Far be it from me to defend Pat Buchanan, but I don’t think critics of his attack on the Elena Kagan nomination understand what makes it so objectionable.
The fast version of Buchanan’s Kagan column (available at WorldNet Daily) is this: By failing to nominate WASPs, or white ethnics who aren’t Jews, Democrats have sacrificed true diversity in favor of an ideology that the country has “never voted for.”
Critics objected to this specific line: “If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.
“Is this the Democrats’ idea of diversity?”
In a statement, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called Buchanan a “recidivist anti-Semite who never misses an opportunity to show his fangs. His remarks about the Jewish background of Elena Kagan and the religious makeup of the Supreme Court are bigoted and unacceptable in a pluralistic society such as ours.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) called it “outrageous that Mr. Buchanan is using Elena Kagan’s religion as kindling to enflame opposition to her nomination.”
What’s unfair to Buchanan (ouch — that was a painful phrase to write) is that he’s hardly the first commentator to note, puzzle over, and even lament the lack of Protestants on a court with six Catholics and possibly three Jews. As Boston University prof Stephen Prothero told The Boston Globe, “I think it’s a pity to have only two religious traditions represented on the court.”
That doesn’t sound like bigotry. It’s the mirror image of the conversation we might be having if there were no blacks on the court, or no Jews, and of the ways so many of us celebrated the idea of the first Hispanic justice. Buchanan isn’t a bigot in pointing out the new religious alignment, and he’s not necessarily bigoted in objecting to it.
I think we should be able to discuss religion and ethnicity, and even generalize about them, without being accused of prejudice. Hell, it’s a time-honored Jewish pastime. Norman Podhoretz, the dean of the neocons, wrote a book called Why Are Jews Liberals? He wasn’t being bigoted — he was noting a tendency among Jews and exploring it (in his case, railing against it). We Jews tell ourselves that we are hard-working, intellectually curious, big believers in higher education, and relatively abstemious when it comes to alcohol. And poll after poll confirms that a majority of Jews vote Democratic or hold values that are more liberal than conservative.
I am also willing to forgive a little ethnic solidarity, even chauvinism, among WASP court-watchers, because we’re often guilty of the same thing. It’s not bigoted to want to see one of your own on the court. Before it became relatively old hat, we Jews rejoiced in the nomination of Jewish justices because it suggested we had arrived, it sounded the death knell of institutional anti-Semitism, and it provided a role model for our young. And it’s relatively easy to find Jewish historians and commentators who feel that diversity — of religion, experience, gender, and ethnicity — enhances the court’s decision-making and reflects well on the country as a whole.
If Buchanan were merely making that argument — that the court suffers by not reflecting a wider range of American religions, including that practiced by the majority — I’d absolve him of all charges of bigotry.
But Buchanan wouldn’t be Buchanan if he stopped there. What makes him sound less like Prothero and more like, say, Father Coughlin, is how his defense of diversity quickly devolves into a specific attack on the ideology he identifies most eagerly with Jews. About halfway through his piece, he’s no longer worried that the court has stopped representing America’s religious diversity. Rather he’s apoplectic that Liberals Nominate Liberals.
A writer lacking Buchanan’s nativist, bigoted ideology might have separated the argument about religion and ideology, perhaps writing halfway down, “But it’s not the lack of religious diversity that should concern us — rather, it’s the lack of ideological diversity.”
But Buchanan, let’s remember, not only couldn’t care less about diversity, he abhors the very notion. He’s the guy who once argued, in a piece on the Virginia Tech shootings (!), that America was a “better, safer, freer, happier, more united and caring country…before, against our will, we became what Theodore Roosevelt called a ‘polyglot boarding house for the world.’”
And that’s Buchanan’s real program. An Irish Catholic who feels the country should have locked its doors the day after his people stepped off the boat, Buchanan is really arguing against the “polyglot cultures” that import their alien ideals and spread them through their “elite” institutions.
And chief among them are the Jews, with — to use words that pepper his essay — their elitist-Ivy League-leftist-radical-New York liberalism with its alien, even socialist, ideology. And did I mention that Kagan’s Jewish?
Buchanan doesn’t care that there might be three Jewish justices on the court. For Buchanan, one seems too many. What makes him a bigot is not the fact that he talks about religious and ethnic differences — it’s that he honestly believes that religious and ethnic diversity, represented by the Jews, has ruined this country.