May 2, 2007
To say that William F. Buckley Jr. did more than any one man to pave the way for the rise of American conservatism in the late 20th century is simply a statement of fact. He cleaned it up, chased away some of the more egregious troglodytes (e.g., the John Birch Society) and showed the world a conservative face that was witty, attractive and intellectually deft, a substitute for the giggling Neanderthal Joe McCarthy and the glowering pit viper Richard Nixon.
But even if you push the troglodytes away from the party, you can’t push the party away from the troglodytes. Buckley is far more intelligent than most of the people in the movement he helped create, and he can understand what’s going on. There is something undeniably poignant in reading Buckley’s most recent column, in which he acknowledges once again that Iraq is a disaster and goes on to wonder if the entire Republican ship is about to go down with George W. Bush.
The answer is yes, because Bush’s game plan is simply to hold back the inevitable until his term is up and the whole mess can be handed off to the next (presumably Democratic) president. After that, Bush and his sycophants can spin themselves comforting myths about how they all stood stalwart and brave against the terrorists until the Democrats came along and messed everything up. The problem with this pseudo-strategy is that it requires the destruction of even more human lives, American and Iraqi, and the majority of Americans don’t want to see that happen. So every week that Bush and his courtiers cling to the fantasy that they’re a bunch of Churchills holding back the forces of Fascism is another nail in the party’s coffin.
I’ve voted for Republicans in the past and I may be able to vote for them in the future, but right now the GOP (and conservatism) is overdue for a good long spell in the wilderness, where it can begin taking stock and asking itself how it went wrong. What form should be the GOP take? That’s for the GOP to decide. All I know is that our first priority is to get this pack of thieves, ideological hucksters and religious nutjobs evicted from power. The housecleaning that started in 2006 must continue with a House cleaning in 2008.
I don’t know how much Buckley will be able to contribute to the conservative reappraisal. His ideological spawn have reacted to his recent columns with uncomfortable silence. Buckley no longer speaks their language. Their intellectual capital is gone. The shelves of the conservative library are filled with Bush-worshipping tomes and the spiteful rantings of radio squawkers and Ann Coulter wannabes. Look at the names of the other pundits surrounding Buckley’s column at NRO: Malkin, Goldberg, Levin. Can you find one who is even qualified to shine Buckley’s shoes?
So as the U.S.S. Wingnut lists to port and the deck chairs start to slide, Buckley can take note of the fact that having helped launch this ship, he is now present to see it sink. As a cultivated man, Buckley can no doubt appreciate the symmetry. But I doubt he can take any comfort in it.