Sunday, March 2, 2008

I Remember Buckley

March 2, 2008

This may be a little late in coming, but it took me a few days to understand that William F. Buckley really is gone. Then I realized that everybody else had more to say about that fact than I did, and probably could say it better.

I come at this from the other side. I was not a sycophant for Buckley, not that he would have wanted me as such. But I did live in New York City in the 1960's, among the unabashed Liberals of the day, to whom he was an erudite gadfly who tended to use obscure five-syllable words when short, familiar ones would have worked as well, to lead the reader/listener to conclusions that were invariably wrong. He was amusing, larger-than-life, and definitely someone you'd like to meet at a party, but his political stance was as indefensible as it was incomprehensible.

Over the years, like any self-respecting, self-conscious and guilt-ridden Liberal, I have had to reexamine my political viewpoint time and again. It wasn't difficult to break with the Democrats, who seemed so corrupt as to do the expedient thing always, without regard to principle. On the other hand, the Republicans seemed to be in the same boat, never offering a clear alternative. By now, the job of government seems to be in the hands of the advertising agencies and other opportunists to whom getting a candidate elected is not just a step in the democratic process, it is the only goal. The parties have sold out, giving lip service to the old dogma, but not bearing it out in practice.

William F. Buckley was always steadfast. I read a column of his several years ago which explained to me for the first time the moment in which the Democrats became Liberal, laying out the philosophy of Woodrow Wilson which assumed government was there to make people's personal lives better. This, to him, was the beginning of the corruption of politics. It was a well-thought-out premise and it caused me to think. I see Liberals taking advantage of Government programs all the time, and it bothers me greatly. On the other hand, I see Conservatives who seem to honor money and war over all things; this bothers me even more. Thanks to Buckley, I think about Woodrow Wilson and FDR and even John F. Kennedy, and regret what they have wrought, however right their intentions may have been.

Buckley himself eventually rose above the fray and became the Grand Old Man of the Conservative cause. His impishness and brilliance never left him, and with his patrician demeanor he inspired generations of pundits-to-be. This may be his legacy, but I doubt it would have been the one he wanted. Those of us who were present during his apogee would never have imagined in those days how lucky we were to have seen and heard him in prime.


Anonymous said...

Government functions to provide a stable structure within which the people -- or what it recognizes as "the people" -- can pursue their personal destinies. The change you refer to came about when government (actually intellectual governors) decided that government could make of the people something better than they were. It's familiarly called "social engineering."

It may seem at a glance that only the Dems recognize this modified function as their own, but their exclusivity disappears when we get clear about the different definitions of "the people" used by the two main parties. The Dems really mean people as breathing, self-conscious organisms, whereas the Reps think of people as effects brought about by economic causes.

Obviously both are right. Flesh-and-blood human beings cannot in the modern world separate their fate from the ebbs and flows of money, but to the ordinary run of folks it always seems as if the so-called "economy" is some sort of yoke placed around their necks by unseen powers. This too is true, for after all the "hand" that shakes the economic cradle is invisible. But the illusory nature of this fact leaves the people thinking of themselves as victims of government.

Now lest there be those who do not see the different definitions of "the people" as operative in political policy, think of the Dems as those who see no problem in using the tax code as a means for shaping desire (cigarette and tobacco excises, for example) and the Reps as those who see manipulation of the interest rate as a useful tool of "good government." Both strategies work (to an extent) but both serve to intensify the feeling we get of ourselves as victims of forces over which we seemingly have no control.

This feeling is deepened by the perception of the more intelligent victims who see clearly what's there to be seen, government conspiring with the media and Madison Ave operatives to have its way with us (to put it politely).

The appeal of Obama appears in his ability to make his audience believe there is a way out of this "conspiracy." And given that perception is at least half the truth-of-the-matter, and that he seems intelligent enough to see as clearly as I do that the above paragraphs contain a spinable version of reality, he may be compelled to follow thru by continuing to play to the people rather than to the "government" (by which I mean, form the most part, the elected officials in the Congress. And it may also come about that, if he also can conspire with the "usual suspects" to shape the way the people think, those very intransigent blocks of political marble in the Congress may get the message, as Obama says, from the bottom up.

We shall see. At least I hope we shall.

As for Buckley, the man had style.

Jeff Faria said...

I was not a sycophant for Buckley, not that he would have wanted me as such.

Buckley can be appreciated by non-sycophants. In fact, he would have preferred it that way. Few men in my lifetime ever needed less for anyone to agree with him. That's precisely what made him so special.

I think about this when I am on a site (like, unfortunately, one or two of the Hoboken blogs) where compliance with a certain POV is demanded.

Mary Lois said...

Hope everybody knows that I need no sycophants here, mr. snitch.

I'll always be a bit ambivalent about Buckley, but he would have liked that. (He'd have been ambivalent about me too. At best.)

But you and the coach are correct, the man had style, and did not need yes-men. He enjoyed a well-framed rebuttal.

Nan said...

When I read the title of your entry, my first thought was of Tim or his son, Jeff. Guess it shows the real me - more about the music than the politics. :<) Thought that would give you a smile.

Mary Lois said...

Guess I'll have to Google Tim and Jeff to know what you're talking about...

Nan said...

You can read and hear a bit on my blog, too. :<)