15 October 2008

Jonah Goldberg On Chris Buckley's Betrayal

For the most part, I consider myself to be a Buckley conservative (William F. Buckley Jr.). I am socially conservative, fiscally libertarian, and hawkish on foreign policy. I'm probably more interventionist and thus (by some people's definition), neoconservative in my foreign policy outlook.

I subscribe to National Review and have read Christopher Buckley's stuff (WFB's son) for years. I particularly enjoyed Thank You For Smoking, and recommend it to anyone.

However, I do not agree with his outlook on the current state of the Republican party, John McCain's candidacy, or his ticket's inclusion of Sarah Palin. You can read Chris's endorsement of Barack Obama here, if you like.

Here on the pages of OL&L, I prefer to post Jonah Goldberg's response:
I am a great fan of Christopher's. I am proud to call him my friend and I am grateful for his many kindnesses. None of that changes because of his decision to endorse Barack Obama. But I think he’s wrong.

I would very much like to leave it at that.

But since I don't need a kazillion emails complaining that I punted, I'll pick up the ball and carry it a few yards downfield without any attempt to make it to the end zone, never mind do some sort of dance at his expense.

I think Mark's reader has it basically right. Christopher knows that McCain once had great character. We know he knows this because he says so at some length. He thinks McCain has lost it. I think that is unfair and untrue. His only real evidence stems from McCain’s recent political performance. But even if you think McCain has run a less than honorable campaign (I do not – which is not to say that I think he’s run a particularly good campaign), it's hard for me to take the complaint all that seriously from someone who worked for — and greatly admires — George HW Bush. Campaigns often require a certain tackiness, as was conspicuously the case with poppa Bush. But Bush pere was not a tacky president and I see nothing in Christopher’s argument that persuades me to think it would be otherwise with McCain.

Meanwhile, Christopher invokes Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous line that FDR had a “first-class temperament” and so too Obama. Indeed, he suggests that Obama is a man of great character because he's a man of great temperament. Conceding for the sake of argument that Obama's temperament is first rate, are the two really the same thing? I don't think so (indeed, that would be a hard case to make about FDR himself, who could be deceitful, vindictive, petty — even to his own son — and adulterous. And let us note that Holmes himself was not a man many of us should be invoking as an authority on political virtue or general decency).

The story Christopher tells of McCain's great character has no real analogue in Obama. He may be in private a deeply honorable man, but his public record is one of accommodation, shortcuts, dishonest equivocations, serious leftwing sympathies and fellow-traveling with some awful people. Obama, let us recall, threw his own grandmother under the rhetorical bus in order to defend his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. That he sounded dignified doing it does not confer dignity on the act itself or the man behind it. That is surely not all there is to say about Obama, many of his friends and fans speak very well of him. But the scales Christopher uses to weigh one man against the other seem awfully rigged to me.

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.