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 can’t 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 state’s GOP. Robert Taft had died two years earlier. The only thing we had to read was Robert R. McCormick’s “Tribune” eloquent editorials—and McCormick died April 1, 1955 which led to a winnowing down of the newspaper’s positions and the loss of its hardiness which continues even today (although it is improving vastly). There was a magazine that was very strange—“Freeman”—which 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 way—lionizing 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 Baroody’s 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 it—and 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 (I’ve 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. We’re indebted to him for befriending that genius of the West Whittaker Chambers—and 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. We’re 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 instruments—the 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 exactly—he 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 now—but of Buckley I can say I wish he had blotted some of his actions which were foolhardy. But they doesn’t 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 talents—skiing, surfing, yachting, sailing—and 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 Buckley’s 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 Buckley—or 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 nuts—i.e. Joe Sobran.

The fact that WFB had so many friends in the liberal was a great treasure—because 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 Google’s 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 doesn’t begin to understand that we can’t have free trade if it’s not fair trade, we’re going to continually see people who have worked for 20 and 30 years get the pink slip and told, `I’m 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 left—Pat Buchanan who left the Republican party. They’re 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 don’t 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 God’s 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.


  1. A man who could threaten to punch Gore Vidal in the snoot on live television will always rate with me.

  2. Dr. Paul is definitely not a pragramatic politician, one of his good characteristics, but also one that assures he will not be President.

    Having just come from a (overly theoretical) trade meeting last night, the divide in the Free Traders is whether to unilaterally lower our import taxes (the strict Libertarian position) or negotiate trade agreements (un-Constitutional per Dr. Paul).

    Dr. Paul may be right in both cases. Tariffs hurt much more than they help, and the Constitution isn't even considered.

    Yet being right doesn't gets products to market. The mish mesh of bi-lateral, multi-lateral, and global trade deals has made the economy grow, and brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Not perfect, but effective.


  3. The Depression was brought about by horrible monetary policy, not Smoot Hawley. Every Republican president from Lincoln to Reagan has been protectionist and has produced what was the greatest economy in the world. It's been only recently Republicans have converted to the religion of Free Trade.

    "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"

    That's because, with all due respect, you usually don't know what you are talking about. That you don't know much about trade policy or politicans positions on trade comes as no surprise to those of us who have followed your regressing career.

  4. Over the years I have read some very conflicting views on the events leading up to Bill Buckley dismissing Joe Sobran, and the aftermath.

    I would like to have your thoughts Tom, and anyone else who doesn't have foam dribbling out of their mouth.

  5. With all the free traders like Tom Roeser extolling the virtues of no tariffs, how come they are silent on the massive drop in the value of the dollar relative to the Euro and Canadian Dollar? By allowing the dollar to drop in value, you create the same effect as putting on a mammoth tariff. At least with a tariff you get a revenue to the government. Come on you free traders defend the huge dollar decline. Lets not forget the current accounts deficit which the free traders are so quick to dismiss.

    Whether you realize it or not, our current Fed Chairman is in a terrible position of fueling the dollar decline and inflation while trying to stimulate a credit market curled up in the financial fetal position. Many say he may be at the end of a box of tricks which will no longer work. Tom it could be argued that your economic approach has led us to this fateful economic conundrum.

  6. Rather than Ricardo refresh your memory with Adam Smith concerning free trade. Most all the folks with Adam Smith ties haven't slogged through the Wealth of Nations.
    As to Joe Sobran I think you are in as much error as you were on Stan Evans. We are all, to some extent, captured by our culture and what books we are allowed to read. Since you will agree with me there won't it cross your mind to inquire just why it is that you haven't read the latest book by that crackpot nutso, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?

  7. Would the decline of the dollar have anything to do to the printing work ordered overtime for years by an Ayn Rand ickon with the name of Greenspan?

  8. On what evidence do you write that Mr. Buckley liked to smoke marijuana? He did write that he tried it once on his yacht at a time when pot was popular with many in his son's generation; as I recall he wrote that he didn't care for the effect of the drug.

    He did support legalizing pot, but not as far as I know because he liked to smoke it.

    Also, I read online that he blamed his emphysema on cigar smoking....