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The Buckley son rises—and runs

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Kathleen Parker
October 17, 2008
— Christopher Buckley’s endorsement of Barack Obama—followed by his abrupt departure from the back page of the magazine his father founded, National Review—has caused a ripple of contempt from the conservative right.

Nay, make that a tsunami of hostility. An avalanche of venom. A cataclysm of … well, you get the idea. People are mad. Good riddance, they say, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


Let us proceed, gingerly.


I am not a passive bystander to these events. Buckley is a friend, as are other members of his family, especially Uncle Reid, with whom I have worked for several years. National Review is home to many friends, and its online editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez, kindly subscribes to my column. Like Buckley, I have enjoyed a decent fragging for suggesting that Sarah Palin excuse herself from the Republican ticket.


What gives here?


What does it mean that the Right cannot politely entertain dissenting opinions within its ranks? What, if anything, does it portend that Buckley The Younger has bolted from the Right, even resigning (with enthusiastic editorial approval) from the family flagship?


Some have opined, ridiculously, that Buckley—son of the famous William F. Buckley (WFB)—was merely seeking attention. Christo, as family and friends call him, has written more than a dozen acclaimed books, one of which, “Thank You for Smoking,” became a movie. In 2004, he won the Thurber Prize for American Humor for “No Way to Treat a First Lady.” For 18 years he edited a magazine, Forbes Life, and otherwise seems to be doing all right.


Other critics have surmised that Buckley’s “betrayal” was a publicity stunt for his newest novel, “Supreme Courtship” (which I reviewed for National Review). When you’re as funny and write as well as Buckley, you don’t have to resort to stunts. You are the stunt.

So why did he do it?


Because he had to. It’s in his genes.


True believers of whatever stripe too often forget that the men and women who create movements are first and foremost radicals. Great movements are not the result of relaxing afternoons musing along the Seine but emerge from flames of passion ignited by injustice.


When WFB created the modern conservative movement, he didn’t call a neighborhood meeting and whisper, “Come along now.” He stood athwart history and yelled, “Stop!”

His son, though he customarily takes the more circuitous route to the revolution via satire, is now merely answering WFB’s original call to political activism. Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, the younger Buckley said: “I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.”


In 1955, when WFB announced his new magazine and explained the reasons for it, he described conservatives as “non-licensed nonconformists”:


“Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity.”


Fast-forward half a century, and the old is the new.


Radical conservatives are still having an interesting time of it, though these days they are being mutilated by fellow “conservatives.” The well-fed Right now cultivates ignorance as a political strategy and humiliates itself when its brightest sons seek sanctuary in the solitude of personal honor.


The truth few wish to utter is that the GOP has abandoned many conservatives, who mostly nurse their angst in private. Those chickens we keep hearing about have indeed come home to roost. Years of pandering to the extreme wing—the “kooks” the senior Buckley tried to separate from the Right—have created a party no longer attentive to its principles.


Instead, as Christopher Buckley pointed out in a blog post on thedailybeast.com explaining his departure from National Review, eight years of “conservatism” have brought us “a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance.”


Republicans are not short on brainpower—or pride—but they have strayed off course. They do not, in fact, deserve to win this time, and someone had to remind them why.


Christopher Buckley, ever the swashbuckling heir to his father’s defiant spirit, walked the plank so that the sinking mother ship might right itself.


No doubt his seafaring father is cheering from heaven: “Ahoy there, Christo! Well done, my son.”


Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

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