• Testament to the decline and – hopefully – fall of the American right from a very amusingTNR piece awhile back (don’t have link) about a National Review sea cruise that allowed those willing to cough up dough to hobnob with conservative luminaries like Buckley and Norman Podhoretz (via MYglesias). The setup is a panel discussion on Iraq and the aftermath:

    “Aren’t you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?” Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him that Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. “No,” Podhoretz replies. “As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War One, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran.” He says he is “heartbroken” by this “rise of defeatism on the right.” He adds, apropos of nothing, “There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we are winning.”

    The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn’t he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley “a coward.” His wife nods and says, “Buckley’s an old man,” tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia. (end clip)

    Dementia indeed…

    Buckley was outrageously wrong about loads of things but he was – in most respects – a class act. Even the notorious tiff with Vidal shows him to be enormously entertaining. The biggest question I have about the guy is the provenance of his odd accent and manner. Surely most people don’t speak like that in Connecticut. (I just looked him up in Wikipedia and discovered that as a kid was schooled in England, so I guess he came by it honestly. It certainly worked for him.)

  • Wolcott in his Vanity Fair blog has a great summation of the Buckley legacy:

    Standing athwart history yelling Stop! was the ringing phrase from National Review’s mission statement. Yes, the modern conservative movement founded by National Review produced Goldwater, Reagan, the Gingrich revolution, and Bush II. But socially and culturally, it was impotent to stop the locomotive rush of history. It was on the ugly wrong side of the civil rights debate, as former senior editor Jeffrey Hart observes in his personal history of National Review, and the women’s movement, gay liberation, the rise of the counterculture, and environmental consciousness have washed right over its paper-mache castle. National Review-style conservatism hasn’t resulted in smaller, less obtrusive government, or a retrenchment from commitments abroad; it’s degenerated into militaristic swagger and the Kabuki stomp of culture wars. To quote Ackerman…, “The decline of the right, and perhaps of America more generally, is summed up in the intellectual slouch from the heights of Buckley to the depths of Hewitt and Reynolds and Limbaugh and Coulter and Kristol and O’Reilly and Hannity and Bush,” and John Cole, anticipating a bout of nausea coming on, cautions, “Watching the right-wing lunatics who destroyed conservatism wrapping themselves up in Buckley’s cold, dead embrace over the next few weeks will be disgusting.”

  • Good excerpts, Reg, both of ’em. And I agree, as much as he has been on the wrong side of history in many instances—horribly, loathsomely so, at times—Buckley was a class act.

    Some of those other folks named in the Wolcott article….not so much.

  • By all accounts WFB was a very nice man who was splendid company. Consider Rick Pearlstein’s comments:


    But the trouble I have is not with the man but with his legacy. In 1957 Buckeley editorialized in his mag that the whites of the south were justified in resisting integration and the challenges to their way of life as they were “The advanced race.” I can’t forgive that as Race and the legacy of slavery is America’s Original Sin.

    Buckley – like John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate and Richard Weaver (the “Fugitives”) made racism respectable even as they inspired two generations of literary critics from their aeries at Kenyon, Sewanee, Chicago, Vanderbilt, and Yale. Including, I suspect, the granndson of a Texas Sheriff who struck it rich in oil down Mexico Way and sent his grandkids to highfalutin’ Jesuit Schools in the North and then the Ivy League to become faux Brits.

    Yes they were nice. God help us from their kindnessess. I’m not so sure that Ann and Rush and K-Lo and others at the corner aren’t their true heirs.

  • What RLC said. I might also add that Buckley never met a rightwing dictator he didn’t like, being a vigorous apologist for Pinochet and Franco amongst others.

  • I’m not so sure I’d tag Buckley as “nice” so much as “interesting.” HIs McCarthyism, Francoism, NR’s apologetics for segregation – which were flagrant – and the rest of it are surely nausea-inducing. But the differences between Buckley and most of the NRO “Corner” crowd are on the order of the difference between, say, authentic conservatives like Robert Taft or Barry Goldwater and contemporary right-wing hucksters like Tom DeLay or Rick Santorum. I have no affinity for the perspectives of the former pair of old-school conservative “legends” any more than I agreed with Buckley other than coincidentally, but history will judge them a world apart from most of their “heirs.”

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