Monday, July 24, 2006

Bill Buckley Hates America, Freedom, and Our Troops

Unsurprisingly, the crux of Saturday's CBS News interview with William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, (and perhaps of modern American conservatism, may it rest in peace) seems to have bypassed every influential American conservative: as a foreign policy president, or wartime president, George W. Bush faces the legacy either of a cipher or a failure. Iraq, to Buckley, is of course the axial event:

"I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as an absence of effective conservative ideology, with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress...[a]nd in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge."

"There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush. I don't believe his successor would re-enunciate the words he used in his second inaugural address because they were too ambitious. So therefore I think his legacy is indecipherable."

I mostly disagree with the latter points. I would expect this president's legacy to calcify quicker than most, as I'm inclined to think that the Bush record will ease successive future ones out of any qualms preventing them from (mis)behaving as Bush has. Where has been the challenge or the rebuke, the checks and the balances and everything else? In the opinion polls, and there only. And as luck would have it, this is one president who won't be shoved around by polling data. Too bad it had to be a presidency defined by enormity, negligent of the bonds of tradition, convention, or law - an administration for which the ends justify the means so long as raw political power is in its highest possible concentration. And with that, he has granted himself a conservative wing in philosophical and electoral crisis, and inspired in the country something to hope for - short-term memory loss. Buckley is growing sanguine in his old age if he really thinks this president's legacy will prove "indecipherable."

I'm eager to read a reply to Buckley from any one of the neoconservative stalwarts who have been living it up in the house that Buckley built. In light of this, Jonah Goldberg's recent debate with Reason Magazine's Nick Gillespie seems far, far beside the point. The future of conservative-libertarian "fusion" is a lofty matter, and as my politics hardly resemble Buckley's, this for me is really a matter of objective curiosity. But any proud conservative with an optimistic view of this president, like Goldberg, ought to worry first about reconciling true conservatism with whatever the president's current partisans wish to call their political standpoint. It's the internal consistency, stupid.

UPDATE: On National Review Online's site, I count not one, but two banner advertisements for the Cato Institute. Ha, appeasers.

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