Adrian Lee is a defense attorney in London specializing in criminal defense and was a two-time Conservative parliamentary candidate.
Fifty-three years ago, on Saturday, August 3, 1968, at the start of one of the closest American presidential campaigns in postwar history, two men with impeccable manners and matching Mid-Atlantic accents walked into the broadcast studio. ABC exterior over the Republican Convention Arena in Miami Beach, Florida, for the first time in a series of debates at the two major nominating conventions.
In the left corner was Gore Vidal, novelist, snob, storyteller and public wit, supporter of the Democrats. While on the right, what the equally scholarly Republican William F. Buckley Jnr. Each night they exchanged not only their contrasting political views, but increasingly bitter sarcasm and put-downs.
Viewers loved it and the ratings grew. It culminated on August 28 at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, with tensions rising and tear gas from police leaking into the Vietnam War room protesting the “Yippy” riots outside, with the two men almost coming to blows. .
Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” for supporting the police action, and Buckley replied, “Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll punch you in the face and you’ll get stuck.” The exchange went down in political history, but Buckley had much more than this brief loss of temper.
William F. Buckley Jr. was born in New York City on November 24, 1925, the sixth child of a Texas-born Irish Catholic oil baron. While the family officially resided in Sharon, Connecticut, Bill spent much of his childhood in Mexico, where his father’s oil business was based.
Buckley first came to public attention in 1951 with the publication of “God and Man” at Yale, which exposed the university (and his own alma mater) as a bastion of left-liberal dogma. The book examined the academic course materials used and the political bias expressed in classes by individual tutors.
Buckley argued that Yale was undermining students’ faith in Christianity and promoting economic collectivism. Keynesian and socialist theory was taught as fact, and opposing arguments were ignored. When teaching vacancies arose, academics appointed those of the same opinion. To counter this, Buckley urged the college’s governing board alumni to exert their influence over academic appointments and enforce a broader curriculum.
The reaction from the left to the publication of God and Man at Yale was outraged. McGeorge Bundy, an academic and future national security adviser to both JFK and LBJ, called Buckley a “violent, twisted and ignorant young man” and questioned both the “honesty of his method” and the “measure of his intelligence.” Another scholar, Frank Ashburn, even suggested that Buckley should wear KKK instead of graduate robes.
Buckley would later comment of the intellectual elite: “I am forced to confess that I would rather live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston phone book than in a society governed by the two thousand Harvard University professors. “
William Buckley had an evangelical zeal to relaunch conservatism as a viable philosophy in America. He believed that it was necessary to create a new, younger and broad-based movement that would unite traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists. In 1955, he launched a conservative fortnightly newspaper, National Review. In his first editorial, titled ‘Our Mission Statement,’ on November 19, 1955, Buckley wrote:
“A conservative is someone who opposes history, shouting out loud, at a time when no one is willing to do so, or who has a lot of patience with those who urge it.”
It is difficult to overestimate the political impact and importance of the National Review. Buckley, as editor-in-chief from its inception until 1990, brought together contributors from all conservative currents of opinion. Over time, the National Review developed its own combination of conservatism based on the free market, the rule of law, and opposition to the expansion of Soviet communism.
Buckley closed the decade with the publication of the controversial “Up from Liberalism” in 1959. Of all his works, this slim volume, containing a sharp critique of liberal prejudices, probably has the greatest resonance today. More than 60 years ago, Buckley wrote:
“I think it’s fair to conclude that American liberals are reluctant to coexist with anyone on the right… when a conservative speaks demandingly, he runs the greatest risk of unleashing liberal mania; And before you know it, the ideologue of open-mindedness and tolerance rushes at you, spear cocked. “
During the 1960s, Buckley worked at a fierce rate on new projects. In 1960, he formed the conservative youth movement, Young Americans for Freedom. In 1962, Buckley began writing a twice-weekly syndicated column titled “On the Right,” which appeared in 320 newspapers in the United States. In 1964, he was one of the main drivers of Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
In 1965, following the selection of John Lindsay, a curious left-wing Republican Party candidate supported by the Liberal Party of New York, in the race for Mayor of New York, Buckley joined the tiny New York State Conservative Party and he presented himself as their candidate. This would be the only time he would run for public office, and his election campaign experiences would be shared later in his next book, ‘The Unmaking of the Mayor.’
He started the campaign with a humorous joke that almost failed. When asked at a news conference what would be the first thing he would do if elected mayor, Buckley commented “demand a recount.”
At the time, dominant politicians treated the New York electorate as members of competing voting blocs. It was common practice to pit one ethnic or religious community against the other. Buckley was the first candidate to reject this approach and treat voters as individuals:
“I will not go to the Irish centers and go out dancing. I will not go to Jewish centers and eat blintzes, nor will I go to Italian centers and pretend to speak Italian. “
Buckley built on a manifesto of unbridled conservatism in a liberal metropolis in the heyday of the 1960s. He fought for zero tolerance for crime, low taxes, restrictions on welfare, job benefits for the long-term unemployed. duration and rehabilitation of drug addicts in residential hospitals.
His opponents at first tried to ignore him and later tried to smear him. However, Buckley’s humor shone through and he finished in a very respectable third place. The significance of the 1965 campaign is the amount of publicity it garnered from conservative views across the country.
A few months later, in 1966, PBS gave him his own weekly TV talk show, ‘Firing Line’. This show was meant to run for 33 years, and guests read like a conservative lexicon. Many episodes can now be viewed for free on the internet and British readers may find the interviews with Margaret Thatcher and Enoch Powell of particular interest.
Buckley’s peak of political influence came with the election of his friend, Ronald Reagan, to the presidency. His latest book, ‘The Reagan I Knew’, offers a poignant insight into the relationship he and his wife Pat had with both Ron and Nancy. The couples spent weekends and vacations together, and had a humorous written correspondence for more than thirty years.
When Reagan became president, Buckley joked that he was not interested in a government appointment other than being the US ambassador to Afghanistan, then under Soviet occupation and without US representation. Reagan’s subsequent letters to Buckley would always be addressed to “His Excellency” and to “The Bunker, Kabul.”
William F. Buckley Jr., journalist, broadcaster, candidate, political organizer, and author of more than 50 books, died at age 82 in 2008. For more than half a century, he championed conservatism in the American media and helped develop organizational skills. of the movement. We could all learn from his legacy