Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
Engaging in Political Blasphemy
By David G. Young
WASHINGTON, DC, October 5, 1999 --
Washington politicians and journalists had not yet completed their feeding frenzy over contentious writings by presidential candidate Pat Buchanan when they pounced on a Playboy interview with Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura as a pretext to eviscerate yet another outspoken politician. Both men are unquestionably guilty of the most heinous crime imaginable in American politics: they spoke with candor.
It didn't take long after the release of Buchanan's book, A Republic, Not an Empire for fellow Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain to attack Buchanan with a ferocity fit for the most bitter of enemies. Buchanan, McCain said, no longer had any place in the Republican Party. 1 Fellow Republican presidential contenders followed the McCain lead. Elizabeth Dole said she was "appalled" by his "grossly insensitive" statements, and Steve Forbes campaign manager Bill Dal Col said he was outraged by his "out of bounds" comments.2 But perhaps the most viscous reaction came from New York Times Columnist Abe Rosenthal, who used the occasion to repeat his 7-year-old charges that Buchanan is racist, anti-Semitic, and has a "sickness of the soul."3
What could Buchanan possibly have said to warrant such moral indignation? He dared to suggest that it was not in the national interest of the United States to enter World War II before Pearl Harbor. Over 50 years after the destruction of the Fascist regimes of the 1940s, the idealization of America's last great "just" war is so ingrained that it is considered an outrageous, appalling, insensitive, out-of-bounds, racist and anti-Semitic blasphemy to question the wisdom of joining in on the bloodiest war in history.
People are quick to accept that Vietnam veterans fought with honor, even though they recognize that the war was a mistake. Why, then, is it so difficult for Americans to realize that the same could be true about the Second World War? Perhaps because they have not read Buchanan's book:
By 1950, Americans were asking what [World War II] had all been for. Britain had gone to war to save Poland, only to have Churchill virtually cede Poland to Stalin. FDR had pushed Japan to the brink over China only to hand over to Stalin Chinese territory we had risked war to liberate. By 1945 Poland was part of Stalin's empire. By 1950 China was one vast killing field where Chinese were no longer dying in the tens of thousands at the hands of the Japanese army, but in the millions at the hands of Mao Tse-tung.4
Buchanan is absolutely right on this issue*, but this is beside the point. The point is that right or wrong, Buchanan took a stand on an issue with which he knew many people would disagree. That's called leadership. And it's precisely the kind of leadership that is so badly needed in a candidate for public office. That fellow politicians would use his words to hang him should be no surprise, but the attack by journalists and pundits is inexcusable. Instead of skewering the man for speaking out, they should appreciate the frank, honest answers that he gives in absolute contrast to the mediocre and evasive stances taken by frontrunner Gov. George W. Bush.
Sadly, however, this is not to be. After the press was finishing off Buchanan, Reform Party Gov. Ventura offered an astonishingly frank interview with Playboy magazine, where he dared to take unpopular stands on obesity, organized religion, drugs and prostitution.5 While certainly not matching the intellectual caliber of Buchanan's comments, Ventura's statements were equally controversial. And soon after excerpts of the interview reached the press corps, the fireworks began again. This time, it was not rival candidates, but the Chairman of the Reform Party, Russ Verney, who said the outspoken politician should resign from the party.6
As in the case of Buchanan, Ventura's comments were based upon harsh truths that Americans are simply too frightened to hear. Such statements -- especially by a prominent and courageous leader -- provide a magnificent opportunity for people to explore their opinions on these important issues. This is not what has happened. In each case, self-proclaimed mediators** have sought to short-circuit the debate by declaring the subject matter to be off-limits.
Politicians who frankly speak their minds should be rewarded, not punished. The true outrage is not to be found in statements by Buchanan and Ventura, but in the lengths that others are willing to go to keep them out of the national debate.
Related Web Columns:
* The War to Remember World War II, July 1, 1997
** Censor This, Senator, October 21, 1997