“Are you a racist, Pat?”
I asked Buchanan that question because MSNBC took him off the air recently. The network’s president said “the ideas he [Buchanan] put forth [in a book published late last year] aren’t really appropriate for national dialogue, much less the dialogue on MSNBC…some of his ideas are alarming.”
Those ideas include Buchanan writing that “white anger is a legitimate response to racial injustices done to white people.”
Buchanan also expresses regret over the rising number of immigrants and minorities in the U.S. He also defiantly responds to former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s charge that the GOP has become America’s ‘White Party.’ Why, writes Buchanan, should “Republicans be ashamed to represent the progeny of the men who founded, built and defended America since her birth as a nation?”
Buchanan also makes the case against Asians and Jews holding so many seats at top colleges “while white Christians are always under-represented.”
That kind of writing led MSNBC’s executives to conclude that Buchanan’s writings fed racial resentments.
But does that make Buchanan an outright racist who deserves to be banned from the airwaves?
So I asked him face-to-face: “Are you a racist, Pat?”
“What does racism mean?” he replied. “Do I hate black folks? That’s what racism means – I hate black folks [and] I want them discriminated against. You know, I dislike them. I use bad words with them.
“No, it’s not that! I do disagree profoundly with the affirmative action agenda and a number of other issues. But I’ve argued, as I have said, with African-American folks my whole life.”
In today’s divided, boxed-in and angry political climate, speaking your mind on race, gay rights, immigration and anything to do with religion or sex can get you fired. Even worse, that label can follow you, closing doors. Who wants to deal with a bitter, hateful man, a bigot?
That is a devastating charge – I know it first hand.
While stressing the need to be tolerant of Muslim Americans to Bill O’Reilly in 2010, I admitted that after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, I sometimes get nervous when I see people dressed in Muslim garb boarding airplanes.
I was subsequently fired from National Public Radio. Their management labeled me a bigot, a psycho and a bad journalist for expressing an honest feeling.
Ever since then, I am especially sensitive to people – whether they be liberal or conservative -- who are smeared and fired for speaking honestly about how they think and feel.
I wrote a best-selling book last year, “Muzzled: the Assault on Honest Debate,” that described and explained how the politically correct police have taken over our discourse and made it all the more difficult to debate our nation’s problems in order to find solutions.
So, when I heard that MSNBC had ended its relationship with Buchanan after ten years because they felt his book, “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025,” had crossed the line into racism I wanted to know more.
I have often disagreed with Buchanan when the issue is race. We co-hosted CNN’s "Crossfire" years ago with Buchanan, on the right and me, on the left.
Even then his views on race struck me as fearful that immigrants and minorities are taking America away from whites.
Buchanan has always left me with the impression that he is an older white man who wonders what happened to the America he grew up in -- the 90 percent white America of the 1950s before the civil rights movement; the land of "Ozzie and Harriet," with women at home and men in power
And in the book he confirms my perception of him.
He writes that “Mexico is moving north,” and wonders if white America’s “passivity in the face of this invasion imperiled our union?”
He worries over seeing Mexican-Americans rooting for the Mexican soccer team when they played the U.S. team in Los Angeles.
Buchanan tries and fails to make the case that black people and white people had better relations during the days of racial segregation. And he also wrote critically about white people who supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election.
He did not say that the 43 percent of white voters who backed the president are traitors to their race but he said they were “deluding themselves” and that those “whites may discover what it is like to ride in the back of the bus.”
According to Buchanan, MSNBC severed ties with him because of pressure from liberal and some Jewish organizations.
In recent years, far-left activists who pose as media watchdogs have waged campaigns against media organizations in order to pressure them into fire their conservative commentators. Media Matters for American and Color of Change are two of the most notorious culprits.
“Some of these organizations that monitor every word you say and then they work [day] and night and they say 'get rid of him, get rid of his column, don’t let him speak at this convention,' they’re basically blacklisting organizations” he argued in our interview.
“They use the smear and they stigmatize you and then they move to silence and frankly censor and blacklist you so you can’t work again. This is the problem with censorship. They’re not afraid of me…They are afraid of some of your ideas being accepted and embraced by people who read it and say he’s got some good points” he added.
While I strongly disagree with Buchanan’s book, I believe he was treated unfairly by MSNBC. His removal from their airwaves does a disservice to the national conversation.
Say what you will about Buchanan’s racial attitudes, he is not alone.
And it is important to have open, honest conversations about the daily shift in the nation’s racial make-up, the increasing number of immigrants, and the changing role of women. Banning the Pat Buchanans of the world from the airwaves and sending them into hiding will only generate further resentments that eventually boil over into far more dangerous, coded talk about race, as well as outright racial incidents including expressions of anger, fear and discrimination.
I want Pat Buchanan on television – making his case in the marketplace of ideas -- so that people like me can tell him when he is wrong. By the same token, I want conservatives of his conviction, experience and intellect on television challenging me and my ideas.
I agree with the French philosopher Voltaire first who famously declared “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend, to the death, your right to say it.”
Welcome to the club, Pat, you are among friends.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His most recent book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.