OPEN UNIVERSITY FEBRUARY 11, 2007
by Stanley I. Kutler
Somewhat diminished, John McLaughlin endures on a hidden corner of PBS's Saturday evening programming. He hosts a resident repertory company consisting of Eleanor Clift of Newsweek, Clarence Page from the Chicago Tribune, and Tony Blankley of The Washington Times. But it is
unmistakably McLaughlin's turf. He insures home field advantage for himself with the patented fair and balanced approach--thus Pat Buchanan. The group recently began a discussion of ethnicity and power, as McLaughlin wondered what Representatives Charles Rangel (D-NY), John Conyers (D-MI), and the three other African American committee chairs would do with their new-found power. Buchanan seemed restless, maybe even bored, with this direction, and he abruptly shifted the ground with a higher, more provocative purpose.
"If you want to know ethnicity and power in the United States Senate," he said, "thirteen members of the Senate are Jewish folks who are from two percent of the population." "That is where real power is at," he told McLaughlin. (Mollie Ivins certainly would have noted that his remarks had been translated from the original German.)
And the response from the "liberal" panelists, Clift and Page? Nothing. Has Buchanan become so predicable, so irrelevant, and so lacking in credibility that they ignored him? Our "liberal media" had no hesitation in dragging Joe Biden through the muck for his reference to Barack Obama as "clean."
Has Pat Buchanan read the minutes of the Senate's recent meeting on Iraq? The Senate is where the "real power is"? The Senate--that cavernous abyss that clumsily gropes for the weakest resolution imaginable to express concern about President Bush's escalation of the Iraq War? Outrage is out of bounds for their posturing and contrived conviviality. Senators fret whether to debate a "symbolic" resolution, or just pass one supporting the president and promising never to cut spending "for the troops." Some power.
But did Buchanan mean that the Gang of 13 had the power to control the Senate? However he characterizes the group, certainly "power" is not the operative description. Nine of the thirteen predictably are Democrats, two are Republicans, and two (for now) are independents. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) boldly challenges the president's deceits, but for many Democrats he is too serious to be entrusted with real power. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)--all represent their constituents and their states quite
well. But power? Levin, now chairman of the Armed Services Committee, could not even move the tepid Iraq resolution of his ranking committee colleague, John Warner (R-VA). Ben Cardin (D-MD) has been in office only a month.
Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) in the past spent much time groveling to their leadership, and now their influence is minimal. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has some power by virtue of the Democrats' narrow margin of control. So, too, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-proclaimed Socialist. Is Buchanan losing his grip--no Red-baiting? Buchanan has declined markedly since 1992 when he challenged President George H. W. Bush for the Republican nomination and positioned himself as the leader of the conservative shock troops. Until his quixotic presidential campaigns, his television and radio programs had a wide following. Now bereft of a regular TV address, he hangs on as a "consultant," appearing on cable shows.
McLaughlin, too, has declined steadily since he wore his priestly collar while loyally serving Richard Nixon in 1973. Loyally and memorably. When Nixon's tapes first became public knowledge, McLaughlin unflinchingly defended them as "good, valid, sound ... emotional drainage."
A writer friend acknowledged he and his wife once watched McLaughlin, Buchanan, and company. But why torture ourselves, they thought, "listening to these creeps who are in possession of no special knowledge, each locked into his own utterly predictable opinions, with Buchanan the most opinionated and creepiest of all." They ceased watching two years ago and he happily reports that their "health and general outlook" were much improved.