The Christopher Buckley drama

There’s been a minor dust-up in liberal and conservative circles over the announcement by Christopher Buckley, the son of the late National Review founder William F. Buckley, that he was supporting Barack Obama for president. Or, more to the point, the dust-up is over what Buckley, who has written a few pieces for National Review, wrote about his resignation from National Review earlier today. The NYT Caucus blog describes the original post:

Mr. Buckley said he had “been effectively fatwahed by the conservative movement” after endorsing Barack Obama in a blog posting on; since then, he said he has been blanketed with hate mail at the blog and at the National Review, where he has written a column.

As a result, he wrote to Richard Lowry, the editor of the National Review, and its publisher, Jack Fowler, offering to resign, and “this offer was rather briskly accepted” Mr. Buckley said.

Mr. Buckley said he did not understand the sense of betrayal that some of his conservative colleagues felt, but said that the fury and ugly comments his endorsement generated is “part of
the calcification of modern discourse. It’s so angry.” Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s quote about the Democrats, Mr. Buckley added, “I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.”

As you can see from the link in the above post, Buckley’s post was originally titled “Sorry Dad, I was fired” (it’s now been changed to “Buckley Bows Out of National Review”) which led many people – mostly on the left) to automatically believe he was kicked out of the Conservative Club for not toeing the “conservative line.” As NR editor Rich Lowry clarifies here, though, Buckley did inded hand in his resignation – and the “hate mail” he rec’d at his National Review email address was hardly the amount he claimed it was:

I’d like to clarify this “firing” business. Over the weekend, Chris wrote us a jaunty e-mail with the subject line “A Sincere Offer,” in which he offered to resign his column on NR’s back page and said that if we accepted, there “would be no hard feelings, only warmest regards and understanding.” We took the offer sincerely. Chris had done us the favor of writing the column beginning seven issues ago on a “trial basis” (his words), while our regular back-page columnist, Mark Steyn, was on hiatus. Now, Mark is back to writing again, andβ€”I’m delighted to sayβ€”will be on NR’s back-page in the new issue.

Just one other point: Chris says that his Obama endorsement has generated a “tsunami,” that e-mail at NRO has been running “oh, 700-to-1” against him, and that there’s a debate about whether to boil him in oil or shoot him. Chris is either misinformed or exercising poetic license. We have gotten about 100 e-mails, if that (a tiny amount compared to our usual volume), and threats of cancellations in the single digits (we never like to lose any readers, but circulation is way up this year). No doubt part of what upset these readers was the dim view Chris expressed of them in his first Daily Beast post.

A Buckley going against the grain isn’t entirely uncommon, considering his father was a noted harsh critic of President Bush’s, and was known to support a Democrat a time or two in his lifetime That said, it’s interesting how someone who can seriously claim that the Republican party “has left me” on the same week that he has endorsed Obama expects for people to believe that he made his decision after a lot of careful thought, rather than instead deciding just to jump off the McCain bandwagon before it loses all of its wheels. As I’ve written before, if you’re frustrated with your party, you don’t jump ship and join a party (or in Buckley’s case, endorse the candidate) that is 180 degrees opposite of your core values. You either stick around and try to change it from within or you join up with another party that you feel more closely represents your conservative values. Endorsing a Democrat and/or joining the Democratic party is not a remote alternative for anyone professing to be a true conservative who holds conservative to moderate values. Not even close.

I should also note that this same guy who is now complaining about being ostracized from the Republican party circle for expressing outside the norm views is the same guy who urged conservative critics of John McCain back during the primaries in February to “shut up” and, essentially, support him against whoever the eventual Dem nominee would be.

Thankfully, this is a free country (at least for the next few weeks, anyway), and Buckley is certainly entitled to his opinion. And conservatives like me are entitled to criticize the strange evolution he’s taken from McCain supporter to Obama flag waver. No, I don’t wish him any hate mail, but hey – welcome to the club, dude. It’s happened to us all. If he thinks he’s seen hate mail this week, just wait til he decides joining up with Team Obama isn’t all peaches and cream and decides to “switch back.” The liberal hatred will be so instense he’ll be hoping to discover another zip code he can disappear off to.

I guess he’ll be the next “favorite conservative” on MSDNC. Maybe Christopher Hitchens, who while not a conservative has allied himself with conservatives over the last few years on the issue of the GWOT but who now bizarrely endorses Obama as well, will be appearing on it next?

Update/Related: Ross Douthat posts a couple of emails from conservative readers to his blog expressing what the difference is they seen between certain types of conservative critics:

[Email #1] It’s not the dissent from McCain/Palin, or that these commentators are “aware of their audience” that I find so alienating. It’s the glee. And the public rush to the liberal embrace. I mean if Kathleen Parker is conscience-bound to oppose Sarah Palin, then so be it. But does she have to go hold hands with Steven Colbert and make wisecracks about “bubba fantasies” in the South? You say it’s not about getting invited to all the cool parties, but it sure doesn’t seem like these high-minded folks are turning down any invitations.


[Email #2] I think you erroneously conflate two type of conservative pundits. One kind attacks McCain for his divergence from conservative views or from diverging from the base. The other attacks him because of Palin and its disdain for the lumpen Republicans they imagine burning Obama in effigy at NASCAR rallies …

My view of Palin is that she needed a few more years seasoning but I love her on the stump, her fearlessness and her freshness … deep down I think Sarah Palin and people like her are as useful and necessary, but far rarer at the highest levels of government as the Harvard John Kerry and Obama-types. The problem is that I really do think the George Wills and the Brooks and even (a little) David Frum, would exclude such people from high office because they have never seen a copy of Foreign Affairs and do not even know it exists …

It is this aspect of the criticism, especially coming from Buckley’s son, that rankles the most … I am New York born and went to Greenwich High School. I graduated at the top of my class at Hamilton College and Georgetown University. In all of these places I’ve been asked the equivalent of “surely you’re not really pro-life” or “you don’t support these hunters” or its assumed every decent person has internalized the sexual revolution etc… Well, a lot of people don’t but if you are Peggy Noonan or Brooks (pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage) you are constantly having to make apologies for your fellow conservatives Liberals never have to do this.

If like me, or I presume Levin and Hanson, you feel betrayed because of how much garbage we have had to take in these circles and to see them pile on Palin when she is the only bright, joyful thing to happen to the Republican Party this year it is just too much. It may be that its what they really believe but we know they will be feted and applauded by all of those outlets that hate us and denigrate Sarah Palin and it rankles.

I read your book and I have a question for you and all of these people. You went to Harvard. How many people from your graduating class will have accomplished as much at 44 as Sarah Palin has? How many women will? She has a successful family (compare Giuliani who the media loves). She fought a powerful political machine (compare Obama who the media loves). She accomplished things she promised to do, a pipeline and budget cuts. (compare Obama who the media loves). She gives tremendous speeches and connects with crowds (compare Bush, McCain, Romney, or just about any Republican since Reagan).

Anyway, I agree that if conservative punditry was all Hugh Hewitt we’d be sunk. But do remember that the criticism that is rankling people is not just any criticism but the sneering disdain all those who did not go to Ivy League schools, or any school at all, tend to get from a certain East Coast elite – regardless of what they have accomplished in their lives.

Those are great points, and I agree to a large extent with what both emailers wrote.

Douthat went on to add:

My original point, though, was that even if you view all of these critics and their motivations in the worst possible light, you still have to address the problems that are making them jump ship, instead of just saying “good riddance!” as they jump over the side. This isn’t David Gergen milking his “Republican” cred on the Sunday talk shows while spouting a center-left line; this is a large and diverse swathe of the right-of-center intelligentsia, and just calling them careerist RINOs in search of crumbs from the liberal table isn’t going to cut it. Maybe Kathleen Parker’s delight at appearing on the Colbert Report is unseemly, and maybe Frum and Brooks and Will are getting carried away in their anti-populism. But the counternarrative being pushed by the critics of the critics – namely, that the GOP ticket is losing mainly because the media is biased, Obama’s playing dirty, McCain isn’t a true conservative and his campaign won’t go after the Ayers connection hard enough – is vastly more damaging to conservatism’s long-term prospects, I think, than anything that Brooks or Parker or Buckley or anyone else had said and done.


And in such thinking lies the seeds of years or even decades of defeat.

I think Douthat misses the point his readers were trying to make. While it’s true that conservatives will put a lot of the blame for an Obama loss on the media I don’t think any serious conservative – whether it be a blogger or a National Review writer- has kidded themselves into thinking that if Obama wins it will be through no fault of John McCain and the GOP. In fact, almost routinely on the pages of NRO’s various blogs you see criticisms of some of McCain’s policies (his support of the bailout comes to mind) and criticisms about Gov. Palin – and for the last few years the number of critics at NRO claiming Bush and the GOP had lost their way on a number of fronts has grown. The issue Douthat’s emailers (and I) have with certain types of conservative critics like Parker, Frum, and Brooks is the way they go about expressing those criticisms.

I wrote about this back when the immigration debate was raging and I was getting disgusted with certain segments on both sides of the argument for the heated rhetoric and for treating the issue like there could be no middle ground. I was sick of some on the pro-immigration bill side in DC for implying or outright saying that conservative opposition of the bill was due to a “hatred of Hispanics” and I was sick of some on the anti-immigraton bill side calling Bush “Jorge Bush” and claiming he was deliberately trying to sell us out to Mexico. As I’ve said numerous times, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – it’s not about having the right to say something, but whether or not it’s right to say it … or whether or not it’s right to say it the way you said it. There are better ways to get a point across without assuming the worst of a fellow conservative right off the bat.

The way the Frums and the Parkers and the Brooks of the conservative community have written about McCain and/or Gov. Palin (Brooks recently and imfamously said of Gov. Palin recently that she was a “cancer” to the Republican party) reminds one of the disparaging things you can see written about them on an almost routine basis on the pages of the liberal Talking Points Memo blog or The New Republic. Conservatives are passionate people, and it’s ok to disagree passionately, but if your critiques of a fellow conservative who doesn’t deserve the harshness sound like something you’d say/write about a far left liberal you strongly disagree with, well, it’s not going to come close to persuading me to at least see and understand your POV, even though in the end I probably wouldn’t agree with it.

Bottom line: There’s a right way and a wrong way to have a public debate about the state of conservativism, as well as have a public discussion about whether or not the two people representing it at the top of the ticket have what it takes to be effective leaders of our great nation. Treating them as though they are both clueless nitwits who couldn’t find their way outside of a paper bag won’t help advance any beltway pundit’s arguments they put forth to the very people they are trying to persuade: other conservatives.

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