Affirmative Action, Buchanan-Style

Rick Perlstein's great book Nixonland.
Rick Perlstein's great book Nixonland.


Pat Buchanan, among other conservatives, has been all arage over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be a Supreme Court justice. Sotomayer, Buchanan argues, is an affirmative action hire, selected not because she’s the best qualified candidate but because she’s a Hispanic woman. (For an example of Buchanan in action see this debate he had with Rachel Maddow). 


It’s worth reminding ourselves that for conservatives like Buchanan, affirmative action is only bad when its beneficiaries are women or non-whites. There are all sorts of affirmative actions programs that Buchanan supports.


In the early 1970s, Buchanan was speechwriter for Richard Nixon. In that capacity he often sent his superiors memos advising them on political strategy. One pet Buchanan idea was that the Republican party should chase after the Catholic vote in a more vigorous way (he also thought that the party was wasting its time trying to get support from blacks and Jews).


One way to win the Catholic vote, he said, was to appoint Catholic justices to the Supreme Court. As he wrote in a September 23, 1971 memo: “It means telling [journalist] John Chancellor and the New York Times that, no, we have not  done anything for the blacks this week, but we have named a Pole to the cabinet and an Italian Catholic to the Supreme Court.”

Note that Buchanan says nothing about either the Pole or Italian being the best qualified talent. The policy he was advocating was pure ethnic log-rolling. And also note that giving jobs to Poles and Italians is explicitly coupled with ignoring the interest of African-Americans. In sum: for “white” ethnics jobs, for blacks malign neglect (“benign neglect” was the phrase coined by fellow Nixonite Daniel Patrick Moynihan but I think “malign neglect” is closer to the truth).  Here we see the core of conservative opposition to affirmative action, which is nothing more than white tribalism.

 (A tip of the hat to the great Nixon-ologist Rick Perlstein for calling attention to the Buchanan memo, which is available here  as a pdf file).

4 thoughts on “Affirmative Action, Buchanan-Style

  1. I read the memo, and I’m shocked by its blatant radicalism. Certainly we saw the Republicans going after this exact strategy with great success. Of course, they first had to overcome the reality of a totally corrupt leader in Nixon. Reagan, however, was a perfect executor of this plan.

    What I can’t believe is that I only found the link to this on de long’s blog. It’s not on Politico or HuffPo. How can we get more publicity for this?

  2. Thanks to Uncle Pat! Now that all the GOP’s cards have been played (face up), those of us who laid down our bets years ago that 20th Century Dixiecrats would morph into 21st Century Republicants can collect our winnings and leave the table!

  3. Thanks to Uncle Pat! Now that all the GOP’s cards have been played (face up), those of us who laid down our bets years ago that 20th Century Dixiecrats would morph into 21st Century Republicants can collect our winnings and leave the table!
    Sorry, should have said good post! Waiting for the next one!

  4. This post suffers from a flaw intrinsic in some critiques of hypocrisy: yes, you’ve proved your opponent is a hypocrite because he has inconsistent positions…but aren’t you also a hypocrite because you have inversely inconsistent positions?

    According to Pat Buchanan, it is fine and dandy to incorporate preferences for white ethnic Catholics (but apparently not Hispanic Catholics or women) into selection of prominent government officials. The explicit reason Buchanan articulates privately for doing this, however, is cynical political pandering to white Catholic voters, rather than principled concerns about the “discrimination” (as “proved” by numerical underrepresentation relative to population share) against white Catholics by the rest of society. This is entirely consistent with Buchanan’s critique of the Sotomayor appointment, in which he argues that the Obama administration (and liberals broadly) support giving special preferences to certain groups in the hopes that those groups will be happy about this and be more likely to vote for the Democrats.

    Indeed, Buchanan may even have the *more* principled position here: he probably privately thinks it would be better to just have no holds barred ethnic competition for influence in society, but because Anglo-Americans/white Americans have unilaterally disarmed in terms of seeking ethnic preferences, it would be better to have a merit based equal playing field. (It’s really very revealing that liberals and progressives think that impartial objective standards *hinder* the advancement of women, blacks and mestizo Hispanics.)

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