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Son of William F. Buckley, Conservative founder of the National Review magazine, says…

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“So, to paraphrase a real conservative, Ronald Reagan: I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.”

While I often disagreed with William Buckley, one of the founders of the Conservative movement, I respected him and his opinions. Bill Buckley was on of the most well read, most learned, most intelligent men ever to grace the political scene. Listening to him gave me more than food for thought, his arguments required me to think question and about my own positions. His arguments required more of me than ideology, they required deep thought.

This week Chris Buckley, the son of Bill Buckley, resigned his position with the National Review, the Conservative magazine his father founded, and endorsed Senator Obama.

In Chris Buckley’s online explanation of his actions, he said:

I seem to have picked an apt title for my Daily Beast column, or blog, or whatever it’s called: “What Fresh Hell.” My last posting (if that’s what it’s called) in which I endorsed Obama, has brought about a very heaping helping of fresh hell. In fact, I think it could accurately be called a tsunami.

The mail (as we used to call it in pre-cyber times) at the Beast has been running I’d say at about 7-to-1 in favor. This would seem to indicate that you (the Beast reader) are largely pro-Obama.

As for the mail flooding into National Review Online—that’s been running about, oh, 700-to-1 against. In fact, the only thing the Right can’t quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

I had gone out of my way in my Beast endorsement to say that I was not doing it in the pages of National Review, where I write the back-page column, because of the experience of my colleague, the lovely Kathleen Parker [of the Washington Post]. Kathleen had written in NRO that she felt Sarah Palin was an embarrassment. (Hardly an alarmist view.) This brought 12,000 livid emails, among them a real charmer suggesting that Kathleen’s mother ought to have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a dumpster. I didn’t want to put NR in an awkward position.

Since my Obama endorsement, Kathleen and I have become BFFs and now trade incoming hate-mails. No one has yet suggested my dear old Mum should have aborted me, but it’s pretty darned angry out there in Right Wing Land. One editor at National Review—a friend of 30 years—emailed me that he thought my opinions “cretinous.” One thoughtful correspondent, who feels that I have “betrayed”—the b-word has been much used in all this—my father and the conservative movement generally, said he plans to devote the rest of his life to getting people to cancel their subscriptions to National Review. But there was one bright spot: To those who wrote me to demand, “Cancel my subscription,” I was able to quote the title of my father’s last book, a delicious compendium of his NR “Notes and Asides”: Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.

Within hours of my endorsement appearing in The Daily Beast it became clear that National Review had a serious problem on its hands. So the next morning, I thought the only decent thing to do would be to offer to resign my column there. This offer was accepted—rather briskly!—by Rich Lowry, NR’s editor, and its publisher, the superb and able and fine Jack Fowler. I retain the fondest feelings for the magazine that my father founded, but I will admit to a certain sadness that an act of publishing a reasoned argument for the opposition should result in acrimony and disavowal.

My father in his day endorsed a number of liberal Democrats for high office, including Allard K. Lowenstein and Joe Lieberman. One of his closest friends on earth was John Kenneth Galbraith. In 1969, Pup wrote a widely-remarked upon column saying that it was time America had a black president. (I hasten to aver here that I did not endorse Senator Obama because he is black. Surely voting for someone on that basis is as racist as not voting for him for the same reason.)

My point, simply, is that William F. Buckley held to rigorous standards, and if those were met by members of the other side rather than by his own camp, he said as much. My father was also unpredictable, which tends to keep things fresh and lively and on-their-feet. He came out for legalization of drugs once he decided that the war on drugs was largely counterproductive. Hardly a conservative position. Finally, and hardly least, he was fun. God, he was fun. He liked to mix it up.

So, I have been effectively fatwahed (is that how you spell it?) by the conservative movement, and the magazine that my father founded must now distance itself from me. But then, conservatives have always had a bit of trouble with the concept of diversity. The GOP likes to say it’s a big-tent. Looks more like a yurt to me.

While I regret this development, I am not in mourning, for I no longer have any clear idea what, exactly, the modern conservative movement stands for. Eight years of “conservative” government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case.

Over the last fifteen years, I have witnessed the conservative movement stray from its original mandate, espoused by Bill Buckley, of fiscal conservatism, cautious foreign intervention policy, and rights to privacy to a profligate spending policy, wildly interventionist foreign policy, and a policy of ignoring civil and personal rights (i.e., illegal wiretapping).

The conservative movement which Bill Buckley helped found, along with Ronald Reagan, no longer exists except in the memories of us few older people who allowed Bill to challenge our thoughts and ideas. Modern Conservatism is controlled by the religious far right whose only agenda is overturning Roe v Wade, delegitimizing solid science, and controlling the actions of their neighbors both within and without our national borders. This ideology is completely antithetical to Bill Buckley’s idea of Conservatism.

Modern conservatism has evolved to embrace the “Joe six-pack” mentality as qualified to run our fiscal and foreign affairs, rather than choosing the best and brightest as Thomas Jefferson sought. Within modern conservatism, the great idea promulgated is hiring the most average, middling guy or gal around. One whom you’d want to have a beer with, rather than one with the education and intellect to deal with the enormously challenging issues of the day. As Kathleen Parker wrote in her National Review column:

The well-fed Right now cultivates ignorance as a political strategy and humiliates itself when its brightest sons seek sanctuary in the solitude of personal honor.

The truth few wish to utter is that the GOP has abandoned many conservatives, who mostly nurse their angst in private. Those chickens we keep hearing about have indeed come home to roost. Years of pandering to the extreme wing — the “kooks” the senior Buckley tried to separate from the right — have created a party no longer attentive to its principles.

Bill Buckley would be appalled. The conservative movement Bill Buckley sponsored, indeed, has been hijacked as many true Conservatives admit.

It is for these reasons, amongst many others, that I know I am on the right track in my endorsement of Sen. Obama.

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Written by Valerie Curl

October 18, 2008 at 4:32 AM

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