Monday, July 20, 2009

Daily Kos: The intellectual dishonesty of Pat Buchanan

by Jed Lewison

Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 07:00:05 PM PDT

There's much to be said about the shocking display of racism exhibited by Pat Buchanan on MSNBC over the past few days, but let's take a look at the accuracy and relevance of the three of the claims he made yesterday on Rachel Maddow's show.

Buchanan made the claim while attempting to explain why 108 of 110 Supreme Court justices have been white. As you'll see, he's every bit as intellectually dishonest as he is racist.

Buchanan claimed: White men were 100% of people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg

In the strictest sense, this claim is not true -- at least one black solider was killed at Gettysburg. But even though the claim is nearly true, it's intellectually dishonest to claim that it is relevant.

The implicit argument offered by Buchanan is that African-Americans sat on the sidelines during the Civil War. The reality, however, is that by the end of the war, 10% of the Union army was black. 200,000 Union soldiers were black and 38,000 died. Moreover, at the onset of the war, much of the African-American population was enslaved.

Buchanan's claim is a rhetorical attempt to claim moral superiority for whites, but the flip-side of his claim undercuts its absurdity: were it not for racist whites (like Buchanan, who undoubtedly would have sided with the Confederacy), we would never have had a civil war in the first place.

Buchanan claimed: White men were close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy

The 320th Antiaircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion at Normandy
The 320th Antiaircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion at Normandy

As the above picture shows, Buchanan's claim is wrong. Not only did 2,000 African-Americans storm the beaches of Normandy, but 1.2 million blacks served in World War II. Moreover, it's important to remember that during this time, black soldiers were segregated from white. So even if Buchanan's claim were true, the reason would have been traceable to institutionalized racism, not the moral superiority of white people.

Starting with the Korean War, the U.S. government began tracking deaths by race. Those numbers also refute Buchanan's general claim: in the Korean War, whites comprised 80% of the war dead. In Vietnam, it was 86%. In the first Gulf War it was 76%. So Buchanan's 100% claim just doesn't add up.

Buchanan claimed: This has been a country built, basically, by white folks

Buchanan primarily based this assertion on the above two claims plus the obviously true claim that the authors of the Constitution and the signers of the Declaration of Independence were white men.

Aside from the intellectual dishonesty of his military claims, Buchanan ignores the massive contributions of non-whites to America's development. He offers no recognition to the slaves whose labor was essential for such a long period of time and he fails to address contributions made by other immigrant groups such as Chinese-Americans who helped build the rail system, or Latinos who are an important part of the agricultural economy today.

Perhaps the real problem with Pat Buchanan's narrative of America is that he views everything through a racial and ethnic filter. We're all in this thing together, and the last thing we need is to exacerbate the racial and ethnic divisions in America. Rejecting the anger and hatred and lies at the heart of Pat Buchanan's world view won't magically those divisions, but it sure would be a major step in the right direction.

Update (7:42PM) -- This post isn't intended to be an exhaustive refutation of Buchanan's intellectual dishonesty, but a reader reminded me of an important point that warrants this update: it would be impossible to do conduct an honest and accurate history of America without recognizing the brutal treatment of Native Americans.

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