Pat Buchanan has achieved what I never would have thought possible. He has created sympathy for Richard Perle, the belligerent Iraq hawk, aspiring litigant, expense-account jockey, and best pal a guy ever had on Hollinger International’s Executive Committee. Buchanan managed this feat by tossing an anti-Semitic slur Perle’s way in his new book, Where the Right Went Wrong. It hasn’t gotten much pickup yet; Jacob Heilbrunn, a Los Angeles Times editorial writer, flagged it on Aug. 29, and Michael Kazin mentions it in the Sept. 12 New York Times Book Review. But I suspect it will create yet another hue and cry about Buchanan’s animosity toward Jews, which is getting harder and harder to explain away.
Let’s turn to page 42 of Where the Right Went Wrong. In a passage introducing the group of Iraq hawks who called themselves “the Vulcans,” Buchanan observes that the best known members
were Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Perle’s depiction of his delight at first meeting the future president reads like Fagin relating his initial encounter with the young Oliver Twist.
Buchanan is trying to evoke, humorously, the con artist’s delight at finding an innocent to corrupt. But Fagin is second only to Shylock as the most famously anti-Semitic portrayal of a Jew to be found in English literature. Scholars often argue that, as characters in The Merchant of Venice and Oliver Twist, respectively, Shylock and Fagin possess human qualities that transcend the ugly stereotype of the grasping Jew. But nobody would dispute that any comparison between Fagin and an actual, living Jew—particularly one made by a writer (Buchanan) who has more than once been called anti-Semitic—is, well, anti-Semitic.
At the risk of getting pedantic, let’s compare “Perle’s depiction of his delight at meeting the future president” as quoted by Buchanan and the passage in Oliver Twist in which Fagin first encounters young Oliver.
The first time I met Bush 43, I knew he was different. Two things became clear. One, he didn’t know very much. The other was he had confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn’t know very much. Most people are reluctant to say when they don’t know something, a word or a term they haven’t heard before. Not him.
In a frying-pan, which was on the fire, and which was secured to the mantel-shelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shriveled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare; and seemed to be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and a clothes-horse, over which a great number of silk handkerchiefs were hanging. …“This is him, Fagin,” said Jack Dawkins; “my friend Oliver Twist.”
The Jew grinned; and, making a low obeisance to Oliver, took him by the hand, and hoped he should have the honour of his intimate acquaintance. … “We are very glad to see you, Oliver, very,” said the Jew. “Dodger, take off the sausages; and draw a tub near the fire for Oliver. Ah, you’re a-staring at the pocket-handkerchiefs! eh, my dear! There are a good many of ‘em, ain’t there? We’ve just looked ‘em out, ready for the wash; that’s all, Oliver; that’s all. Ha! ha! ha!”
To say that the Perle passage resembles the Dickens passage is tantamount to calling Richard Perle a kike. Buchanan must apologize.