William F Buckley Jr. died this past month at the age of 82. Buckley was the aristocratic, cultured spokesman for Conservatism in the US for the past half century. His National Review championed almost obsessively Conservative causes. Here is what Time Magazine had to say in its Appreciation:
“He could get things completely wrong – including civil rights. But what made him formidable was the number of things he got right. Buckley almost single-handedly drove Anti-Semitism out of acceptable conservative thought. He was leery of Ayn Rand, Richard Nixon, and the Iraq war. And he was a staunch anti-communist. A sure applause line in presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speeches this year holds that ‘it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.’ William F Buckley was proof. ”
I am not so sanguine. I think he was strangely near silent on important Conservative matters. Here is his words on Presisdent George W. Bush:
“I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology. He’s a man who ran as a conservative, was accepted as a conservative alternative. And when he took power he had a Republican congress and a Republican senate and a mostly Republican Supreme Court. But, he then failed to refine conservative purposes with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress, and in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge, that simply hasn’t happened. As a result of that there is a kind of perplexity about what… what are Conservatives supposed to do when they come to power? Given the fact that they spend and spend and spend and do not consummate a broad, uh wage a trillion dollar war with no conclusion in prospects. So that is extremely humbling and extremely vexing for Mr. Bush.”
The problem is these words came in August 2006 when the Iraq War was running out of control and well after George W. Bush had ruined the Republican and Conservative Brands probably for a generation. The Republican Conservative Brand that Mr. Buckley stood for was less government, fiscal constraint, no foreign adventurism, and “we know how to manage and govern” best. Yet despite being the defacto leader of conservative thought, Buckley waited until well after the Brand had been irreparably damaged to make his personal remarks. And he failed to mount a campaign before or after his remarks to set Conservatism on a better course.
To me William F Buckley Jr was erudite and nuanced but also absent when it counted. I raise a 5th to him – does that mean the glass is half full, or half empty ?