Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pat Buchanan: For Affirmative Action Before He Was Against It

Pat Buchanan was for affirmative action before he was against it.

President Richard Nixon, a Republican, became the first president to impose affirmative action when his Department of Labor imposed the Philadelphia Plan upon that city's construction industry in 1969. The Plan was soon followed by affirmative action rules (Order No. 4) for all federal government agencies and contractors, setting in motion profound changes in the American workplace.

Buchanan, a Catholic, was hired by Nixon as a speechwriter, but later was drafted to help organize the "Catholic vote" to get behind Nixon in 1972. This was part of Nixon's attempt to create a "new majority" for the Republican Party.

Here is a 1971 document* from the Nixon Archives, written by Pat Buchanan, showing Buchanan proposing a strategy for Nixon's outreach to Catholics.

In it, he suggested that Nixon "instead of sending the orders out to all our other agencies-- hire blacks and women-- the order should go out-- hire ethnic Catholics preferable [sic] women, for visible posts. One example: Italian Americans, unlike blacks, have never had a Supreme Court member-- they are deeply concerned with their 'criminal' image; they do not dislike the President. Give those fellows the 'Jewish seat' or the 'black seat' on the Court when it becomes available."

So when Buchanan criticizes affirmative action, or criticizes Judge Sotomayor as "Miss Affirmative Action", he's being a hypocrite. That's because he's also criticizing his own path to political prominence (not treating all Americans the same) and the policies of preferential hiring that Nixon created and that he himself recommended that Nixon employ. He even suggested that the President appoint someone to the Supreme Court not based on merit alone, but also based on the person being an "Italian American."

*Box 3, Folder 52, Contested Materials: White House Special Files, Nixon Library-Yorba Linda, National Archives and Records Administration


  1. It's amazing what the historical record shows. Trevor, I think we met a few years ago at the AHA Annual meeting in Seattle. I was working on the African American Historic Places Initiative for the National Trust at the time, and an ABD history student myself. Good to see that you have this blog. I'll definitely visit again.

    Free Harris

  2. Oh, but just because Buchanan wrote a paper doesn't mean he actually believed it. He was advising the president what was the politically smart thing to do, that doesn't mean he thought it was the correct thing to do. Just as his paper he wrote this week for Human Events is what he both believes and is what he is advising the Republicans to do, is now what I think.

    His sister saying the same things backs this up, their having people in their employ who has done and said racist things backs this up even further.

    As I said, just because you give advice that is politically expedient doesn't mean you believe it, just that you think it might help you in the long run garner votes.

  3. Ricci was before it before he was against it too.

  4. This memo was mentioned by Maddow last night but credited to me not Trevor--I've written them to ask Trevor to get his props! History is hard work!