It’s hard to second-guess Lowry and Fowler without knowing how much fallout NR had absorbed from Buckley’s endorsement, but instinctively I hate this. It’d be one thing if his politics had changed, but they haven’t. Or so he says. From the endorsement column:

I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On abortion, gay marriage, et al, I’m libertarian. I believe with my sage and epigrammatic friend P.J. O’Rourke that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves.

Maybe he’s being naive about that and maybe he isn’t (smart bet: he is), but either way he hasn’t repudiated conservatism, in which case what’s the argument for keeping him out of NR? His opinion was worthy enough to qualify for a weekly column and now suddenly it isn’t because on the binary choice of Obama versus McCain he’s gone the wrong way?

From today’s piece:

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…

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.

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

The gratuitous sneer about ideological diversity, as if The Nation or Salon was any better, makes me think his political leanings are a tad more nuanced than he’s letting on, but if that’s the case then he probably shouldn’t have been given a column to begin with. Exit question: If NR’s going to do business this way, why have regular columnists at all? I’ve always thought the point of publishing someone regularly was because you so esteem their viewpoint that you’re willing to hear them out even when you disagree. That’s certainly my approach with someone like, say, Mark Steyn. If Buckley didn’t meet that standard, why not cancel him earlier and turn the back page over to reader submissions that toe the appropriate ideological line? Follow-up exit question: If Michelle makes good on her threat not to vote for McCain because she simply can’t bear to pull the lever for an amnesty shill — which is what he is, I hasten to remind you — are our readers going to desert us, too? Define the terms of the litmus test, please.

Update: Here’s Lowry’s reply at the Corner. Steyn will be back on the back page in the next issue, so there’s a silver lining.