WSJ Seeking WFB

January 8, 2011

Columbia University professor of humanities Mark Lilla has, in the Wall Street Journal, a thoughtful and articulate examination of the decline of intellectual conservatism… all the more thoughtful because of his admitted liberalism. That handicap aside, Professor Lilla does a very good job summing up the waning of the conservative thinking class – William F. Buckley, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Richard Brookhiser, Norman Podhoretz – and its replacement with idiots – Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, etc. The quality of national debate, Professor Lilla writes, has suffered accordingly and so have Americans, liberal and conservative alike.  

William F. Buckley, Jr. & dog.

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Pretenders To The Throne

May 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh is an author, in the most sluttish sense of that word (that is, its loosest and most non-discriminatory application). So are Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They’ve all published (and, to some extent, written) books. “Books” is another loosely and generously applied word, but it’s true all their books share some commonality: they’re double-spaced, published in large font, and don’t include any words requiring a dictionary. These guys know their audience, and it’s not the Harvard political science department. Rush himself has less than a year’s worth of Southeast Missouri State University under his belt.

William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote real books. The single-spaced kind, with no pictures. He graduated from Yale University and published his first, God & Man at Yale, shortly thereafter. It was revolutionary for its time, and he followed up with over 50 more; some political discourse, others spy novels, travel journals, or biographies. He also served briefly in the Central Intelligence Agency, as a field officer in Mexico, and hosted the talk show Firing Line. He wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column, On The Right, ran for mayor of New York, and founded a magazine, National Review. NR is still a bastion of conservative thought… not just of party line conservatism, but of conservative thought. Through it, he mentored young thinkers like Dinesh D’Souza and Richard Brookhiser.

Rush & co. are noisy, arrogant pretenders to Buckley’s throne. Buckley earned the title Lion of The Right; today’s pundits are hyenas cackling over the lion’s leavings. None enjoy his intellect or joi de vivre; Buckley was playmaker, coach, and commissioner of a game in which the rest are Monday morning quarterbacks. They abstain from play, whereas Buckley launched a movement and defined conservative thought. Limbaugh and the others define only conservative rhetoric, and trust their audience not to spot the difference.

William F. Buckley, Jr.


The Party Line

March 29, 2010

The Grand Old Party has lately been a house divided; Lindsey Graham and Olympia Snowe (R-SC and R-ME, respectively) keep a moderate tack, while conservative armchair quarterbacks like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly harangue them for imaginary disloyalty to the party.

Messrs. Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, and the rest would do well to look up one other famous Republican, Abraham Lincoln, who served this country as President and wisely observed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Where once Ronald Reagan and Bill Buckley sought to invite conservatism as a whole into a “big tent,” Rush & Co. seem more eager to divide the house at every turn. This is helpful to neither the party overall, nor national dialogue.  

The recent Congressional passage of landmark healthcare legislation seems poised to force the issue, and perhaps some reconciliation: the fighting and voting over President Obama’s health bill was vicious, to say the least, and neither side escaped unbloodied. Politically, the bill’s passage may have two effects: one, hardening even further the resolve of conservatives in opposing liberals, and the other: emboldening the Obama administration and encouraging it to tackle other reforms. Chief among those other reforms will likely be modifications to the banking and financial industries.

Here, some compromise may be had: though conservative Republicans have traditionally favored big business and seen government as an engine to promote economy (while Democrats believe economy is an engine itself for social good, and should be regulated to that end), the extent of public distaste for banks and business is so great now that politicians of either stripe may find themselves obligated to push financial regulations, despite their historic allegiances to either side.

The public cry for financial reform may prove able to forge cross-aisle coalitions, as Democrats and Republicans toe the same line for the sake of votes. Coalitions like that may be beneficial to Americans overall, in reigning in bankers and financiers, but will hopefully be at least equally beneficial to the GOP in terms of fostering an ability to compromise and move forward, at least with one another.


Brooks, On Rush & Co.

October 4, 2009

David Brooks is the oft right-leaning, and sometimes actually conservative, journalistic sore thumb which sticks out at the decidedly leftist rag The New York Times.

In his October 2 article, “The Wizard of Beck,” he reaches some of the same conclusions this web log did in a recent post called “Civil Service.” Chief among them: loud-mouthed, red faced “radio jocks” like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly are prolific fonts of sound and fury but, ultimately, signify nothing. They push reactionary positions which are neither realistic nor productive, and which often are hardly conservative at all. In general, they’re long on noise and short on ideas. Perhaps it’s telling that none of these radio pundits has ever held, or even run for, public office. They prefer the comfort of criticism removed from responsibility. As Mr. Brooks puts it:

“It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as “The Wizard of Oz,” of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.”

Which begs two questions. The first is, how long will rational, conservative voters abide these men? The second: has The New York Times been scouring this web log for inspiration?

Sound and (chubby) fury.

Sound and (chubby) fury.

Addendum:

Mr. Limbaugh has responded to the criticism in an e-mail to web log Politico, asking, “How many Americans know who David Brooks is?” Which is a shame, and an insult: Limbaugh’s answer to Brooks’ article isn’t a response to the critical points at all, or even a logical defense. It’s misleading rhetoric, and it implies that not many Americans are literate enough to stay abreast of one of our country’s oldest and most respected, albeit decidedly liberal, news publications.

Limbaugh, in one sentence, managed to illustrate perfectly the potentially fatal schism the GOP faces: the split between David Brooks, Bill Buckley, and the educated, intelligent conservative… and the hateful, obtuse, and ignorant wretch who trusts in Rush. In short, the split between The Wall Street Journal and the Klan’s monthly mailer.


Civil Service

September 17, 2009

The House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday of this week by a roll call vote of 240 – 179 to formally disapprove of Representative Joe Wilson (R, South Carolina) for yelling “You lie!” during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress.

This web log is generally supportive of Republican politics, as they exist classically; that is, a limited Federal government, low taxes, a strong military, and an emphasis on personal responsibility in designing social policies. These politics concern themselves more with economics and the philosophy of government, and less with ambiguous morality. This is not to say this antiquated philosophy is completely without an agenda of social issues to push; quite the opposite. The classical Republican’s values are decorum, decency, a deep respect for tradition, the observance of occasion and solemnity, formality (when due), and chivalry.

William F. Buckley, Jr., the father of modern conservatism, would never have interrupted the President of the United States. He especially would not have during such a rare occasion as a joint session of Congress. A quick perusal of Buckley’s 30-plus years hosting Firing Line, compared to equal perusal of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, reveal a Republican pundit with an overabundance of three qualities those more contemporary hosts apparently make do without: intellect, charm, and manners.

William F. Buckley, Jr., at work.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: intellect, charm, & manners.

Buckley was foremost a gentleman; it was in his blood. He was a Yale man and a yachtsman, an author, columnist, CIA agent, speaker, lecturer, and bon vivant of the highest degree. He was charming and gracious to guests on his show, many sworn liberals through and through, and he skewered them politely with wit and insight. He did not raise his voice. He did not insult his guests when they made points contrary to his own. He just quirked an eyebrow, bit the tip of his pencil, and softly said, “Ah yes, that is interesting, but isn’t it actually the case that… .” 

It is worth noting that Buckley, who passed away recently, accomplished decidedly more for the cause of conservative politics than any syndicated bully today could hope to. He wrote over 50 books and more than 4,000 newspaper columns, hosted Firing Line for over 30 years, and founded National Review. The last is credited with the advent of modern conservatism, which Buckley all but invented single-handedly.

Buckley, if he still concerns himself with these things, is likely rolling in his grave at Representative Wilson’s atrocious breach of etiquette. The life blood of democracy is debate, President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote once, and the most productive debates are civil. Good ideas are drowned out by shouting.

Republicans like Rush Limbaugh accuse more centrist colleagues of deserting the party’s values for not taking an equally hard line as he does. He would do well to remember that those values should rightfully include courtesy, honor, gentlemanly conduct, decorum, and decency, and to read General Horace Porter’s 1865 account of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, a man of as opposite a political stripe to Lee as could be imagined:

“All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed [Lee], and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”

If Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant could manage this degree of civility toward one another after the bloodiest conflict in the history of our nation till then, surely Congressmen and radio hosts can too.