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.

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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.