Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buckley R.I.P.

I remember seeing William F Buckley when I was a teen, probably with Cavett or Frost and thinking how charismatic he was and how wrong. He was a child of privilege trying to build a nation that rewarded privilege. It was only later that I saw that he had another side, one that matched my ideals a little more closely. He worked against extremism in the defense of his ideals, helping to purge the conservative movement of Birchers and anti-Semites.

I would never have been an admirer of WFB but I cannot deny the influence he had on America. May he rest in peace.

Let's not forget, however, that the right-wingers who today are lining up to lionize Buckley are the same ones who sought to marginalize him just a few short years ago. From Salon:
But Buckley, a mere eight weeks later, echoed Dean's comments almost
verbatim while writing about the war in National Review: "One can't doubt that
the American objective in Iraq has failed," Buckley declared. "Our mission has
failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army
of 130,000 Americans." He urged the Bush administration to consider
"acknowledgment of defeat." In an earlier November 2005 interview with the Wall Street Journal -- on almost the same exact day Dean made his comments -- Buckley went even further, declaring that the invasion of Iraq was "anything but

Buckley was a leader in denouncing the party which GWB had made of the GOP and he was rewarded with scorn. Greenwald continues.

New Republic writer Johann Hari went undercover on a National Review cruise
in 2006 and detailed a bitter argument that broke out between Buckley and
neoconservative icon Norman Podhoretz. After listening to the two right-wing
elders bicker on virtually every foreign policy issue, Hari concluded:
"Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism."

Nonetheless, there is no question that the bulk of adherents
to the conservative movement that Buckley founded now side with Podhoretz, not
with Buckley. As Hari reported, the crowd cheered loudly for Podhoretz, and not
for Buckley. One of the National Review cruise member seated at Hari's table
scoffed that Buckley's refusal to fight Muslim terrorists made him a "coward,"
while his wife dismissed Buckley as nothing more than an "old man," and then
"tapped her head with her finger to suggest dementia."

What Buckley gave to the Conservative movement was a veneer of style, a class that it may never regain. Even in his most virulent feuds Buckley was able to hold the eye and ear of those who disagreed. While Buckley could be a frequent, popular guest on Johnny Carson's show, those who would fill his well-made shoes today manage to attract only scorn after brief appearances outside their carefully constructed echo chambers.
...and even the magazine he founded, came to bear so little resemblance either
to Buckley's style or substance. The erudite and civil debates that Buckley
famously engaged in with the likes of Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky are about as
far removed as possible from the shallow, anti-intellectual screeching found in
today's National Review from the likes of Kathryn Jean Lopez, Jonah Goldberg and editor Rich Lowry. And as Buckley's heresies became more numerous and
pronounced, right-wing pundits such as popular blogger Ed Morrissey began
actually dismissing Buckley's conservatism as an obsolete relic of the pre-9/11
past, claiming that the profound lessons of 9/11 are what account for "the
difference between traditional conservatives and the Bush Administration's
efforts in foreign policy, along with a host of other arenas."

Buckley's mind was an epee in a world that was coming to be dominated by those wielding clubs. He will be missed. There can be no doubt of that. But after today or this week, after the funeral cortege has passed and the trumpets have stopped sounding, Buckley will be shunted aside again and his memory will slowly lose its sheen. Coulter and Limbaugh and Goldberg and yes, even Milwaukee's own pipsqueaks, will forget what Buckley stood for and ignore his methods and tools in a mad scramble to find the muddy bottom of political discourse.
But in both style and substance, the Limbaugh-Coulter-Kristol-National
Review-led conservative movement of today bears little resemblance to what
Buckley spent most of his adult life developing and creating. Modern
conservative polemicists continue to use Buckley as a symbolic prop behind which
they march -- and that exploitation will intensify by many magnitudes now that
he has passed away -- yet, as Buckley himself increasingly recognized, today's
conservatives repudiate and violate much of what Buckley stood for and

Maybe Shel Silverstein should have the last word. "Nashville is rough on the living. But she really speaks well of the dead."

1 comment:

James Wigderson said...

It's always an interesting contest to see who can earn more effusive praise, a live liberal or a recently dead conservative.

The winner is usually whose quotes can be best used to cudgel conservatives.