William F. Buckley has died

by Henry on February 27, 2008

The NYT obituary is here.

Update: Rick Perlstein writes that William F. Buckley was his ‘role-model.’ It’s an interesting piece.

I’m hard on conservatives. I get harder on them just about every day. I call them “con men.” I do so without apology. And I cannot deny that William F. Buckley said and did many things over the course of his career that were disgusting as well. I’ve written about some of them. But this is not the time to go into all that. My friend just passed away at the age of 82. He was a good and decent man. He knew exactly what my politics were about—he knew I was an implacable ideological adversary—yet he offered his friendship to me nonetheless. …

Then came a very nice column. The passage from my book he reproduced quoted a “liberal” reporter on Goldwater: “What could such a nice guy think that way?”

Why did I love WFB? Because he never would have asked such a silly question. The game of politics is to win over American institutions to our way of seeing things using whatever coalition, necessarily temporary, that we can muster to win our majority, however contingent—and if we lose, and we are again in the minority, live to fight another day, even ruthlessly, while respecting our adversaries’ legitimacy to govern in the meantime, while never pulling back in offering our strong opinions about their failures, in the meantime. This was Buckleyism—even more so than any particular doctrines about “conservatism.”

Nice people, friends, can disagree about the most fundamental questions about the organization of society. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus. …

Buckleyism to the end: friendship, and adversarialism, coinciding. All of us who write about politics, may that be our role model.

Update 2: See Brad DeLong and Patrick Nielsen Hayden for different perspectives.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Farewell, Bill « Like Cooking a Small Fish
02.27.08 at 6:26 pm
William Buckley was a Marketing Whore too « The Manchild Chronicles
02.28.08 at 11:20 pm

{ 140 comments }

1

David in NY 02.27.08 at 5:19 pm

Well, here goes. I recollect hearing Jonathan Kozol give him his appropriate obituary in 1968. Kozol called him an “evil man.”

2

Michael Dee 02.27.08 at 5:24 pm

First conservatism died. Now this.

3

Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 5:25 pm

Buckley vs. Chomsky

4

roger 02.27.08 at 5:39 pm

Is there anybody now left on the right that isn’t an intellectual dwarf, a mendacious con-man a la Larry Kudlow, or plain nuts? The extinction of the last light on the darkling plain of Bush era conservatism is all the more sad in that the conservative juniors – all of them GOP bagboys, now – really, really despised the old man.

5

Giotto 02.27.08 at 5:44 pm

From the obit:
“— without him, there probably would be no respectable conservative movement in this country.”

Can we say there is such a thing as a “respectable conservative movement in this country” as long as that movement relies on permutations of the Southern Strategy for all its political successes?? An account of Buckley’s early career is a useful reminder that, even before the Southern Strategy, American “conservatism” was founded on white fright and white privilege.

6

eric 02.27.08 at 5:45 pm

Among Buckley’s many sins: he gave us U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.

I vaguely recall that Mike Harrington once dubbed Buckley “the genteel front-man for fascism in America” (or words to that effect), though Harrington later expressed some regret for the harsh characterization. Alas, Google fails to turn up a confirming cite for my hazy memory.

7

David in NY 02.27.08 at 5:51 pm

I actually remember seeing Harrington on Buckley’s TV show, and it was all sweetness and light, though not much actual agreement.

8

Kathleen 02.27.08 at 6:00 pm

As I understood it, _God and Man at Yale_ was one long fantasy about converting one’s enemies via a elite universities and one long lament about how as things presently stood, elite universities were converting students to the wrong (godless socialist) side.

Buckley was undeniably smarter than many contemporary conservatives, but he did *not* take a laid-back view that some people are conservative and some liberal and that’s that. He could have advocated conservatives setting up their own universities (like Patrick Henry), but instead wanted to capture the (lapsed, in his view) ones already going and harness them to the ends of his side.

9

mpowell 02.27.08 at 6:03 pm


We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus.

I have to disagree with this one. If your opponents follow the same restraints as you do regarding reasonable means to ‘win over American institutions’, I would find this sentiment more palable (not to mention the content of their policy itself). But when movement conservatives actively work to change institutions to distort the democratic process, I think that is an opposition that has clearly gone beyond the pale. I have no delusions about converting them, but I would very much like to see them destroyed (and many of them jailed for such crimes).

10

John Emerson 02.27.08 at 6:08 pm

Hugh Kenner was a very good friend of Buckley’s. That surprised me, but made reading Kenner more interesting. Kenner was also a very early tech geek — he was mostly deaf and tinkered with various electronic ways of compensating for that.

11

Bobcat 02.27.08 at 6:09 pm

“I want to see conservatism destroyed” sounds like a more defensible sentiment to me than “I want to see conservatives destroyed” which sounds kinda murderous.

12

Russell Arben Fox 02.27.08 at 6:10 pm

I was never a Bill Buckley person; I started my political journey (though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time) away from the lock-step Republicanism of my parents in the early 80s, and my thinker of choice was George Will. I read everything I could get my hands on by the guy. One birthday, though, I received as a gift one of Buckley’s essay collections–Right Reason, if I recall correctly. I found it light, filled with deft, insouciant swings between harsh invective and complete flights of fancy: none of the moral rigor and demanding prose I found in Will’s essays. “Ah, this man lives for boating jaunts and ski trips,” I thought, and I couldn’t take him much seriously after that.

It was only years later, and long after I realized that I’d only stayed “conservative” in my own peculiar, heavily philosophical way, that I came to appreciate Buckley. Will, in the meantime, had let his partisan mentality become ever more sharp and clear, obscuring many if not all of his moral and theoretical chops along the way; but Buckley, despite having done as much as any one American probably ever has to shape actual electoral politics in this country, never wrote or even seemed to think like a party man. He was a Tocqueville, an aristocrat born into the wrong age, a man with great passions (admittedly, sometimes dispicable ones) who apparently never lost the ability to laugh at his passions. He’s someone I wish I could have met and known. No doubt he would have thought me insane, but I bet we could have a grand time arguing all the same. RIP.

13

John Emerson 02.27.08 at 6:16 pm

All of us who write about politics, may that be our role model.

I’m supposed to take that personally, right?

Besides being wrong and right wing, Buckley made a lot of extremely unpleasant statements, especially about race. His civility was limited to those whom he deigned to recognize as peers and who were willing to play his game, and did not extend, e.g., to queers like Gore Vidal. Or most other people.

I’ve always thought of him as someone who provided a veneer of class for tacky people with unpleasant attitudes. A bit like Hugh Hefner as a marketer of a cultural trend to people who needed training wheels. His intellectual accomplishments seem to have been at the level of a generic second rank English or History professor who has a knack for popular writing. Nothing very interesting, though better than Jonah Goldberg. His affectation of aristocratic mannerisms was parodic. Without his inheritance and his claque, he wouldn’t have been anything.

That should cover the motherfucker.

14

Walt 02.27.08 at 6:22 pm

That scraping sound is the Gates of Hell opening. The devil claims his own.

15

lisa 02.27.08 at 6:30 pm

My earliest memory of WFB, (as a naive, quasi-lefty college student who didn’t know enough): While debating Pat Shroeder (maybe?) about something she mentioned kids who didn’t get adequately funded subsidized school lunch and he rolled his eyes.

I was one of those kids who got the subsidized lunch. To me, that was always that style of conservativism in a nutshell. And now, I admit, I have a fondness for it–for its sheer honesty, its blatant elitism, if nothing else. If only they would all roll their eyes like so that then everyone would know what we were dealing with.

RIP, you elitist, heartless bastard. I won’t condemn you to hell because if you go there, we probably all do. I even hope they have sailing in purgatory and slightly decent bourbon.

16

nick l 02.27.08 at 6:36 pm

I love seeing 12 and 13 back to back….my god, what banal class fantasies! the notion that the correct metaphor for politics is cricket, rather than a street fight…the American political sphere could be healed, sans doute, if only wine appreciation courses were made more widely available to the junior punditry…

17

John Emerson 02.27.08 at 6:48 pm

Political civility is a very good thing, and so were the Bamiyan Buddhas, but let’s live in the real world and go on with our lives.

Buckley’s civility was very narrowly targeted, and conservative political discourse as a whole has been reptilian ever since Limbaugh and Gingrich took over. Jonah Goldberg is the very face of conservativism today, the last heir of Burke, Adam Smith, T.S. Eliot, et al.

18

Thomas 02.27.08 at 6:54 pm

Emerson gets it. Buckley was the original post-war mass-cult political schtick, the first Jonah Goldberg, a piece of marketing completely unaware of being a fraud, ammunition for the right-wing multitudes who were far too stupid and mediocre to understand The Wasteland.

The right will undoubtedly canonize him next to to Eliot in his literary importance.

One hopes that his funeral ends with a reading of Psalms in the original Latin by Brent Bozell.

19

Thomas 02.27.08 at 6:55 pm

Just Latin, not the original Latin.

20

nick s 02.27.08 at 7:06 pm

He died at his desk; we may never know if it was Jonah Goldberg’s book that did him in.

Like John Emerson, I find the Buckley-Kenner friendship interesting, not least because they’re polar opposites as prose stylists. That is, Kenner could damn well write.

(I’m at a remove from that strand of American politics and history, but The Pound Era was a revelation as a young EngLit student.)

21

Benny 02.27.08 at 7:08 pm

I once saw Buckley debate (I forget who it was he debated–it was about feminism, immigration, etc) and he had perhaps the best rhetorical move I have ever seen.

The other debater was responding at length to one of his points, and at this time Buckley reaches into his inside suit jacket pocket, and takes out a money clip bursting with cash. He then begins to slowly count the money until the other debater stops, smiled in her direction, and stashed the cash back in his coat pocket.

I can only say: classy,

22

Righteous Bubba 02.27.08 at 7:20 pm

Buckley was the original post-war mass-cult political schtick, the first Jonah Goldberg, a piece of marketing completely unaware of being a fraud, ammunition for the right-wing multitudes who were far too stupid and mediocre to understand The Wasteland.

I disagree. The man could think his own evil thoughts and was not a slave to any noise machine.

23

roger 02.27.08 at 7:26 pm

The hoover university keeps an archive of firing lines . They have the program in which Buckley hosted a drunk Jack Kerouac. They also have a program with the leader of the socialist workers party, who was running for president in, I think it is, 1964, and one with David Dillinger, and one with Sidney Hook. Interesting stuff.

24

jdm 02.27.08 at 7:52 pm

On John Emerson and on the other dregs of the smarmy sway-doe Jacobin rabble at Crooked Timber:
Tu quoque! (WFB, RIP)

25

richard 02.27.08 at 8:05 pm

“Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I will sock you in your goddamn face, and you will stay plastered.”

26

SamChevre 02.27.08 at 8:32 pm

I think it was about Buckley that Galbraith commented that he was one of his most valued friends, because on any issue on which Buckley had an opinion, he could adopt the opposite position without further thought.

27

David 02.27.08 at 8:38 pm

If I recall correctly, it was J.K. Galbraith who observed that what he liked about Buckley was that in any argument with the man one had merely to adopt the diametrically opposite position and be fully confident that it was the correct one. Also, about twenty some years ago the NYRB published a devastatingly funny parody of Buckley’s prose style. Written, again if memory serves, by one of the magazine’s typesetters. A pompous ass of the moneyed class. David Levine’s caricatures nail him. So did Gore Vidal.

28

Anderson 02.27.08 at 8:47 pm

Hugh Kenner was a very good friend of Buckley’s. That surprised me

Kenner’s conservatism would be evident even if he weren’t such a Pound/Eliot groupie.

29

gmoke 02.27.08 at 9:29 pm

I was intrigued by Buckley when I was growing up. I followed his campaign for the mayoralty of NYC with great interest and, if memory serves, read _The Jeweler’s Eye_. Then I saw the Firing Line where Buckley was insufferably demeaning to a drunk Jack Kerouac and lost all respect for him.

My suspicion is that Buckley never really left the CIA and that CIA money kept The National Review afloat through its first couple of decades. He was a smart man but not half as smart as he thought he was but he was also a poseur in his hauteur who used his twenty dollar vocabulary the way a thug would use a sap.

30

eric 02.27.08 at 9:29 pm

The references to the Kenner-Buckley friendship reminded me that, thanks to Prof. Kenner, WFB was the commencement speaker when I graduated from Johns Hopkins. The only thing I remember about Buckley’s speech is that he told a somewhat amusing joke to which the punchline was “shithead”.

31

Backword Dave 02.27.08 at 9:33 pm

There’s an interesting para in that NYT article:

He graduated from Millbrook in 1943, then spent a half a year at the University of Mexico studying Spanish, which had been his first language. He served in the Army from 1944 to 1946, and managed to make second lieutenant after first putting colleagues off with his mannerisms.

There’s no such rank as third lieutenant that I’m aware of. So either he rose very quickly through the ranks – or he entered as an officer (pretty common for university material), and made no progress whatever.

I liked the Mailer quotes too. More testimony to Mailer’s wordplay than Buckley’s qualities I’d have thought.

32

Picador 02.27.08 at 9:33 pm

I’ve always thought of him as someone who provided a veneer of class for tacky people with unpleasant attitudes. A bit like Hugh Hefner as a marketer of a cultural trend to people who needed training wheels.

Well put. Let’s see where that takes us.

William Buckley:Rush Limbaugh::Hugh Hefner:Larry Flynt

Discuss.

(Personally, I prefer both my white supremacists and my pornographers straight-up, rather than covered with a veneer of cheesy faux-civility.)

33

Uncle Kvetch 02.27.08 at 9:36 pm

I’ve always thought of him as someone who provided a veneer of class for tacky people with unpleasant attitudes.

Thank you for that, John. As someone who first came to grips with being a gay man in the early to mid-80s, just as AIDS-related panic was reaching its fevered crescendo, I’ve got a particular perspective. I’m afraid Buckley’s never going to be anything more than the simpering shitheel who called for HIV+ gay men to be forcibly tattooed on the buttocks–you know, as a matter of public health.

On the other hand, he apparently threw a hell of a cocktail party, so I guess I’d better cede the floor to all the straight white guys out there who will tell us what a swell guy he was.

The other debater was responding at length to one of his points, and at this time Buckley reaches into his inside suit jacket pocket, and takes out a money clip bursting with cash. He then begins to slowly count the money until the other debater stops, smiled in her direction, and stashed the cash back in his coat pocket.

Yeah, nothing says class like “I could buy and sell you, bitch.” Whatta guy.

34

Bob 02.27.08 at 9:41 pm

My father was an extreme right-winger with many repugnant beliefs; particularly when it comes to race. Still, he was my father, and a damned good father at that. It never bothered him that 3 of his 4 sons grew up to be hard-left; he was grateful we thought for ourselves, examined the world around us and reached our own conclusions and acted upon them. As such, I can appreciate how someone who had a personal relationship with Buckley can remember him fondly.
But please, don’t move from that to a plea that the rest of us follow suit. Buckley added a graceful and elegant veneer note to truly repugnant ideas – racism, homophobia, militarism. If he was your friend or a family member I certainly understand your sense of loss at his death. But for the rest of us, he bequeathed a country where the latest debate is on just how much torture is ok.
Good riddance ye evil scumbag.

35

MR. Bill 02.27.08 at 9:46 pm

Gore Vidal will die vindicated.
Buckley was a media figure, pure and simple, and vicious as an adversary. And I always found it curious that the apostle of a free market could only sell his wares on PBS, along with other rightwing hawkers like McLaughlin. He could be a biased, mean self-satisfied old bastard, and at a very early age.

36

MR. Bill 02.27.08 at 9:50 pm

Here is a link to the Vidal-Buckley dustup:
http://www.kronykronicle.com/1968/BV4.html

Classy, that Buckley.

37

harold 02.27.08 at 9:52 pm

In his later years Buckley actively and commendably crusaded against anti-Semitism in the conservative movement. Nevertheless, I dimly remember that the early record of the National Review was very good in this regard. Don’t have facts in front of me — but didn’t there use to be a taboo against talking about the “unpleasantness” of the holocaust before the Eichmann trial in 1961? Correct me if I’m wrong.

38

nick s 02.27.08 at 9:53 pm

Kenner’s conservatism would be evident even if he weren’t such a Pound/Eliot groupie.

Quite true, but at the time I discovered his criticism, I neither lived in the US, nor cared much about that particular strand of American politics. Oh, days.

My guess is that those interested in high Modernism will be reading Kenner for many years to come; I’ve no idea what Buckley’s legacy will be, beyond ‘Now listen, you queer’.

39

Matthew Kuzma 02.27.08 at 9:56 pm

Hm. I fundamentally disagree with the sentiment Mr. Perlstein is expressing, but then, I’m not likely to be his friend anyway.

40

harold 02.27.08 at 9:59 pm

I found it:
://www.washington-report.org/archives/Jan_Feb_2000/0002100.html

In his book The Holocaust in American Life, Peter Novick, a Pulitzer Prizewinning historian at the University of Chicago, writes that the attempt by the German Nazis and their European sympathizers to exterminate the Jews of Europe during World War II was originally seen as part of a larger catastrophe, a war that took some 30 million lives. Only much later did the murder of 6 million Jews become a separate event, unique in its horror. Today it is a symbol of Jewish persecution and a sacrosanct subject to all Jews and almost all Americans.
……….

Until the 1960s neither the Holocaust nor Israel were prominent issues. During the 1950s Germany was a Cold War ally and no one wanted to be reminded of its past crimes. An Israel full of impoverished immigrants held little attraction for most American Jews except as an object of charity.

Even the Israelis’ spectacular kidnapping in 1962 of Adolf Eichmann, a chief perpetrator of Hitler’s “final solution,” was widely criticized. William Buckley’s National Review, today an ardent supporter of Israel, deplored Eichmann’s capture as part of “an attempt to cast suspicion on Germany” and charged that his trial would promote “bitterness, mistrust, the advancement of communist aims.” But it was Eichmann’s trial, at which a succession of death camp survivors gave their heart-rending evidence, that highlighted for the world the attempted liquidation of the Jews as a separate and distinct crime, of a different order from other Nazi crimes. During Eichmann’s trial the word Holocaust first began finding its way into general usage.

41

harold 02.27.08 at 10:00 pm

Correction: all three final paragrahs should be blockquote — don’t know why it didn’t work.

42

John Emerson 02.27.08 at 10:02 pm

Harold, you have to put the HTML on and off on each para separately.

43

Brett Bellmore 02.27.08 at 10:18 pm

“Then I saw the Firing Line where Buckley was insufferably demeaning to a drunk Jack Kerouac and lost all respect for him.”

??? Unless you fed the guy spiked punch, why in God’s name WOULDN’T you be demeaning towards somebody who showed up soused for a TV interview? It is possible to forfeit any claim to being treated with respect, after all.

Anyway, my fond memory of Buckley was the time his show came to be filmed at Michigan Tech, and he leaned back in his chair in that characteristic way… And leaning too far, landed in a heap when the chair toppled over. Very entertaining!

44

Bob 02.27.08 at 11:31 pm

Brett Bellmore: “Unless you fed the guy spiked punch, why in God’s name WOULDN’T you be demeaning towards somebody who showed up soused for a TV interview?”
Maybe because it was wildly known at that point (and it is hard to believe Buckley didn’t know this) that Kerouac was an out of control alcoholic. If you invite an alcoholic on your show, don’t be surprised when an alcoholic arrives.

45

Brett Bellmore 02.27.08 at 11:58 pm

Even an alcoholic doesn’t spend 24/7 drunk. And there’s a difference between being unsurprised at somebody doing something pathetic and disgusting, and being responsible for it.

46

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 02.28.08 at 12:20 am

I have an enormous amount of respect for Rick Perlstein, but my “different perspective” comes from the fact that William F. Buckley was never my friend. For me, he was simply a public figure who deliberately and successfully made my world a worse place.

Perlstein’s piece is interesting as social anecdote, and the evident fact that our premier left-wing historian of the modern Right had such access to one of its elders is a thoroughly good thing.

47

Seth edenbaum 02.28.08 at 12:32 am

“William F. Buckley said and did many things over the course of his career that were disgusting…
…He was a good and decent man.”

He could be charming. Charming is not “decent.” That sort of confusion is easy when your only knowledge of those “disgusting things” is as idea and not experience and you run into the man at cocktail parties a few times a year. Easy that is if you have more faith in your own judgement than you have imagination.
The American pundit and political class never fails to amaze me: so arrogant, so generous in its praise of itself and so contemptuous of outsiders. I’d just agree with DeLong if he didn’t begin his post by reminding us of “the post WWII world that has been such a blessing to all humanity.” And what did Jonathan Kozol, who really is “a good and decent man.” think of DeLong’s friend Bill Clinton?
The reality based community creates it’s own reality, just as the white house does. But you prefer your reality to theirs.

48

Bob 02.28.08 at 12:42 am

Brett Bellomre, the point I’m trying to make (and I apologize for not having been clearer in my last comment) is this: Buckley invited a man in the process of drinking himself to death on his show and then showered him with contempt for being drunk. Now, whatever else that might have been I will argue that it was a classless thing to do. Kerouac was sick – alcoholism is a disease – and far past the point where he could control himself. To attack such a person is the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh’s sickening pantomime of Michael J. Foxes’ Parkinson’s tremors. I might be wrong about this, but it is very, very hard to believe Buckley didn’t know what condition Kerouac was in at that point.
And it is just such episodes that make be feel the bile rising in my throat every time I read someone praising Buckley and his “principles” and genteel manner. He may have hidden his cut-throat approach beneath some old school manners, but he was a real SOB and he helped lay the groundwork for the moralistic, torture-loving bastards running the country today. Every word I’ve read today on left-wing blogs (James Wolcott for chrissake!) gently praising his “manners” and “principles” makes me wish the writers could have been on the receiving end of those principled manners just once. My hunch is we wouldn’t be reading so many hand-wringing farewells.
That he wasn’t as obvious in his pathology as Coulter or Limbaugh doesn’t make him a decent man.

49

Brett Bellmore 02.28.08 at 1:27 am

I suppose the problem here, to the extent there is one, is that as a ‘soft determinist’, I’m not predisposed to regard demonstrating an organic basis for somebody’s behavior as extenuating.

50

roger 02.28.08 at 1:53 am

Kerouac himself seemed to revere Buckley. They met each other long before Firing Line – they met when they were kids at Horace Mann. Kerouac made it pretty well known to his friends in the early sixties how much he admired Buckley’s politics.

The best thing about that show was Kerouac’s explanation that the Vietnamese had lured us into Vietnam so they could steal our jeeps.

Buckley had plenty of shitty views, but one of his views, that he promoted when he ran for mayor of New York, would have made this a much more liberal country – the view that marijuana and narcotics should be decriminalized. If this had become policy, the South wouldn’t have gone through the gleeful process of denying African American ex-cons – many having been in jail with drug convictions – voting rights. Gore would certainly and indisputably have swept Florida.

Interesting to think about…

51

Bruce Baugh 02.28.08 at 2:10 am

Buckley’s support for drug legalization would have meant more if he didn’t keep backing the presidents and the justices they appointed who always rule against it.

52

roger 02.28.08 at 2:27 am

Bruce, as opposed to those who were for it? What candidates and judges were they? And how quickly were they tossed out of the Democratic party?

53

Bruce Baugh 02.28.08 at 2:33 am

Roger, the Democratic record on drug legalization is of course awful. I’m just not sure it’s quite as completely malevolent as under, say, Ashcroft. (I can be persuaded that it is, though, because I know my knowledge is sketchy about it on some fronts.)

54

Jeet Heer 02.28.08 at 3:15 am

I think people here are being too harsh on Buckley — and I write as someone who has written my share of articles criticizing National Review style conservatism. The fact is that Buckley came from a very hard right family background: his father was an isolationist, his siblings once burned a cross at Jewish resort, and a frequent family guest was the Old Right anti-Semite Albert Jay Nock. This was what Buckley inherited and it was evident in the early National Review (which publshed people like Revilo Oliver, later a sage of the Neo-Nazi movement). But Buckley also had a capacity to evolve: as Garry Wills (not at all a conventional conservative) said in an interview with Travis Smiley, Buckley “de-kooked” the conserative movement. First he kicked the anti-Semites out of National Review, then he gradually (and perhaps all too slowly) accepted the civil rights movement.

In his personal life, Buckley was a very kind and generous man, not just in terms of often lending money to friends in need but also giving of his time and energy.

Garry Wills talks about some of this in an interview he did with Travis Smiley, which cn be found here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tavis-smiley/my-conversation-with-garr_b_88813.html

About Buckley and Kenner: I touched on this in an obituary I wrote when Kenner died:
http://www.slate.com/id/2091796/

Kenner had the thankless task of being poetry editor of National Review. He did a great job, getting poems by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, etc. This confused the hell out of NR’s readership, which was also annoyed by the fact that Williams had been a communist fellow traveler. Kenner’s verdict: “National Review has some of the dumbest readers in the world.”

After I wrote my Kenner obit I got an email from Buckley saying how much he liked it. Perhaps that inclines me to want to remember Buckley’s personal gracefulness.

55

Jeet Heer 02.28.08 at 3:18 am

Also interesting is that Buckley seems to have moderated his anti-communism. Sam Tanenhaus, who is working, on a Buckley biography made this very interesting observation in a New York Times Q&A session:

Q: In what ways did Buckeley’s conservatism change throughout the years? Was there any postions he later regretted? —Publius

A: He evolved from militant anti-Communism to a more pragmatic view. He told me just a couple of weeks ago that today he would have taken a less doctrinaire or “monolithic” attitude toward socialist regimes in Latin America. The Vietnam War cured him of the “rollback” policy on Communism he had supported in the 1950s, and he objected when this policy was removed from cold storage by conservatives to justify the war in Iraq.

http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/27/qa-with-sam-tanenhaus-on-william-f-buckley/

56

aa 02.28.08 at 3:20 am

I get harder on them just about every day.

This I do not want to hear about.

57

Bruce Baugh 02.28.08 at 3:21 am

Jeet, to skip right to the extreme case: Some concentration camp guards went home and were good fathers to their families and enjoyed classical music. It doesn’t matter much, not for all of us who are among Buckley’s recurring targets (or just care about people who are) and who’ve suffered thanks to the causes and people he pushed. Let those who loved him remember him well if they want to; it doesn’t remove one scrap of the entirely needless pain he helped make for millions or billions of others.

No, I don’t mean to exaggerate with “billions”. Remember that he worked to push the merits of McCarthy, Nixon, and that bunch, who destroyed an entire diplomatic system that might well have been a force for good in post-WW2 China had it been allowed to be. Instead we got 30 years of clash and war until the architects of the isolation got bored with it and decided to boldly transgress the norms they’d used to destroy the careers and lives of rivals. A China opening was necessary only because there’d been a China closing, and that was the whim of a couple dozen thugs looking for clubs to use against smarter, better educated, more effective, and more moral people.

58

ScentOfViolets 02.28.08 at 4:19 am

If I’m not mistaken, weren’t there some indications that he had become dismayed with the turn conservatism had taken? Of course, it wasn’t really a turn, more of a flowering of something you just knew from it’s appearance was going to smell rank and attract vermin.

Nevertheless. As others have noted, he doesn’t seem to be nearly as smart as he thought he was, nor did he really work all that hard; I get the impression he gradually bought into his own hype (not a good trait in an Ad man), and was unpleasantly surprised at what Bush wrought.

59

Barry 02.28.08 at 4:25 am

Yes, after McCarthyism and racism, he really didn’t have cause to be offended or disappointed at anything that conservatism ended up doing.

60

Barry 02.28.08 at 4:36 am

Adding on…

Brad DeLong does us all a good service with his unearthing of – not nuggets, but buried garbage from WFB’s career. He shows that the roots of the modern conservative movement were rotten.

61

joel hanes 02.28.08 at 5:39 am

Buckley’s real oeuvre was the upper-class sneer.

That’s what his fans loved: the cultured put-down of their enemies, the belittlement, bolstered by social class signifiers, of better-thought and more humane opinions. My father, the paleo-Goldwater conservative and a man with no markers of social class, loved to watch Buckley stick it to someone liberal, and twist the knife.

I’ve read maybe 300 comments on his death and no one else seems to have pointed this out.

In spite of Buckley and all his lesser spawn, some elements of worth persist, with difficulty, here on Earth.

62

Bruce Baugh 02.28.08 at 5:53 am

Joel, I was just commenting on something related over at Making Light: What I see again and again in movements that start off with suave people and end up with vulgarians is that the suave ones insist there must have been some way to keep spewing their hate and bile in classy ways. No. That’s not repentence, that’s trying to save face, and it’s part of the problem.

63

abb1 02.28.08 at 7:08 am

Too bad (or not) I could never understand what exactly he meant to say in his NR pieces. Too many difficult words, clever turns of a phrase and heavy sarcasm.

Yeah, and the guy never struck me as ‘evil’. More like a poser, clown. These days he would be called ‘troll’, of course. Trolls can annoying but is he really ‘evil’ as some said here? I don’t know.

64

TheIrie 02.28.08 at 9:14 am

Lenin from the tomb gives us a nice quote from this man:

“The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” —William F. Buckley, National Review, August 24, 1957.

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2008/02/buckley.html

65

Katherine 02.28.08 at 10:04 am

From the NYT obit:

“saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office”

I really don’t know anything about this man – his influence doesn’t seem to have extended over the Atlantic – but if Reagan and the Bushes are his legacy then I can’t say I have much time for him.

66

Brett Bellmore 02.28.08 at 12:37 pm

“Instead we got 30 years of clash and war until the architects of the isolation got bored with it and decided to boldly transgress the norms they’d used to destroy the careers and lives of rivals.”

Yup, it’s always our fault when communist dictators do vicious, stupid things. Because the alternative is recognizing that vicious, stupid things are just what communist dictators WANT to do, (Because they’re dictators, natch.) which is way to close to recognizing that communism, itself, which can’t be implemented voluntarily on any scale larger than a euchre club, might itself be vicious and stupid.

67

JP Stormcrow 02.28.08 at 1:43 pm

As I posted here a few months back when Buckley came up and in agreement with what others have brought up in regard to his role as an enabler/defender of the Limbaughs of this world, I think Lars-Erik Nelson summed up Buckley best:

Bill Buckley exists to wrap up peoples’ base, greedy, low-life, mean and nasty views into high-faluting language so that they don’t have to go around thinking they are just mean, stupid and nasty, but instead have a philosophy like Buckley’s.

68

HP 02.28.08 at 2:36 pm

Surely no matter what our politics are, we all have at least some fond memories of the man who was William F. Buckley. I’ll never forget that time in 2008 when he died.

69

ajay 02.28.08 at 3:40 pm

The other debater was responding at length to one of his points, and at this time Buckley reaches into his inside suit jacket pocket, and takes out a money clip bursting with cash. He then begins to slowly count the money until the other debater stops, smiled in her direction, and stashed the cash back in his coat pocket.

Pocketbooks are for gentlemen, money clips are for nouveax riches.

70

Jeet Heer 02.28.08 at 4:26 pm

In response to #57, Bruce Baugh: While I disgree strongly with the almost every political stance Buckley took, I don’t think he can be compared to a Nazi concentration camp guard. I don’t think Buckley killed anyone. And it has to be said that many of the most terrible things he supported had broad political support within the context of American democracy. Robert Kennedy worked for Joseph McCarthy and many other Democrats supported McCarthyism. (Indeed, the best scholarly literarture on McCarthyism argues that it wasn’t created by the Wisconsin senator and his friends alone but grew out of both the old right and Cold War Liberalism — Harry Truman laid for the groundwork for McCarthyism with the National Security state he created.) The same is true of racism — it wouldn’t have lasted so long if it didn’t have the support of a majority of white Americans. Buckley’s evolution on this point mirrors what happened to millions of whites in the 1950s and 1960s. So I think it’s wrong to see Buckley as a uniquely evil devil figure.

71

geo 02.28.08 at 5:01 pm

#66: communism … can’t be implemented voluntarily on any scale larger than a euchre club

Thought about this long and deeply, have you, Brett?

72

Uncle Kvetch 02.28.08 at 5:02 pm

Buckley’s evolution on this point mirrors what happened to millions of whites in the 1950s and 1960s. So I think it’s wrong to see Buckley as a uniquely evil devil figure.

Really? You’re honestly suggesting that a person who uses his considerable influence in the public sphere to actively propagate the belief that blacks are inferior, and provides (pseudo-)intellectual underpinning for that belief, is morally indistinguishable from any old random schmuck who thinks that blacks are inferior? David Duke is just another racist, no more, no less?

Really?

“Uniquely evil devil figure” may be a bit much. But “Hell, most white Americans were racist then” doesn’t do much to exculpate someone who spent his entire life marketing himself as a Deep Thinker and Superior Intellect.

73

SamChevre 02.28.08 at 5:19 pm

I would say there is a rather sharp distinction between “blacks are inescapably inferior” and “black culture is currently inferior”; Buckley’s position was the second, not the first.

Just like I’m quite sure that Uncle Kvetch thinks that TRBC’s (Jerry Falwell’s church) current culture is inferior, and it certainly shouldn’t be expressed via law whether it has a majority or not.

74

Bruce Baugh 02.28.08 at 5:27 pm

Jeet, I did say that I was using the concentration camp guard as an extreme case to illustrate the principle. The principle is: you can be a fine person to some individuals and even whole groups and still be a monstrous servant of evil with regard to the whole.

And the fact is that on every moral challenge facing America as a whole since the ’50s, Buckley was consistently worse at responding it to it than the public at large. He was right about standing athwart history and yelling stop – he did so in the service of sexism, racism, homophobia, war, the betrayal of constitutional principles to preserve privilege, and on and on, while the public at large learned and reached accommodations with changing insights.

75

Uncle Kvetch 02.28.08 at 5:34 pm

Just like I’m quite sure that Uncle Kvetch thinks that TRBC’s (Jerry Falwell’s church) current culture is inferior, and it certainly shouldn’t be expressed via law whether it has a majority or not.

I’m not following. What does “it” refer to?

76

Bob 02.28.08 at 5:38 pm

SamChevre at 73 wrote: “Just like I’m quite sure that Uncle Kvetch thinks that TRBC’s (Jerry Falwell’s church) current culture is inferior,…”
There is a pronounced difference between the two. Race is something you are born with, have no control over, and – the Bell Curve notwithstanding – is totally lacking in inferior or superior genetic traits. Racism is wrong because it has no basis in fact. What church you belong to is a wholly different animal. You choose to belong to a church based upon your view of their works and credo. Thus, there is no contradiction in decrying racism while criticizing the culture of a particular church.

77

functional 02.28.08 at 6:53 pm

Brad DeLong does us all a good service with his unearthing of – not nuggets, but buried garbage from WFB’s career. He shows that the roots of the modern conservative movement were rotten.

I’m sure all of the liberals professing shock over Buckley’s retrograde opinions 50 years ago are equally interested in the retrograde opinions dug up by Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism (such as pro-eugenics progressives, pro-Mussolini sentiment in the New Deal, etc.). Right?

78

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 6:59 pm

I’m sure all of the liberals professing shock over Buckley’s retrograde opinions 50 years ago are equally interested in the retrograde opinions dug up by Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism (such as pro-eugenics progressives, pro-Mussolini sentiment in the New Deal, etc.). Right?

The, um, functional difference there is that racism remains part and parcel of the Republican party strategy, whereas, however imperfectly, the Democrats have taken the opposite path. States’ rights anyone?

79

Bob 02.28.08 at 7:20 pm

Righteous Bubba: Don’t bother arguing with anyone taking Jonah Goldberg seriously. It’s like asking a cat to go for a swim: the recipient won’t understand you, your time will be wasted, and important chores (like clawing the furniture or writing letters to the editor supporting the war in Iraq) will go undone.

80

functional 02.28.08 at 7:22 pm

I think Republicans just may have renounced segregation since the 1950s, just as Planned Parenthood isn’t trying to pursue eugenics any more (at least not expressly).

81

Bob 02.28.08 at 7:27 pm

Functional: Stop it man, you’re killing me. Seriously. Does the phrase “the Southern Strategy” mean anything to you? Read any conservative web sites in the aftermath of Katrina? Really man, get a grip. To deny that racism plays a role in Republican policy (and no, I am not saying EVERY Republican is racist) is to take Jonah and his “liberals believe in the primacy of race: conservatives want what Dr. King wanted – a color blind society” spewage seriously.
And if you don’t understand what I just said; would you like to go for a swim, meow, meow?

82

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 7:28 pm

Righteous Bubba: Don’t bother arguing with anyone taking Jonah Goldberg seriously.

I understand that functional’s a nitwit – witness the latest goalpost movement from racism to segregation – but it’s fun to take a poke now and then.

83

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 7:29 pm

80 vs. 82 = Laffs.

84

geo 02.28.08 at 7:30 pm

#81: I think Republicans just may have renounced segregation since the 1950s

Except, of course, for the recently-resigned Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, whom the party returned to the Senate Republican leadership after the fuss over his praise of Strom Thurmond had died down a bit.

85

richard 02.28.08 at 7:35 pm

re 74″ I would say there is a rather sharp distinction between “blacks are inescapably inferior” and “black culture is currently inferior”; Buckley’s position was the second, not the first.

I think he’s talking about culture in that segment, too, but he says race, so at best we could think he was some sort of racist evolutionist, like British colonial policy-makers in the late 19th century. Even the cultural argument is pretty repugnant, though, especially since from point of view of the White community he addresses, Black culture consisted of being in the way, preying on white women and getting lynched.

Does anyone know if he later modified his views on this?

86

functional 02.28.08 at 7:38 pm

I understand that functional’s a nitwit – witness the latest goalpost movement from racism to segregation – but it’s fun to take a poke now and then.

No, silly, that was just moving the goalpost back to its original spot. (You did notice that Buckley’s 1957 quote was about segregation?)

80: It’s not that I take Jonah Goldberg’s book all that seriously, but even the most hostile liberals (i.e., Tomasky) admit that he provides lots and lots of very damning quotations from liberals back in the day.

So if you are able to figure out that the liberal movement has changed in the past several decades, there’s no excuse for being too stupid to figure out that conservatives (including Buckley himself) changed quite a bit over the past several decades as well. After all, we went from a conservative movement in 1957 that praised segregation to a Bush administration that defended affirmative action before the Supreme Court. (The real problems with the conservative movement today are not racism, but: 1) valuing security over liberty; 2) incompetence; and 3) messianic foreign policy.)

87

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 7:47 pm

No, silly, that was just moving the goalpost back to its original spot.

Ah, so when you seemingly answered my post about racism in 81 you chose to speak to something I didn’t address. Well, I can see why this original intent stuff is so attractive to buffoons.

even the most hostile liberals (i.e., Tomasky) admit that he provides lots and lots of very damning quotations from liberals back in the day.

Tomasky admits no such thing, and the opposite was one of the points made in Tomasky’s review. I recommend reading it.

88

functional 02.28.08 at 7:58 pm

Bzzt, wrong, you just lost your license to read. Tomasky’s only point is that the bad quotes from liberals are just old news, that everyone knows about those quotes already, etc. He doesn’t deny that liberals said some really bad stuff back in the day.

Quote from Tomasky:

[Goldberg] shows that many American progressives in the 1920s, and even into the 1930s, expressed admiration for aspects of Italian or German society–Lincoln Steffens, or Rexford G. Tugwell. (He also makes it clear with thirty-two citations of this magazine that he considers it something like the historic house organ of liberal fascism.)

* * *

But very little of the story he tells is news to students of history. We had already heard that Steffens said of the Soviet Union, “I have been over into the future, and it works,” so it is not exactly a shock to read that he had kind words for a similarly regimented society. We similarly understand that the Wilson administration did indeed shut down The Masses and fan racism and xenophobia and round up radicals, and no liberal today thinks of these moves as things to be proud of or to duplicate. We are also acutely aware that some New Dealers were fans of the totalitarian Soviet Union.

Get the point now? So forget about Goldberg, just focus on the bad stuff that Tomasky admits here. Some New Dealers were fans of the totalitarian Soviet Union. Does that make it problematic when today’s liberals or “progressives” praise the New Deal? Sure it does — if you’re going to play the same game of perpetual-guilt-over-things-said-many-decades-ago.

But again, if you can figure out that the liberal movement has changed, then you might also be able to figure out that conservatives aren’t the same as they were in the 1950s either.

89

functional 02.28.08 at 8:00 pm

That blockquote was supposed to continue up to this point:

Get the point now? So forget about Goldberg, just focus on the bad stuff that Tomasky admits here. Some New Dealers were fans of the totalitarian Soviet Union. Does that make it problematic when today’s liberals or “progressives” praise the New Deal? Sure it does—if you’re going to play the same game of perpetual-guilt-over-things-said-many-decades-ago.

But again, if you can figure out that the liberal movement has changed, then you might also be able to figure out that conservatives aren’t the same as they were in the 1950s either.

90

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 8:06 pm

Functional, you appear to have missed what you quoted:

But very little of the story he tells is news to students of history.

This, it seems to me, is somewhat opposed to even the most hostile liberals (i.e., Tomasky) admit that he provides lots and lots of very damning quotations from liberals back in the day.

91

SamChevre 02.28.08 at 8:10 pm

Uncle Kvetch,

I meant “it” to refer to the current culture of TRBC. Whether a majority agrees with that culture or not, you think it would be good for that culture to not influence the law.

92

functional 02.28.08 at 8:12 pm

Um, no. Tomasky was saying that “students of history” will already know about all the damning quotations that Goldberg provides. He certainly wasn’t saying that the quotations never happened.

Again, if you (like Tomasky or any number of other liberals) want to dismiss out of hand any consideration of what liberals did or said several decades ago, then it’s a bit silly to rush out upon Buckley’s death to do a fainting act over something that his magazine printed in 1957.

93

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 8:14 pm

Um, no. Tomasky was saying that “students of history” will already know about all the damning quotations that Goldberg provides. He certainly wasn’t saying that the quotations never happened.

Then I must admit you were provided with something you didn’t know.

94

functional 02.28.08 at 8:17 pm

No idea what that’s supposed to mean, except that you can’t figure out how to defend your original claim regarding Tomasky’s piece (which most certainly does admit that Goldberg provides “very damning quotations from liberals back in the day”)

95

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 8:24 pm

No idea what that’s supposed to mean

Yeah I know.

Anyway, Hillary Clinton is running for president.

Also, Barack Obama is running for president.

Please let me know if I can provide you with any other important information.

96

Uncle Kvetch 02.28.08 at 8:29 pm

I meant “it” to refer to the current culture of TRBC. Whether a majority agrees with that culture or not, you think it would be good for that culture to not influence the law.

Yes, I do. On the other hand, I don’t think that there’s anything about the “culture” of TRBC that would merit its members being treated as second-class citizens. But that’s precisely what Buckley was arguing for in the 50s, with respect to African-Americans.

So I fail to see the relevance of the analogy, and I remain deeply confused by what you’re getting at here.

97

abb1 02.28.08 at 8:29 pm

Functional’s got a point. A racist quote from the 1950s is not a great catch. Did he write anything outrageous in the 90s?

98

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 8:32 pm

Buckley from 2005 talking about how great his 20-year-old AIDS tattoo idea was:

http://www.nationalreview.com/buckley/wfb200502191155.asp

99

SamChevre 02.28.08 at 8:34 pm

On the other hand, I don’t think that there’s anything about the “culture” of TRBC that would merit its members being treated as second-class citizens. But that’s precisely what Buckley was arguing for in the 50s, with respect to African-Americans.

Not having your votes count, on the issues you think are critical, because the elite think they’re the wrong views (based in your messed-up culture), isn’t being treated as a second-class citizen?

100

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 8:39 pm

Functional’s got a point. A racist quote from the 1950s is not a great catch.

It’s not surprising, but it’s meaningful.

101

abb1 02.28.08 at 8:49 pm

Well, apparently some of his best friends had AIDS:
http://www.november.org/thewall/cases/mcwilliams-p/mcwilliams-p.html

102

Uncle Kvetch 02.28.08 at 8:54 pm

Not having your votes count, on the issues you think are critical, because the elite think they’re the wrong views (based in your messed-up culture), isn’t being treated as a second-class citizen?

No, sorry, still not getting it. Was the argument you’re attributing to me (which I haven’t actually made, but never mind that) that people like Falwell should be disenfranchised? If not, where the hell are you getting the idea that I don’t think their votes should “count”? I implied no such thing.

Once more, very carefully this time: In the 50s, Buckley and his magazine were arguing for the rights of Southern states to treat African-Americans as second-class citizens under the law. In their view, it was perfectly reasonable that black citizens not be entitled to the same rights and privileges as white citizens, because their “inferior culture” made them unworthy of those rights and privileges.

I would never assert anything remotely resembling this for the members of Jerry Falwell’s church.* They are entitled to their beliefs and to the free expression of those beliefs, however odious I may find them. You’re barking up the wrong tree here, and while I thought you might have something meaningful to say, it’s looking more and more like a case of “I’m rubber, you’re glue,” and it’s getting pretty damn tiresome.

*And of course, to compound the irony, lots of people in Falwell’s church would argue that people like me should be treated like second-class citizens, because of my sexual and romantic proclivities. I, on the other hand, have no interest whatsoever in their sexual and romantic proclivities, nor would it occur to me to pass judgment on them. But I realize that you and Functional are now deeply dug into this “For every example of intolerance from the right there must be an equal and opposite one from the left–and if there isn’t, we’ll make one up”, so I’ll leave you to it. Bon appétit.

103

geo 02.28.08 at 8:56 pm

Functional’s got a point

Except that:

1) Pro-communist liberals were never close to controlling the Democratic Party and were virtually extinct by the mid-50s, while the Republicans invited segregationist Southern Democrats into the party in the late 60s and have made them right at home ever since.

2) Appeasing the Soviets was never within a thousand miles of being official US policy, while segregation was state law throughout the South. This imposes something more of a moral duty to forcefully dissociate oneself from segregation than from appeasement.

3) Liberals did, in any case, fall all over themselves from the fifties onward to condemn Soviet totalitarianism, while Republicans have been somewhat less emphatic, to this very day — cf. Trent Lott (above)– about condemning segregation.

104

01001010 02.28.08 at 9:03 pm

Assuming some objective, platonic realm of Justice holds, WFB’s probably on his merry way to the Malebolge. Assuming that an objective, platonic realm of Justice does not hold, the discriminating consumer could appreciate WFB’s rather Humean wit, while taking issue with his bad taste in regards to the ‘Nam affair.

105

abb1 02.28.08 at 9:05 pm

Geo, all I’m saying is that if I was 80 and you were denouncing me for something I wrote when I was 20 (and especially if it wasn’t exactly an uncommon view at that time) – I would’ve just laughed at you.

106

SamChevre 02.28.08 at 9:05 pm

And I think I’m being unclear, not stupid.

There are two ways votes can “not count.” One–the simple one–is that you don’t get to vote. The other–the common one–is that the issues you care about are decided by someone you don’t get to vote for, and the people you do get to vote for are powerless to do anything about it. On the three current issues that are a really big deal to conservative Baptists, your position is that whatever they want, and whoever they vote for, they should not be able to get what they want. (Prayer in schools, a ban on abortion, and legal prohibitions on homosexual activity.)

107

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 9:17 pm

Geo, all I’m saying is that if I was 80 and you were denouncing me for something I wrote when I was 20 (and especially if it wasn’t exactly an uncommon view at that time) – I would’ve just laughed at you.

You might not if your heirs were these folks.

108

lemuel pitkin 02.28.08 at 9:18 pm

So if we don’t agree to let Baptists to put us in jail for our sex lives, we are treating them as second-class citizens.

Samchevre, that is truly a thing of beauty.

109

geo 02.28.08 at 9:19 pm

abb1: Yes, as you put it, no argument.

But as functional put it: if you (like Tomasky or any number of other liberals) want to dismiss out of hand any consideration of what liberals did or said several decades ago, then it’s a bit silly to rush out upon Buckley’s death to do a fainting act over something that his magazine printed in 1957.

This is something else again — ie, suggesting a rough equivalence between contemporary liberals’ (generally horrified) view of (a few of) their predecessors’ invidious opinions and contemporary conservatives’ (surprisingly indulgent) view of some of their predecessors’ invidious opinions. And it’s a crock.

110

Uncle Kvetch 02.28.08 at 9:24 pm

On the three current issues that are a really big deal to conservative Baptists, your position is that whatever they want, and whoever they vote for, they should not be able to get what they want. (Prayer in schools, a ban on abortion, and legal prohibitions on homosexual activity.)

OK, got it. You are drawing a direct comparison between:

(1) My saying that the police should not have the right to break down my door in the middle of the night and arrest my partner and me, simply because we are engaged in activities that conservative Baptists find immoral; and

(2) the National Review of the 1950s saying that African-Americans are not deserving of equality under the law, because of the inferiority of their culture.

These are two sides of the same coin to you. In (1), I’m keeping the conservative Baptists down; in (2), Buckley is keeping African-Americans down. The right to dictate the sexual activities of consenting adults based on one’s personal beliefs, through force of law if necessary, is directly comparable to the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution.

(One wonders why the Bill of Rights didn’t go all the way to 11–If the right to have consenting adults prosecuted for doing things I find icky isn’t a basic human right, what on earth is?)

I wish I could find a more charitable description for this argument than “stupid” (not to mention “grotesque”), but I’m coming up empty-handed. Sorry.

111

Righteous Bubba 02.28.08 at 9:37 pm

This is something else again—ie, suggesting a rough equivalence between contemporary liberals’ (generally horrified) view of (a few of) their predecessors’ invidious opinions and contemporary conservatives’ (surprisingly indulgent) view of some of their predecessors’ invidious opinions. And it’s a crock.

That’s put well.

I can think of one liberal darling WHO HAD AMERICAN CITIZENS OF ONE RACE INTERNED!!!1!!111

Who supports that now? Right-wing kooks.

112

SamChevre 02.28.08 at 9:38 pm

Somewhere in my argument, you got lost.

IFF you are arguing that the problem with Buckley was that he wasn’t democratic (which is all the quote in question says–it’s OK for whites to rule even where they aren’t the majority, because they are the current elite), you’re making a counter-productive argument.

I’m a mostly-libertarian; I argue that what rights are protected matters more than whether the majority vote wins.

113

Bob 02.28.08 at 10:29 pm

Abb 1 at 106 states: “Geo, all I’m saying is that if I was 80 and you were denouncing me for something I wrote when I was 20 … – I would’ve just laughed at you.”
Sorry, but no dice. Buckley did oppose the war in Iraq and did support legalization of drugs. However, he was a staunch supporter of apartheid until the bitter end, had thoroughly repellent things to say about AIDS and supported all sorts of coups and overthrows of sovereign governments throughout his life. Yes, long after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 he rather timidly backed away from some of his most strident racist writings; was he sincere or merely a realist who understood history has passed him by and if he wanted to remain relevant he could no longer argue the wonders of Jim Crow? I don’t know – but neither do you. Still, until the bitter end he argued for American Exceptionalism – which is the underpinning of the war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and waterboarding. He opened those doors; that he occasionally didn’t like what he saw once those doors were open counts a little. But he should never be absolved of any and all responsibility for having opened those doors in the first place.
And for what it’s worth, the 65 year old Buckley thought Pik Botha was a great leader and Nelson Mandela was nothing more than a communist thug. Not sure if Buckley made any repugnant arguments the morning of his death, so maybe that washes away all his sins.

114

matt 02.29.08 at 1:00 am

Incidentally, my dad hated Buckley with a passion, as they sparred for a while in the NY Times editorial pages. I don’t think it’s very wise to beat up on any family when they go through a death, but at the same time anyone attempting to lionize Buckley now does indeed deserve a solid smacking.

Anyway the story of the exchange is here.

115

Bruce Baugh 02.29.08 at 1:11 am

Matt, that’s fascinating. And credit to your father – that’s some good deeds shining in a naughty world there, there. Thank you for sharing it.

116

abb1 02.29.08 at 8:45 am

Well, Bob, again: all I’m saying is that a quote from the 50s is not a good catch, not convincing. I’m not defending the guy, I’m merely commenting on the method you use to denounce him, that’s all.

I hate American exceptionalism just as much as the next guy, but that’s a far cry from direct racism; American exceptionalism is pretty much the basis of the mainstream right-wing ideology today. Come to think of it, exceptionalism of the nation X is pretty much the basis of right-wing ideologies everywhere. Same goes for anti-communism, and I suspect the main reason is that communism is universal and international.

There’s nothing extraordinary here for a right-winger. And nobody in a right mind would dispute that Buckley was a right-winger. The question is: was he an exceptionally bad, unusually evil right-winger?

117

Seth Finkelstein 02.29.08 at 9:45 am

I think the overall point is that he was not an exceptionally virtuous, unusually good right-winger . He just had a superficial image to that effect, based on being mannered and having an erudite style.

118

abb1 02.29.08 at 10:46 am

Well, apparently he was a personal friend of Rick Perlstein and Peter Mcwilliams (anarchist and a gay man with AIDS). Does it count for something? I don’t know, probably not much. Maybe just that he wasn’t too dogmatic; sounds like he was periodically testing and re-examining his right-wing convictions and every time deciding to stick with them. Is it virtuous? I guess not, just notable.

119

Uncle Kvetch 02.29.08 at 12:47 pm

Well, apparently he was a personal friend of Rick Perlstein and Peter Mcwilliams (anarchist and a gay man with AIDS).

Years ago I read something about homophobes, written by a gay activist, along the lines of: “Just because they happen to like you doesn’t mean they won’t fire/evict/humiliate/bash the next one they happen to come across.” It seems germane to this discussion.

So we know that Buckley had close friends who were openly gay, and that his attitude towards those friends was wildly at odds with his attitude towards gays who were unfortunate enough to not be his friends. And this is supposed to reflect well on him?

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Bob 02.29.08 at 4:10 pm

Abb1 at 118 says “Well, Bob, again: all I’m saying is that a quote from the 50s is not a good catch, not convincing. I’m not defending the guy, I’m merely commenting on the method you use to denounce him, that’s all…….There’s nothing extraordinary here for a right-winger. And nobody in a right mind would dispute that Buckley was a right-winger. The question is: was he an exceptionally bad, unusually evil right-winger?” Ok, I give. I have no clue what you want. It’s been pointed out by me and numerous others on this thread that Buckley’s timeline runs something like this: 1950’s/60’s – defends Jim Crow; late 60’s/70’s – rather timidly and half-heartedly backs away from his most strident racist writings long after others had overcome the damage he and his fellow-travelers had wrought and ended legal Jim Crow (being caught on the wrong side of history doesn’t make one a hero); 60’s – 2000’s – argues vehemently against equal rights for women, particularly but not exclusively the right to an abortion; 70’s – 2000’s – staunch supporter of the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government and the installation of August Pinochet – a brutal dictator; 1980’s/90’s – defended Apartheid til the bitter fucking end, dismissed Nelson Mandela as a murderous thug; 1990’s – used the Susan Smith case to reassure his wingnut followers he was still a card-carrying racist….
I could go on, but don’t really see much point. You’re like the evolution denying crowd always demanding one more transitional fossil. Look, if you were blinded by his patrician airs and manners and unable to see the racist, misogynistic, imperialist underpinnings of the man nothing I or anyone else can say here will change your mind. This man is as responsible for the Bush administration as Karl Rove. That Rove is a caricature of the slimy politico doesn’t make his ideas worse than Buckley’s. No “God and man at Yale”, no National Review, no groundwork for the movement conservatives to take over the Republican Party.
Have a nice day.

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Bob 02.29.08 at 4:16 pm

Oh, abb1 – please also see uncle kvetch at 121. I forgot to add his charming statements on gays to my timeline. Let’s see, call’s Gore Vidal a fag, argues for forced tattooing of AIDS victims, reiterates tattoo argument…..Yeah, you’re right. All in all a real fucking humanitarian. I feel awful for having sad bad things about this wonderful man who only made one tiny mistake back in the 50′s. Please try to forgive me.

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Bob 02.29.08 at 4:43 pm

abb1 – anohter good read for why some of us shed no tears over the death of this bastard:
http://dennisperrin.blogspot.com/2008/02/socked-in-god-damned-face.html

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seth edenbaum 02.29.08 at 5:48 pm

“And this is supposed to reflect well on him?”
Uncle K.
Vidal refers to fascism in talking about Buckley. There’s something to be said for that description. Overcoming paradox by violence. Buckley was a specific sort of nasty closet case; something out of Visconti.

His popularity: among those who’ve been seduced without knowing they’ve been seduced. A peculiarly common trait in this country, along with adult pride in innocence, specifically among “intellectuals”

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harold 02.29.08 at 7:38 pm

He didn’t make racist and anti-Semitic remarks when he was 20, he made them when he was 35. He didn’t make them privately, he made them in print as policy recommendations. Such opinions may have gone unremarked in the 1920s and 30s, but Buckley made them well after they were no longer acceptable among decent people with any brain or conscience — in the late fifties and early sixties. It is incredibly ignorant to pretend otherwise.

The spectacle of people falling all over themselves to defend him is truly a sign of the degeneracy and cynicism of of our era.

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harold 02.29.08 at 8:46 pm

People say that you could find quotes from New Deal liberals in the 1930s supporting Stalin — perhaps you can — I don’t know, but what liberals were red-baited for in the 1950s was not for supporting Stalin — that was the pretext.

They were red-baited and driven from their jobs during the McCarthy period because they “prematurely” opposed Hitler, opposed the poll tax, supported voting rights for blacks, and advocated desegregating the army and unions and getting rid of discrimination in schools and housing.

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matt 03.01.08 at 12:23 am

The eulogists are sure silent on that score, aren’t they harold.

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greensmile 03.01.08 at 12:40 am

Watching Charlie Rose’s hour of “best minutes with Buckley” memoriam, I saw a less formidable and persuasive man than I rembered from my youth.

I am late to the thread unfortunately but still ask, (where better to): Can you think of a better demonstration that neither class, color nor institutions of education can account for the earth shaking foible that Perlstein hints at as

We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus. …

I ask because the parallels between Buckley’s origins as a thinker are remarkably paralleled by William Sloan Coffin’s and yet, there were some differences of outcome, as I recall.

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harold 03.01.08 at 2:12 am

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abb1 03.01.08 at 10:42 am

@126,
and yet the fact that you have to go back 50 years to find a racist remark makes your denunciations so much weaker. Why go so bombastic on the guy?

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geo 03.02.08 at 6:46 pm

Why go so bombastic on the guy?

Yes, you’re right. But isn’t it an almost irresistible temptation, when he got away with so much unexceptional, run-of-the-mill right-wing swinishness just by flashing his toothy grin and glitzy vocabulary?

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Righteous Bubba 03.02.08 at 7:04 pm

Comedy:

Not a Bad Legacy [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

If you ask me, the Right thrives, and it, with all its thinking and pushback and debating, is Bill Buckley’s living legacy.

And it’s no bad thing that Jonah Goldberg’s important book, Liberal Fascism, will be #1 on the New York Times bestseller list next week.

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harold 03.02.08 at 7:08 pm

After it became unfashionable to say in print that the vengeful pro-Communist Jews were after their pound of flesh in pursuing Eichmann for his crimes, it was still ok to suggest tattooing AIDS sufferers.

What a card, that Buckley!

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Bob 03.02.08 at 7:52 pm

abb1 @ 131: Are you really as obtuse as you keep presenting yourself as being? Jesus effin Christ – stop harping on 50 years ago. The Susan Smith columns he wrote in the mid-90′s; he smeared Mandela in the 90′s; he reiterated his brilliant suggestion to tattoo AIDS sufferers in the 2000′s. Have you bothered to read any of the comments here or are you just so stuck on your one clever remark you think if you parrot it enough times it will become true? As soon as I find one more transitional fossil I’ll get back to you. Will one more be enough? Somehow I doubt it.

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abb1 03.02.08 at 8:35 pm

Why, just a few months ago mass-culture celebrity Bill O’Reilly was astounded to find out that people in Harlem use forks in restaurants, he defends “white, Christian, male power structure” (his words) – and you are trying to convince me that pretentious clown Buckley is evil incarnated? I guess I really am that obtuse; if you ask me – not even in the same league.

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Bob 03.02.08 at 9:42 pm

abb1 – who used the term “evil incarnated”? You keep acting as if Buckley was a non-entity; others here keep pointing out from his emergence in the early 50′s through at least the mid 90′s (when old age finally started to slow him down)he was a leading light of the political movement that gave us Reagan, Bush, Sr., and Bush, Jr, Gitmo, waterboarding, the shredding of the Constitution, etc. As for you comparison to O’Reilly: you blithely dismiss WFB’s writings from the 50′s as that was sooooo long ago. At the time Buckley was writing that repugnant shit African-Americans were legally segregated and were rarely able to vote. Buckley openly defended that status and as a leading intellectual of his day did so in a manner which carried weight and helped drag out desegregation. O’Reilly spews his poison to a small audience of old people so set in their ways the second coming of Christ wouldn’t change them; Buckley was and is taken seriously as an “intellectual”. He caused real damage – AND CONTINUED TO DO SO AS HAS POINTED OUT HERE AD-NASEUM. Buckley or O’Reilly: which one is a “pretentious clown” and which one helped keep Jim Crow alive?

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Bob 03.02.08 at 10:03 pm

abb1: one last point on your bizarre insistence that fighting to keep blacks in their place was no big deal if it happened a long time ago. Here’s Bill Hicks on the Kennedy assassination: “People come up to me: ‘Bill, quit talking about Kennedy man . . . It was a long time ago . . .’ And I’m like alright, then don’t bring up Jesus to me. As long as we’re talking about shelf life here.” History is important and having been so wrong on so important an issue without ever truly apologizing for one’s wrongness (and Buckley at best issued a couple lukewarm “I may have chosen the wrong process” apologies over the years) does matter. Sorry if the shelf life is to long for you. Ask any African-American who lived through Jim Crow how ancient it all feels and I suspect you’ll get an education.

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harold 03.02.08 at 11:06 pm

Not 50 years ago but 11

Sam Tanenhaus article (TNR):

– Gradually, it became less Catholic than “Christian.” But that was the limit of Buckley’s ecumenicalism. In 1997, when he was scouring the ranks of talented younger conservatives to find a new editor for National Review, Buckley eliminated one prospect, his one time protege David Brooks, a rising star at The Weekly Standard. In a memo to board members, Buckley reported that he had discussed Brooks with NR alum George Will: “I said that I thought it would be wrong for the next editor to be other than a believing Christian. He agreed and added that the next editor should not be a Canadian”–a possible reference to conservative writer David Frum.

http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html

But Brooks is still angling for it. Maybe he should covert.

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abb1 03.03.08 at 7:14 am

Oh, and also on the tattooed buttocks thing – yes it’s grotesque, absolutely terrible. That is until you recall what the most common wingnut attitude was (and probably still is): “good, I hope they all get infected and die.” Now you should realize that, while being grotesque, Buckley was, in fact, less bad than most. Maybe even much less bad.

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abb1 03.03.08 at 8:08 am

@137, Buckley helped keep Jim Crow alive. But there’s nothing remarkable about it, 30% of the congress voted against the civil rights act. Buckley was a right-winger, self admitted right-winger, obvious right-winger, he channeled the views of that 30% of the population – he just wasn’t a particularly bad right-winger.

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Anthony Flood 03.03.08 at 5:02 pm

When he “de-kooked” the conservative movement he merely made it more palatable to its enemies who have the privilege of sovereignly defining “kookery” and smearing all who dissent from that judgment. He banished Oliver and Rothbard as his presumptive heirs banish Ron Paul today. What an accomplishment.

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