Buckley’s Legacy: Trash Talk?

cover-cunninghamCLR.gifWhen it comes to pontificating on political pundits, I'm no Olbermann.  Heck, I'm no Scales or Instaputz. But the events this week in the conservative world are pretty fascinating indeed.

William F. Buckley Jr. , the King of All Conservatives, died this week at 82.  He's the man who basically invented the modern conservative pundit platform when he created The National Review in 1955. Those were the days when conservatives were basically of the "small government, fiscal responsibility" variety. 

However the world that Buckley came up in, that of Goldwater who beget Reagan, has gone off the rails of the Crazy Train.  Buckley was nothing if not a gentleman, but today's neo-cons love to throw barbs and make outrageous statements (i.e. Bill Cunningham, Ann Coulter). Even today certain conservatives are questioning John McCain's CITIZENSHIP

Coulter is not worth my time to explain how she's just a hate monger.   Cincinnati radio host Cunningham (pictured) is impressive in his destructiveness – not only did he put the future Republican nominee in a bad situation by hammering home Barack Obama's middle name when introducing McCain but he's also made anyone who's ever made a living in radio look like a complete tool. 

In Robert Semple's obit of Buckley he writes that he "hated most of what the liberals stood for. He didn’t hate them." That's a powerful statement. Every college frosh loves to throw around Voltaire's famous quote about free speech when the issue of uncivilized discourse is brought up.  But with every overused example there lies a certain truth. Disagree yes, be disrespectful, no. And there's no way you can convince me that Buckley was the least bit satisfied with his offspring: Limbaugh, Cunningham, Hannity, Fox News, Coulter et al. 

Hateful attacks, smears, rumor mongering these are the weapons of today's conservative. Hardly the legacy Mr. Buckley thought he'd leave behind.


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  • James

    Ironically, perhaps, but I think it is a testimony to the wide -ranging success of the American Conservative movement, of which Mr. Buckley was the most prominent founder, that we now have Paleo-cons like Pat Buchanan, Neo-cons, like William Kristol, and a host of other variants, including nitwits like Cunningham, claiming the conservative mantle. When he was starting out, Buckley had to contend with Birchers, segregationists, Ayn Randers (whom he relegated to “cloud cuckoo land”) and others who claimed to be “conservative”. The battle over who is a true conservative and what that term signifies continues. While Mr. Buckley was sui generis, perhaps owing to his breeding, his legacy remains healthy and is growing.

  • harry

    An appreciation of WFB’s legacy deserves a bit more nuance. The writers and thinkers that he discovered are many, but not-a-one of them is listed in your post. He is largely responsible for discovering the likes of Joan Didion, Gary Wills, David Brooks, Richard Brookheiser, George Will, among others. No matter what you think of those writers none can plausibly be compared to those mouth-breathing, knuckle-draggers like Coulter and Hannity. He should not be held to account for them and their ilk. Limbaugh, Bob Grant and before them columnists like Westbrook Pegler, probably deserve much of the blame. Buckely was also not strictly partisan, please recall his role in helping Joe Lieberman (D-CT) topple Lowell Weicker (R-CT) in his first Senate bid. He was first and foremost a gentleman and the world is a poorer place without him.

  • Homer Fink

    Harry — well said and thanks for your comment. My micro-point is that Limbaugh (he was my mentor) are unfortunately the loudest of the movement’s offspring. Being a conservative, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

  • Edmund Burke

    While it is true that Coulter and this idiot pictured above (who I’d not heard of until the recent McCain incident) lack the style, charisma, and intelligence of Bill Buckley, it is equally true that the rise of the right in the 80s has led to a plethora of liberal-leaning talking-heads and pundits who are equally mean-spirited and vindictive and share the blame for the so-called polarization of American politics. “Extreme positions,” once wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, “are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.”