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The Washington pundits have worked themselves into a tizzy over whether some of Pat Buchanan's TV colleagues - "Crossfire" co-host Michael Kin-sley in particular - have been too soft on Buchanan's anti-semitism. Washington is a city where turning policy into gossip is an art form. But even by Washington standards this is ridiculous, a sideshow to a sideshow.

The issue is not Kinsley. Nor is it principally Buchanan's anti-semitism. Abe Rosenthal deserves praise for courageously raising the charge, and William Buckley for confirming it. But now that Buchanan's media-inflated New Hampshire "victory" has made him a national political figure, the anti-semitism debate is beside the point, or more accurately, obscuring the far larger point. The real problem with Buchanan (as Jacob Weisberg suggested two years ago in The New Republic) is not that his instincts are anti-semitic but that they are, in various and distinct ways, fascist.First, there is Buchanan's nativism. "What happened to make America so vulgar and coarse, so uncivil and angry?" he asks. After serving up the usual suspects ("a morally cancerous welfare state," etc.) he finds "another reason": "Since 1965, a flood tide of immigration has rolled in from the Third World, legal and illegal, as our institutions of assimilation . . . disintegrated."

"Who speaks for the Euro-Americans?" (read: white Americans) asks Buchanan. Guess. "Is it not time to take America back?" Guess for whom and from whom. This naked appeal to racial and ethnic exclusivity puts Buchanan firmly in the tradition of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Europe's other neo-fascists whose platform is anti-immigrant resentment, fear and loathing of the unassimilated Other.

Then there is Buchanan's open admiration for authoritarian politics. Press profiles of Buchanan recall colorfully his father's worship of Franco and (Joe) McCarthy. But this is more than mere family lore. Buchanan fils has quite cheerfully expressed his own esteem for Franco and Pinochet (both "soldier-patriots") and for the "Boer Republic," Buchanan's quaint and sympathetic euphemism for white racist South Africa.

As for democracy, Buchanan disdains the principle of "one man, one vote" as "democratist ideology," a locution as contemptuous as it is peculiar.

Where does all this come from? The answer is simple. With the end of the Cold War emergency, Pat Buchanan has returned to his roots. With communism defeated, Buchanan emerges as a perfectly preserved specimen of 1930s isolationism and nativism.

One can now begin to understand Buchanan's most bizarre preoccupation, the one that leaves even his most sympathetic colleagues utterly baffled: his, shall we say, eccentric views on the Holocaust.

What ultimately and irrevocably discredited fascism was the Holocaust, the fact that the denouement of the fascist idea produced the supreme act of human barbarism. Patrick Buchanan, child of the prewar right, confronts this unpleasant fact in a simple way: He wishes the Holocaust would go away. Which is why he finds himself, perhaps even despite himself, moved to debunk Treblinka, demean survivors (as given to "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics") and defend those who were part of the genocide machine.

The man is a menace but no great mystery.