William F. Buckley, the father of the conservative movement in America died today. I never met him, but I owe much of my political beliefs to him. For not only did he create a conservative movement purged of the paranoid anti-Semitic ranting of the Old Right, he help create the fusionism between traditional conservatives and libertarians that created the unique philosophy which is American conservatism (as I consider myself a conservative AND a Catholic libertarian, he showed the way).
He was not perfect. It took National Review too long to accept color blindness as the way to address race in America. That tardiness clearly harmed conservatism's appeal to minorities. And at times, his intelligence could be confused for elitism or arrogance. But he bequeathed to America an intellectual conservatism that, while clearly in trouble today has gone from a fringe movement to one of the mainsprings of American politics.
In college, reading National Review was like engaging in some sort of subversive activity. We would get the new issue, hide in some obscure corner of the library, and read it while we took turns as look outs, or so it seems in hindsight. Of course, it was never quite that way. By the time I entered college, Ronald Reagan had twice been elected president, the second time in a landslide. Conservatives had gone from being marginal figures to running the country, though of course, on campus, we were something of an oddity. But it is fun to remember it as such.
He was known for his speech and boy how he spoke. Here he is on election night, 1968.
(HT Ann Althouse)
Granted, a few months earlier Vidal and Buckley got into a shouting match on live t.v. during the 1968 Democratic Convention (Vidal called Buckley a "crypto Nazi" to which Buckley responded by threatening to punch Vidal in his "God damned face!"). That probably explains why they were in different locations.
Why can't we get political coverage like this today? Instead, today we get talking points and shouting and Ann Coulter. Ultimately, the problem with Coulter is a problem with my fellow conservatives more and more these days. We USED to seek out the intellectual high ground. Now, it seems we are in a race to the bottom with the Michael Moores and Ted Ralls. Who can be more outrageous? Who can sell more books?
Where is the William Buckley or George Will for the next generation? Instead of Russell Kirk or Irving Kristol we are getting mediocrities dressed up in drag. In the spirit of Mencken we have Steyn and O'Rourke to be sure, but where will the intellectual foundation for the next 20 years come from?
I see the same happening on the other side. The great social critics on both sides are either gone (Buckley, Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson) or old (Chomsky, Buchanan). And yes, most of them are annoying (Mailer was a psycho and Thompson probably insane). But they were intelligent and thought provoking. In their place we have mediocrities.