Cordially, WFB


Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this OpinionJournal interview with the capo of conservatives, William F. Buckley, who muses on National Review and other topics. A snippet:

This…is a glancing way of referring to the U.S. enterprise in Iraq, which Mr. Buckley calls "anything but conservative." "Conservatism," he says, "except when it is expressed as pure idealism, takes into account reality, and the reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous. This isn't to say that the war is wrong, or that history will judge it to be wrong. But it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events."

Mr. Buckley is similarly skeptical of the presidency of George Bush, who, he says, was not elected "as a vessel of the conservative faith." He returns to a formulation he has used before: "Bush is conservative, but he is not a conservative."

More here. Elsewhere in the Q&A, Buckley "declares without hesitation that National Review was his greatest accomplishment."

Speaking of which, here's a long-overdue summary of NR's 50th anniversary bash, which was held in October. I meant to blog this weeks ago:

Buckley--one of the few truly giant figures in post-war politico-cultural circles--is clearly a few days past his expiration date when it comes to public speaking. But even those of us who disagree with him on virtually every issue must give him props for all he's done. Consider his 1968 alone: He appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and called Gore Vidal a "yellow queer" on national TV during the Democratic National Convention, meaning he had a better year then than Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Saul Bellow, the Rolling Stones, Rock Hudson, and Hubert Humphrey combined. (Which isn't to say that Buckley and NR don't have some strange stuff to answer for, as this 2000 attack on them as race traitors in the white supremacist American Renaissance unintentionally documents; by the same token, AR pays the current crew at NR an unintentional compliment by bemoaning, "Today's NR is no longer the brave journal that fought integration and tried to keep America European.")

The strange thing about National Review is that they have basically won on their own terms: When the mag was created in 1955, the idea of a conservative political ascendancy was not simply unimaginable but hilarious--a point driven home not only by Barry Goldwater's Mondale-esque loss in the '64 election but by smug liberal eggheads such as Richard Hofstadter's pompous and bullshit-laden refusal to even consider Buckely and conservatives an intellectual worthy of engagement. And yet by 1980, it was all over now, baby blue, for the ideals (if not the reality) of liberal governance. Yet like all true political winners, for National Review conservatives, the only thing more embittering than landslide defeat seems to be total victory at all levels of federal government. So among the celebration, there were a lot of barbs slung at Bush and the GOP, even as there was no question who the NR crowd supported in 2004 and will support over and over again until the end days.

At the NR party, the true star of the evening was the festivities' emcee, M. Stanton Evans--who's gotta be pushing 80 or more--a self-confessed Ramones fan (he told me this at a Philadelphia Society meeting a few years back) and one of the co-founders not only of National Review but of Young Americans for Freedom, the original hip-to-be-square student organization that throughout the '60s outmanned Students for a Democratic Society, and the National Journalism Center, whose great contribution to contemporary ink-stained wretching is one Malcolm Gladwell. Evans comports himself like Dr. Zaius done sunnyside-up, a wonderfully world-weary and ironic orangutan surrounded by earnest chimpanzees who is filled with secret tragic knowledge that apes descended from humans. Or in this case, that conservatives in power behave a lot like liberals.

When it started out, National Review was the crucible of what used to be called "fusionism"--a big tent on the Right that included anyone who was first and foremost against international communism. That helps to explain why many libertarians back then were more comfortable on the right side of the aisle. One measure of the conservative crack-up in the wake of the Cold War's end and the rise of Republicanocracy is that, at NR's 50th anniversary bash, a couple of folks from the Log Cabin Republicans managed to snag seats at table 52 while the crew from Reason were banished to a kids' table in the mid-80s. But I'm not grumbling: We all got the same food and booze.

And there's no doubt that of all the political mags alive and kicking during the last half-century, none has enjoyed as much success in changing the political landscape than NR. It'll be interesting to see how they fare over the next 50 years.