William Buckley: A Deprecation
When legendary journalist I.F. Stone died in June 1989, the Los Angeles Times asked William F. Buckley, Jr. to comment. His terse response was that Stone was a "Stalinist." It was not the first time Buckley had used that term to describe Stone, either. (As I have remarked in earlier posts, contrary to Buckley, Stone was not a Stalinist, and even those who think Stone defended Stalinism in the 1930s are wrong. Damned wrong. But nobody outside of Buckley and right wing nuts would choose to call Stone a Stalinist as a description for Stone's entire life.) After reading that statement from Buckley, I vowed that when Buckley passed away, I would remember to apply Buckley's rules of political discourse to Buckley. Now that Buckley has passed away this week, it is time for what I will call a Deprecation.
Under the "Buckley Rule," if a writer or pundit, for a relatively fleeting moment, supported someone or something odious, that marked the writer or pundit for life. Allow me to apply the rule to Buckley.
Applying the Buckley Rule to Buckley, William Buckley was a racist. On March 24, 1957, Buckley's then new magazine, National Review, published an editorial that stated whites in the American South "were the advanced race" and that those whites were "entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally..." to protect themselves. See: Tim Noah's nicely written article on Buckley in Slate.com.
As Noah says in his essay, when one considers the South's history of lynchings and violence towards blacks up through that time, both "politically and culturally," Buckley's endorsement of such an editorial is chilling. It is also a matter of public record that Buckley vehemently opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later opposed affirmative action even in instances of egregious discrimination against blacks. He was a foe and harsh critic of Martin Luther King, Jr. when King was alive, and strongly oppposed the establishment of a holiday for King in the 1980s. Again, using Buckley's own criteria he applied to others, one can say that Buckley generally saw blacks as fit for little more than to act as his maid or butler (Think this sort of rhetoric is too rough? Then please read on...).
But surely he was not racist in recent years, you may say. Well, what does one make of this November 21, 2000 editorial Buckley wrote during the Bush-Gore recount controversy? In the editorial, Buckley says he cannot stand seeing pictures of then-President Bill Clinton visting leaders in Vietnam, saying Clinton was "saluting gooks he didn't have the nerve to shoot at..." Breathtaking, isn't it? Apart from the fact that Buckley never attacked our current president, Bush II, for cowardice in such a manner, where were the editors at National Review to stop the already doddering Bill Buckley from spewing a particularly odious racist epithet?
Besides being a racist, again applying Buckley's Rule to Buckley, we can also see that Buckley was a fascist. If we parsed the columns of Buckley the way a few obsessed minds maliciously parse the writings of I.F. Stone or Noam Chomsky, we would see that, over the decades, particularly during the Cold War, Buckley was at least a fellow traveler of Fascists or an outright supporter of Fascists. As Tim Noah pointed out in his essay on Buckley, Buckley called Fascist dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, "a national hero..." with no irony whatsoever and no significant qualification, either. Nothing I.F. Stone ever said about Stalin or Castro, for example, comes close to that. It's too bad Buckley's editorials of various defenses of right wing dictators are not on line. For Buckley supported the odious string of dictators in Guatemala starting in the mid-1950s, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, and the list goes on. Buckley rarely met a right wing dictator he truly didn't like or support.
Thus, applying the Buckley Rule, we can now sum up Buckley as a racist and a Fascist.
It is also important to recall Buckley's abiding support for Joseph McCarthy and the politics of personal attacks against "liberals". As I noted in a previous post describing a book by an acolyte of Buckley's, Buckley and his brother in law, L. Brent Bozell (the father of this poor sap), wrote a book in 1954 defending McCarthy. It was called "McCarthy and his Enemies" (Regnery 1954) . The book was published at the time when McCarthy had turned his subpoenas and harassing methods to the US military and icons such as former WWII General George Marshall. At page 333 of their book, Buckley and Bozell describe an incident where McCarthy made an intentional error, calling Democratic Party presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson, "Alger," as in Alger Hiss. Here is what Buckley and Bozell wrote about this incident:
"In October of 1952, Senator McCarthy delivered his widely heralded attack on Adlai Stevenson...With millions of listensers glued to radio and TV, McCarthy reached, not for a red paint brush, but for a list of Stevenson's top advisors: Archibald MacLeish, Bernard De Voto, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Was his point that these men were Communists? No, that was not McCarthy's point. His objection to these men was not that they were Communists, or even pro-Communists, but that they were Liberals--atheistic, soft-headed, anti-anti-Communist, ADA (MF Blog note: Americans for Democratic Action) Liberals...
"Whether the speech was a conscious effort to narrow the limits of tolerable opinion so as to exclude left-wing Liberals, only McCarthy can say...But it may well be we have not heard the last of this idea. Some day, the patience of America may at last be exhausted, and we will strike out against Liberals. Not because they are treacherous like Communists, but because, with James Burnham, we will conclude 'that they are mistaken in their predictions, false in their analyses, wrong in their advice, and through the results of their actions injurious to the interests of the nation. That is reason enough to strive to free the conduct of the country's affairs from the influence of them and their works.'*...
(MF Blog note: The "*" is a footnote in the book that says Burnham was "most clearly advocating social sanctions" (emphasis in original) against Liberals. Gee, thanks for that clarification, fellas.)
Buckley and Bozell then concluded their immediate point about "Liberals," stating:
"But the real point, for our purposes, is that the mainstream of McCarthyism flows past the Liberals as gently as the Afton; and that the MacLeishs, DeVotos and Schlesingers have no grounds for arguing that any sustained effort is being made to read them out of the community."
Note first the defamation against the three men cited. Contrary to Buckley and Bozell, the three men were in fact anti-Communist; they were just not pro-McCarthy. Second, Schlesinger et al were not "athiestic", which means an evangelical for atheism. Heck, I doubt the three men were more than agnostics. During the Cold War, the term "atheistic" was often used as a qualifer as in "atheistic Communism", which shows us that Buckley and Bozell were in fact demonizing these three respected New Deal liberals. And third, but not least, "soft-headed" is a derisive phrase that was eventually refined to simply atacking "liberals" as "weak."
What Buckley and Bozell understood was the importance of allowing the McCarthys and now the likes of Dinesh D'Souza and Ann Coulter space to work their poison in the mass media to delegitimize "Liberals." Even the last portion I quoted from their book is not truly a defense of Schlesinger and other similarly situated "liberals." It's really a warning that they were "okay for now," but had better watch it, or else they too would be demonized, like other New Deal liberals.
As most readers may know, in 2003, Ann Coulter wrote a book praising McCarthy that regurgitates Buckley's and Bozell's book in various instances, including the unexamined assumption that because one is a Communist, one is also a traitor to our nation. Buckley may have found Coulter crass, but ultimately belived, in his review of her book, that she had done a service in her defense of McCarthy. His last paragraph of his review of Coulter's book says: "There is a lot of such fun and shrewdness as this in Ann Coulter's book, but there is also mischief, which of course can be fun. Especially mischief about the other guy."
Applying the Buckley Rule, Buckley is clearly the spiritual father of Ann Coutler-even if one finds direct evidence to contradict it. That evidence cannot count under the Buckley Rule since the point is to "strike" against one's political opponents.
Finally, I'd like to say a word about Buckley's essays and columns that is akin to Andrew Sullivan's complaint. Too often, Buckley's articles were regurgitated right wing or conventional wisdom surrounded by philosophical syllogisms that smart college sophomores would usually be able to see through. His use of big words masked the fact that his columns and even essays had little of substantive fact in them. Compare any essay of Buckley's, for example, with any number of essays of I.F. Stone or Gore Vidal, who each wrote for the ages far more often than not--and in ways that pay homage to Montaigne. Ever hear anyone quote from an essay of Buckley's with any real reverence? Not really. It's kind of like asking people to play a Madonna song at a wedding. Buckley is, in this limited, but important sense like Madonna--a personna or celebrity more than anything substantial.
Rest in peace, Bill. You have done your job for international corporations, white racism and spewing hatred into our political discourse. Your anti-Semitic, greedy son of a bitch father (as admitted in this sympathetic biography of William Buckley, Jr. by John Judis) would be proud of you.
There you have it: A Buckleyesque remembrance of Buckley. Now, please excuse me as I take a shower to wipe off the grime of such utterances that wrongly diminishes Buckley's life, as he did with so many others during his life. And for the patient reader, I leave you with this nicer assessment of Buckley.