Thursday, February 28, 2008
Personal Aside: William F. Buckley RIP Free Trade II
William F. Buckley RIP.
All conservatives, indeed all Americans, owe William F. Buckley enormously. You cant imagine how poverty-stricken we were, bereft of conservative thought before he came along. Everything we had in the post FDR years was vestigial liberalism with no challenge. And then came 1955 the the year he began National Review. I was 27 at the time, already working for a living in Minnesota as researcher, organizer and speech-writer for the states GOP. Robert Taft had died two years earlier. The only thing we had to read was Robert R. McCormicks Tribune eloquent editorialsand McCormick died April 1, 1955 which led to a winnowing down of the newspapers positions and the loss of its hardiness which continues even today (although it is improving vastly). There was a magazine that was very strangeFreemanwhich was Ron Paul-style leave-us-alone libertarianism, pinched, crabbed, opposed to making any stand whatsoever against Communism despite that the disease was at that point threatening to engulf the West. There was the American Mercury, founded by that cockeyed closet racist and anti-Semite H. L. Mencken. And the John Birch Society had a publication that linked President Eisenhower to the Communists (which passed as conservative).
The reigning so-called conservative intellectual was Peter Viereck of Mount Holyoke college who was trying to atone for the sins of his father, a Nazi sympathizer named George Sylvester Viereck. George Sylvester, born illegitimate in Germany to the actress Edwina Viereck, was reputed to be the bastard son of Kaiser Wilhelm and he very likely was. He came to this country and preached undiluted Nazism including anti-Semitism that he was convicted under a sedition act in 1942 and was imprisoned for several years. His son tried to make amends by writing a book Conservatism Revisited that went exactly the other waylionizing FDR and Adlai Stevenson and claiming that the New Deal was really the kind of so-called conservatism that should be espoused. He was a total nervous wreck, turning to the Left to eradicate the memory of his father and of no help or hope to any conservative whatever.
Then there was a weekly mailing, mimeographed, from New York that was called Human Events. Human Events was well written and was the progenitor of the newspaper we now, all of us (or almost all of us: certainly I do) rely on. Human Events was the only thing we had following the demise of the editorials in the Chicago Tribune. The Wall Street Journal editorials were valueless, concerned with economics only, pro-Keynesian as I recall. There was Fulton Lewis on the radio who read the news and commentary so poorly, screwing up the sentence structure, trying to correct his mispronouncing, we thought he was drunk (maybe he was). There was Westbrook Pegler, a brilliant writer and rhetorician who soon would be silenced for libel who would go over the side to the Birch Society; George Sokolsky who was pretty good but hardly well known. WGN radio belonged to the Mutual network and had a commentator named Robert F. Hurleigh (pronounced Hurley). There was Bill Baroodys two-man American Enterprise Association that analyzed legislation and sent mimeographed copies to conservative members of Congress. And the Intercollegiate Institute. Basically, that was it.
That was it until WFB began National Review. I remember when I picked it up in Minnesota I thanked God for itand him. I had read God and Man at Yale of course and Up from Liberalism and thought them wonderful but now we would have a magazine! Buckley swiftly built a cadre of people who reshaped conservatism into the edifice it is today. They had no time for the Birchers or anti-Semites, residues of which had survived from the America First committee. Now, America First was a noble organization (Ive written about it extensively) but as with all ideological groups it had its share of nuts. After we entered World War II, the leaders, young men and women, themselves went to war leaving a small string of nuts. They tried to infiltrate Buckley but he tossed them out, rightly so. Were indebted to him for befriending that genius of the West Whittaker Chambersand among other things, encouraging Chambers to write his great negative review of the Atlas Shrugged by the crackpot duenna of selfishness Ayn Rand and her Objectivism. Were told that whenever Buckley entered a room where Rand was she stalked out because of Chambers. Great tribute to them both.
What has come from WFB has been all we have today: Barry Goldwater the first conservative movement leader to run for president (far different from Taft because Taft, a brilliant logician, was in conservative strategy, torn between MacArthur and his own lessened foreign policy instincts, ambivalent, I thought, on fighting Communism, so concerned was he that the bureaucracy should not grow, but a genius nonetheless). The Goldwater campaign begat Ronald Reagan and all that followed. All the while there was Regnery Publishing, a literate National Review and a string of marvelous instrumentsthe Conservative Book Club, The Weekly Standard, The Spectator. Talk radio followed along with Fox. All these things can be traced back to William F. Buckley. He was not an organizer exactlyhe was an inspiration. It is hard to envision it now, but before he began, conservatism was regarded as a variant of nuttiness: either anti-Semitism or racism or anarchism or Peter Viereck who idolized the Left and wanted conservatives to follow suit.
You know, the poet Ben Jonson wrote in his book Timber or Discoveries in 1630 a critique of his contemporary William Shakespeare who had died in 1616. The world was still trying to make up its mind about Shakespeare and Jonson, a minor poet and playwright but still an uncommonly good one (and undoubtedly jealous of Shakespeare) wrote this: I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted a line. My answer hath been: would he had blotted a thousand. Well of course no one would say that of Will nowbut of Buckley I can say I wish he had blotted some of his actions which were foolhardy. But they doesnt diminish his greatness.
I wish, for example, he had not taken up the defense of marijuana legalization just because he liked to smoke it (and which incidentally certainly inculcated the emphysema that killed him). I wish he had not supported our giving away the Panama Canal although it was fun to see him bested, the only time in his life in debate, by Ronald Reagan. I wish he had not written Nearer My God, the book about his religious faith which surely was not a confusing testament that did him credit. Lillian and I took a cruise with the National Review and met him briefly but in the panel discussions he led, I always thought he labored too mightily to infuse even the most simple statement with memorable verbal appendages. But these are minor blips. he was unique, very-very kind, a genius with incomparable facets and a treasure.
I guess selfishly I wish he had not so diffused his talentsskiing, surfing, yachting, sailingand had harbored his energies for communication more. But then how could you ask one to produce more than he did in his 82 years? These slight misgivings are incredibly minor things and to write them now sounds like Jonson anent Shakespeare. We should thank God and I mean this religiously that we had WFB because all of us who want to salvage the culture and historical significance of America and the West could not have made it without him. Reagan simply could not have mobilized his movement without Buckleys having gone before, collecting intellectuals and writers. Take George Will alone: he occupies a signal place in U. S. conservatism and would never have gotten anywhere without having worked for Buckleyor Paul Gigot the editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. To the very end he had the ability to slough off the nuts including people who were once great but who became nutsi.e. Joe Sobran.
The fact that WFB had so many friends in the liberal was a great treasurebecause until he came we were pariahs. In fact the entire mobilization of the Commentary magazine people, observant Jews and their harnessing to the conservative movement could not have been accomplished without him. The entire edifice of modern conservatism which is impressive indeed, far more so in its intellectual ballast than liberalism, is attributed single-handedly to William F. Buckley. It is sad to imagine that we could never see his like again.
Free Trade: II. Continuing from Yesterday.
Both Paul Samuelson, a Nobel laureate in economics and Paul Krugman, a Princeton professor who is a New York Times columnist, gingerly accept that in the overall, free trade will help everyone: but both are rather inextricably tied to the political here-and-now and so they fudge. Both know the doctrine of one of the economics classicists, Ricardo (1772-1823) who argued that low-wage labor in faraway countries like China and India would not jeopardize the wages of English manufacturing because of high transportation laws. But Samuelson and Krugman say this is no longer true and in the short-range there are penalties for global free trade and they stress that politicians cannot afford to wait it out since according to Samuelson, the benefits of free trade can take oftentimes up to a generation to bear fruit. Then you have the always negative media which will report Ford laying off 10,000 workers with big emphasis and at the same time underplay Googles going from zero to 10,000 jobs in the last decade. What to do?
The short range is dominating the Democrats who are out of presidential power now i.e. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But also Republican Mike Huckabee. He was a free trader as governor of Arkansas but has risen to the top tier with statements like If somebody in the presidency doesnt begin to understand that we cant have free trade if its not fair trade, were going to continually see people who have worked for 20 and 30 years get the pink slip and told, `Im sorry but everything you spent your life working for is no longer here.
Then there is Ron Paul who is a real mystery to me. I thought he was a libertarian and that libertarians were not supposed to be protectionists--but in the House he has voted against every free-trade proposal (somebody tell me why aside from the usual short-range pragmatic political interest). Then, of course, there was H. Ross Perot in 1992 and one who increasingly has moved rightward so much that he is rounding the circle and coming up leftPat Buchanan who left the Republican party. Theyre on the fringe now with Ron Paul and John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson are and were free trade candidates. And given that Perotism and Buchanan-ism dont count anymore in the GOP and Huckabee is playing himself out and seemingly auditioning for a talk show, the greater likelihood is that a Democratic president will be more fair trade orchestrated than free trade. Buchanan is particularly ghastly to me as he comes close to the Gene McCarthy post-1968 line in foreign affairs, almost seeming to chortle in that high-pitched voice of his on McLaughlin when he hears of an American reverse and sounding like a soul-mate of Eleanor Clift for Gods sake. .
But even so their position is couched, not embracing protectionism formally but desirous of tightening the terms of old agreements and a harder-nosed position with our trading partners. Looking at Obama and Hillary jousting on this issue does not give me reassurance but hearkens back to the old fallacies that produced Smoot-Hawley with the potential of converting what might be a slight recession into a full-scale depression.