A reader writes:
Thanks for the lovely assortment of WFB testimonials. Here’s one from me...
In the early 1960s, when I was in high school, I read Up From Liberalism. As someone who had done precinct work for Richard Nixon in 1960 at the age of 14, but probably couldn’t tell you why I had other than loyalty to my family’s Republican roots Buckley spoke like lightning to my fatigue with all the stereotyped political arguments of the era. He had the spirit of dissidence against establishment thinking, with a dash of dry sherry and topped up with cackling good humor.
So I worked for Goldwater in ’64, and then went through the intellectual crises of the 60s with my Baby Boom friends. One thing I couldn’t do, however, was fall in line with the gung-ho, pro-Vietnam War enthusiasm of many of my fellow conservatives. I was appalled at their cavalier disregard for the costs of that war, as I am today about the Iraq misadventure.
Then after succumbing to Lyndon Johnson’s war, Republicans fell into line with Richard Nixon in ’68 a man whose campaign that year was philosophically inert and substantively disingenuous. That’s when I realized that the Republican establishment would swallow and digest any idea or leader, so long as elections were won and the system didn’t change. By ’72 I was for McGovern, because at least he “spoke truth to power”, as Buckley had in the 50s.
That spirit of dissidence carried me into major work for Gary Hart in 1984, and a flirtation with Clinton’s campaign in ’92, until I realized that Clinton had no real interest in changing the system either as indeed Hillary does not today. As someone now who is influenced by many disparate thinkers, such as the great conservative political thinker Harry Jaffa at Claremont, and the radical populism of the great civil rights veteran James Lawson (who Martin Luther King called “the mind of the movement”), I have no difficulty seeing in Barack Obama the fusion of dissident impulse and unreconstructed American civic spirit which has always fired me. Obama has Bill Buckley’s class, Barry Goldwater’s flinty individualism and a passion for changing the way we govern ourselves in this country. Conservatives lost that passion at approximately the moment when Newt Gingrich gaveled the House to order on the first day he was speaker.
But now, with luck, and with the help of this tall skinny lawyer from Illinois with only a single congressional term to his name a nice historical parallel -- we may be on the brink of a once-in-a-century sea-change in the way we produce and distribute political power in this country…
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