The hot talk among journalists and politics-minded intellectuals -- in case you are not aware of it -- is of Abe Rosenthal's column in The New York Times on Sept. 14 in which he, well, reads Patrick Buchanan out of civilized society.
What he says, flatly, is that Buchanan's statements about the U.S. intervention in Saudi Arabia, combined with other positions he has taken dating back to his defense of President Reagan's visit to Bitburg, are the work of an antisemitic mind. Rosenthal goes so far as to suggest that the kind of thing Buchanan says can lead to Auschwitz, and that he, Rosenthal, isn't going to let him get away with it, because he is guided by a famous moral injunction, delivered by Jesus on the cross, on which Rosenthal improvises exactly to reverse its meaning, which becomes now, "Forgive them not, Father, for they know what they did."
Now the charge is very serious, and the accuser and the accused are prominent members of the journalistic community. I write as a friend of both, though I have experienced A. M. Rosenthal, as it happens, 10 times as frequently as Pat Buchanan, notwithstanding that Buchanan and I have occupied the same ideological foxhole since he became old enough to bear arms. I need to say this about the two gentlemen. About Rosenthal, that he has always walked about in rooms in which customized tripwires wait confidently to ignite his footloose emotional gyrations, and when he comes upon them, the resulting explosion knows no conventional limits. I deem his attack on Pat Buchanan to be an example of Rosenthal gone ballistic.
And I deem Buchanan to be insensitive to those fine lines that tend publicly to define racially or ethnically offensive analysis or rhetoric.
Every one of Pat Buchanan's positions touching on Israel, weighted discretely, is not difficult to defend -- until his most recent one. It is unquestionably the case that Israel's political influence is out of proportion to Israel's strategic importance to the United States. It is certainly arguable that Reagan's decision to visit Bitburg was in the circumstances prudent. And it is conceivable that the defendant Demjanjuk, recently tried in Israel as a war criminal, is actually the wrong man. But these antecedent positions, joined now with Buchanan's statement, "There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East -- the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States" -- invite a cumulative judgment. One is that Buchanan reveals himself as an arrant antisemite -- Rosenthal's verdict; the second (the overwhelming favorite), that Buchanan is attracted to mischievous generalizations.
It is simply a fact that independent analysts who are neither Jewish nor Israeli-bonded enthusiastically endorse George Bush's policies. The same day that Rosenthal wrote, Buchanan also wrote -- a column in which he recorded that "among those cheering loudest the 'new international order' is the conservative National Review, our old friends and new critics, who dismiss us now as 'Bug Out, America' types, for resisting their call for air strikes and pre-emptive war against Iraq. . . . Excuse me, this is not conservatism, it is Trilateralism; the foreign policy of David Rockefeller, not Robert Taft."
As editor in chief of National Review, I am required to comment that this is an insufficiently developed accusation. Robert Taft was a hero to American conservatives. But his foreign policy, in a postwar world dominated by Soviet policies, was otherwordly: he voted against NATO, for instance. David Rockefeller is associated (not quite justly) with One World globaloney, but Nelson Rockefeller was a high-defense anticommunist, whose positions were a world away from the U.N.-nothingness Buchanan seeks to associate with our policies in the Mideast.
The Buchanans need to understand the nature of sensibilities in an age that coexisted with Auschwitz. And the Rosenthals need to understand that clumsy forensic manners are less than a genocidal offense, and that when Christ pleaded for forgiveness for his executioners, he asked it on behalf of those who were cursed to do the wrong thing. No one asked for that kind of forgiveness for the Nazis, and Pat Buchanan's trespasses are miles this side of the awful genocidal line in the sand.