What was Buckley thinking?
posted at 5:20 pm on October 14, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
I only discovered Christopher Buckley’s endorsement of Barack Obama in the news that he had been bounced from National Review, as Allahpundit wrote earlier. I only had time to scan it quickly before we discussed it at the beginning of my show this afternoon, where the Lady Logician and I talked about Buckley’s strange reasoning. In fact, when I had the chance to read it through, I found it remarkably unimpressive:
As for Senator Obama: He has exhibited throughout a “first-class temperament,” pace Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s famous comment about FDR. As for his intellect, well, he’s a Harvard man, though that’s sure as heck no guarantee of anything, these days. Vietnam was brought to you by Harvard and (one or two) Yale men. As for our current adventure in Mesopotamia, consider this lustrous alumni roster. Bush 43: Yale. Rumsfeld: Princeton. Paul Bremer: Yale and Harvard. What do they all have in common? Andover! The best and the brightest.
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. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.
I, too, think that Obama has a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect. Harvard and Columbia don’t just hand out degrees, and while some may claim Obama had help getting into these schools (without much evidence that he didn’t qualify academically), he certainly succeeded in both. Obama also has a first-class bent towards statist policies and a tendency towards mob action, though, and that should be very concerning to anyone who claims — as Buckley does — to be conservative. A presidential election isn’t a vote on IQ, and you can insert your own joke here about any number of American presidents. It’s a referendum on character, but mostly on policy.
In this statement above, Buckley assumes that Obama will take a lesson from his meteoric rise in American politics while building a record as a lockstep liberal ideologue that he should … what? Suddenly decide he can’t succeed as a lockstep liberal ideologue? How exactly would Obama learn that lesson — from the endorsement of Buckley, Douglas Kmiec, and other conservatives who found John McCain’s moderate policy stances so objectionable that they now want to support a liberal?
I don’t find it any accident that Buckley says he’ll pray “secularly”. That argument represents as great an intellectual leap as any I’ve heard in politics. I thought the argument that allowing Obama to wreck the nation with his leftist policies in order to provoke a conservative pushback was ridiculous, but expecting Obama to suddenly turn on all of the political allies who got him to the nation’s highest office in a revelation of moderation is like expecting Santa Claus to suddenly appear. On Halloween.
And for what? An opportunity to still be more liberal than John McCain?
I take Allahpundit’s point on intellectual freedom and his disapproval of NR’s acceptance of Buckley’s resignation, but I think they did the right thing. (I also find it telling that Buckley misrepresented the circumstances of that decision.) National Review has a specific mission, which is to further conservative thought, and they will find it difficult to do so while their writers are busily endorsing leftist ideologues for high office while wishing with no rational basis that they will magically morph into moderates. I also think that Buckley’s reasoning is so weak here that he would have difficulty maintaining any credibility with National Review’s readers after this argument.
Update: I want to add one more point to this post. I can understand conservatives who feel like they can’t support McCain for one reason or another (say, immigration or the BCRA). That’s quite a bit different from people who proclaim their conservatism by not just repudiating McCain but embracing the most liberal presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter, and perhaps ever. It’s intellectually incoherent, which is probably why Buckley couldn’t muster up an argument outside of wishful thinking.