained at a press conference about the power of the Israel lobby on Capitol Hill. Appalled by the flood of Jew-baiting mail he received at the White House, he apologized personally to the leaders of Jewish organizations.

Contemplating the prospect of a Buchanan candidacy on the Reform Party ticket, however, the son appears to have little patience for the scruples of his father. Although the spin from Dubya’s advisers is that they aren’t worrying about Mr. Buchanan draining any significant number of votes from their man in November 2000, he is behaving as if he worries about nothing else. Clearly he is more concerned about the political impact of Mr. Buchanan than he is about being associated with the closest approximation to a fascist in mainstream American politics.

Is it really necessary to rehearse once more the many reasons why Mr. Buchanan ought to be invited briskly to leave the Republican Party, rather than begged ineffectually to remain loyal? Evidently the answer is Yes, if only to advance the moral education of George W. Bush.

Mr. Buchanan’s defenders, who now include columnists Robert Novak and William F. Buckley Jr., have gone so far as to insist that the Republican apostate’s attempted rewriting of the history of World War II was done in good faith. They claim that his suggestion of a Western entente with the Nazis is merely evidence of laudable zeal against Stalinism.

But the deeper, uglier truth about Mr. Buchanan’s politics is recorded in his copious writings and speeches. He has rarely hesitated to defend fascists of any stripe, from the dictatorships of Francisco Franco, Augusto Pinochet and Saddam Hussein, to the Greek junta and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Mr. Buchanan’s ambivalence about Hitler is hardly of recent vintage. Fifteen years ago, he wrote the nauseating statement given by Ronald Reagan at the German military cemetery in Bitburg, which proclaimed that the SS murderers buried there were “victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.” As an influential figure in the Reagan Administration, he demanded the Justice Department shut down the Office of Special Investigations, whose mission is to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Serving as the spearhead of a campaign against the O.S.I. by Eastern European émigré organizations, he denounced the Government’s Nazi-hunters as a “shark force … running down 70-year-old camp guards,” and mocked “all this wallowing in the atrocities of a dead regime.”

But none of this is news. Everyone knows that Mr. Buchanan has repeatedly earned the disdain of decent conservatives, a sentiment articulated forcefully in recent days by John McCain, Elizabeth Dole and a spokesman for Steve Forbes. Unfortunately, what has emanated from the mouth of Dubya concerning Mr. Buchanan sounded more wimpish than pragmatic.

“I don’t want Pat Buchanan to leave the party,” he said on Sept. 25. “I think it’s important, should I be the nominee, to unite the Republican Party. I’m going to need every vote I can get among Republicans to win the election.” Of course Mr. Buchanan laughed in his face.

But every vote certainly is what matters to Dubya and nothing more–no matter what the price to his father’s legacy and his own self-respect. At least now we know what kind of leadership to expect from the son of that old Navy pilot.