A recent syndicated column by Thomas Sowell “Republicans in the Wilderness“ includes useful advice but also misleading conclusions. According to Sowell, while “Republican moderates” Bob Dole and John McCain “lost disastrously to Democrats,” Republicans who have stood their ground, like Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, have been more successful politically. Victorious Republicans have understood that “far more Americans describe themselves as “conservatives” than as “liberals,”” and dynamic conservative Republican leaders have therefore “come up with alternatives to the Democrats” many solutions rather than simply be nay-sayers.”
Although Sowell’s advice to the GOP, to paint in sharp pastels rather than in shades of gray, is certainly welcome, it nonetheless includes unwarranted assumptions. The recently conducted Gallup Poll about ideological values is mostly meaningless. Although 40 percent of Americans polled claim to be “conservative,” 21 percent “liberal,” and 55 percent “moderate,” it is hard to tell what “conservative” means here. Twenty-two percent of registered Democrats consider their politics to be “conservative,” while a Marist poll in 2007 suggested that a significant percentage of Hillary Clinton’s base characterized itself as “conservative.” Is a “conservative” perchance someone who would permit second-term abortion but gets queasy about abortions in the last trimester? Perhaps it’s someone who advocates gay marriage but opposes the kind of group marriages that is now legal in Holland.
The reference points in the survey, “conservative” and “liberal,” have become so vague that it may be time to discard them. Personally I would divide ideological camps along more relevant lines, namely between those who favor our current centralized public administration and the present judicial control of society in the name of selective and often newly discovered “rights” and those who hold to a more traditional view of constitutional government. As a decentralist, I stand with libertarians, communitarians, and religious traditionalists against Sean Hannity, Bill Maher, and other advocates of the current American managerial regime, with its neo-Wilsonian, conversionary impulse.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, “liberals” were generally people who voted Democratic and favored a larger welfare state. But on social and cultural questions, they were generally to the right of what are now called “conservatives,” mostly because they were living in a more culturally traditional age. I couldn”t imagine any liberal in my youth favoring gay marriage, affirmative action for minorities, or governmental actions to remove gender distinctions from the workplace, except when employers are being pressured by government administration to hire more women. In fact it was the “liberals,” and not the free-market Republicans, who insisted on the single-family wage in order to keep women at home with their kids.
The single-family-wage was for decades the big economic issues for such certified “liberals” as Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR’s treasurer Frances Perkins. Although arguably such a measure would empower the government to entangle itself in other commercial transactions and to engage in more radical social engineering, the fact that “liberals” once favored what is now anathema to the feminists indicates how fluid “liberalism” has become. Needless to say, if the term is applied to those who called themselves “liberal” in the nineteenth century, one could find absolutely no connection between the past and present usages.
Another problem that Sowell does not consider is that some groups, like blacks and Hispanics, usually give “conservative” answers to social questions but then vote for candidates on the left. My eldest daughter has had a black friend since her college days at Michigan who sounds like Jerry Falwell but votes like Barney Frank. My daughter’s friend believes without evidence that the GOP is conspiring to strip blacks of civil rights. Moreover, she has often heard this view expressed by other black Fundamentalists, who attend her church. How does it benefit the GOP if such people define themselves as “conservative”? This identification will not translate into changed voting habits, no matter how energetically GOP politicians grovel before minority audiences.
Sowell furnishes an example of where the GOP should be distancing itself from the Dems for the sake of electoral support. Unfortunately he furnishes the worst conceivable example. Apparently President Obama is not controlling “Iran as a terrorist nation” and unless he starts taking stronger action against its wicked government, someone’s grand-daughters may have “to live under sharia law.” I couldn”t imagine myself voting for the GOP because it’s intent on getting us more deeply embroiled in Iran, in order to prevent someone’s grand-daughter from living under sharia law. It was precisely the meddlesome, missionary foreign policy of Obama’s predecessor, and the egregious rhetorical habits that W picked up from neoconservative advisors, that turned his administration into a cosmic laughing stock.
The present administration is doing the right thing in addressing the instabilities in Iran, by escalating its admonitions cautiously and by avoiding the appearance of undue American influence in creating opposition to the current Iranian government. The neocon-GOP alternative, which seems to lack a fan base outside of FOX-news stalwarts and those polled by the New York Post, is to inflict our “democratic” missionizing on the rest of humanity.
What happens, however, if our grandstanding does not bring about the change in the Iranian government desired by Sowell? Do we then move armies out of Iraq and Afghanistan, whither President Bush sent them, and redeploy them in Iran? And if we do not intend to apply military force, and an unfriendly government remains in power in Iran, what do we do then that is different from what Obama is likely to do, namely, combine stern language with economic sanctions. While there are multiple things the administration has done that should concern us, how it has handled the Iranian government is not one of these failings. And it is unlikely that a return to the missionary, saber-rattling policies popular at the Hoover Institute, the institution at which Sowell hangs out, will result in a flood of GOP voters.
Speaking on FOX News the same day Sanford dropped his bombshell, former Bush adviser Karl Rove said: “With all due respect to Governor Sanford, I’ve never thought he was a particularly strong candidate. If you looked just beneath the surface in South Carolina, for example, there were a lot of strong conservatives who were very upset with his performance in office… it’s a sign of the lack of popularity that he’s got in the state that the immediate response of a lot of political leaders in the state was he’s got to go, and he’s got to go right now.”
That one of Bush’s most prominent advisers would say that Sanford was unpopular amongst “strong conservatives” in SC is a pretty good indication of what Rove considers “conservative”—big spending, big government GOP hacks who dominate not only this state’s legislature but wrecked the last Republican presidency. Sanford is indeed unpopular amongst such “conservatives” and for good reason—he isn’t one of them.
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When South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted his infidelity, many in the GOP establishment at both the state and national level were happy to witness the possible downfall of a prominent conservative who made them look bad by comparison.
People often ask me how I can write about Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, Abraham Lincoln or the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution or the South. Hasn”t it all been said? Isn”t there already a mountain of books about them?
They are right to think that a great amount of ink has been spilled on these topics. Where a layman’s intuition fails him, however, is in telling him that these subjects must have been, or can ever be, exhausted.
Consider the current state of Thomas Jefferson scholarship.
In 1997, Annette Gordon-Reed published Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Gordon-Reed, a professor at New York Law School since 1992, hazarded a new approach to an old question: whether Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings’s children. She also described the way that bygone Jefferson scholars had handled the issue.
The first person publicly to assert that Jefferson had children by one of his slaves was James Callender. This hired-gun journalist leveled this charge to besmirch Jefferson’s reputation at the dawn of the 19th century. While Jefferson’s partisan opponents snickered or sneered, this allegation had little contemporary political effect. (Instead, Callender himself became the target of obloquy that is still heaped upon him today.)
In fact, exceedingly little attention was paid to such issues in the nineteenth century or the first half of the twentieth. Only coincidentally with the Civil Rights Movement did scholars begin to investigate the history of slavery in America. One of the great fruits of American historiography is the increasingly full picture of slave society bequeathed us by scholars as diverse as Kenneth Stampp , Eugene Genovese, John Hope Franklin, and Peter Kolchin these past five decades. Reading their works, one is struck by how little was known before.
Still, even as the tide of slavery scholarship swelled, the image of the Master of Monticello remained essentially unblemished. From their high positions at the University of Virginia, historians Dumas Malone and Merrill Peterson”authors respectively of the leading multi-volume and one-volume biographies”scoffed. A psychohistorian who dared to raise the question in the 1970s earned stern rebukes from the “thoughtful” precincts of both academia and the media.
Gordon-Reed’s 1997 book asked why that should be. Marshalling long-standing oral traditions in black families connected to Monticello, traditions that included but certainly were not limited to claims of descent from the penman of the Declaration of Independence, Gordon-Reed asked how the matter would be treated if those traditions had been preserved by white people instead of by black. Notably, she made no assertions. She simply asked the question. As a historian of Jeffersonian Virginia not fixated on sex, slavery, or the Hemings question, I found her book persuasive. Jefferson, it seemed, had fathered children by Hemings.
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy was not merely a work of historiography, however: it also instantly became an artifact of American social and intellectual history. Virtually immediately, Gordon-Reed found herself under attack. Her book suffered comparisons to that 1970s psychohistory, comparisons it in no sense deserved. Psychohistory, a trendy approach in the days of “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and “Saturday Night Fever,” pet rocks and 8-tracks, and ex-seg committee chairmen and Cabinet secretaries, featured in the hands of the inexpert a heaping helping of speculation about its subjects” thoughts and psyches. Gordon-Reed’s book, on the other hand, dared simply to ask the right questions and to interrogate the subject of Jefferson historians” approach to their materials as a scholar might have evaluated the work of virtually any other group of historians.
She did not call reflexive incredulity toward the Jefferson-Hemings story a vestige of white supremacy. She didn”t have to.
Note that I am not saying that serious scholars could not disagree with her implication. Some did. Among them were leading lights such as the late Lance Banning, Forrest McDonald, and Alf Mapp. In general, however, the historical profession found her book devastating “ not of Jefferson, but of the Malone/Peterson approach.
Among those who resist the idea that Jefferson fathered slave children are some of his white descendants. Seldom has the question been publicly discussed that one or more of them did not turn up to dispute what came to be seen as the Gordon-Reed thesis.
And then, the year after the book’s publication, Nature published results of genetic testing dispositively proving that at least one Hemings descendant descended from a male Jefferson. It also proved that at least one family’s oral history of being descended from Jefferson was almost certainly mistaken. Ha! Said the opponents, this didn”t prove that Jefferson sired children by Hemings. It only proved that oral history couldn”t be trusted! Some of them trotted out other Jefferson males as likely candidates for the role of father of Hemings offspring.
They were right that the DNA evidence did not perfectly prove that the black families” oral history of being descended from Jefferson must be true. I note, however, that there is more proof that Jefferson is the ancestor of certain black Americans now living than there is that the person I understand to have been my great-grandfather had anything to do with events leading to me.
There is, in fact, virtually no one living or in history, virtually no one, for whose ancestry we have more evidence than we do for the descendants of Eston Hemings, whom some now call Eston Hemings Jefferson. Certainly not John Kennedy. Or Julius Caesar. Or Queen Elizabeth I. Quite probably not you.
Most leading Jefferson scholars fell into line. Joseph Ellis, who had denied that Jefferson had fathered Hemings offspring, now hopped on board. Andrew Burstein, who admitted to his “love” for Jefferson, wrote an entire book on the subject.
Gordon-Reed’s new book on the Hemings family has won two of this year’s major prizes, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer. As the review in the latest issue of The Journal of Southern History aptly notes, there is a growing desperation in the arguments of those who deny that Jefferson does indeed have black descendants.
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Why are they so desperate? And come to think of it, why did Gordon-Reed’s book win these major prizes? As the same review notes, this new Gordon-Reed tome was in serious need of an editor; it could well have packed more punch into far fewer pages. So, if not the craftsmanship, what makes it so notable? Book prizes, like most publication decisions and awards in the field of history, are highly political. To some extent, they are concerned with rewarding authors of books that contribute to the construction of what one historian/activist called a “usable past.” (Thus, for example, I knew as soon as I saw Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution in a bookstore that it would win major prizes, and I told my shopping companion so. Certain ideological precincts had an interest in claiming the heretofore conservative Revolution for a left-wing usable past.) For Malone and Peterson, a certain image of Jefferson, that of the Olympian dispenser of democratic truths, “The Sage of Monticello,” had immediate applicability. While a slave-owner, their Jefferson was unhappily so; while a man of the nineteenth century, he is easy to imagine in the twentieth; while an exhorter to violence and proponent of states” rights, he only took those stances in specific circumstances, and his statements of principle are to be found elsewhere.
More recent scholars have dethroned that old marble man. Ellis, in saying that he had changed his mind about the Hemings question, added that he hoped that knowing Jefferson had behaved this way would help persuade senators to acquit Bill Clinton at his impeachment trial. This seemed to be a non sequitur to me, but in Ellis’s mind the two subjects were closely linked.
Having noticed the political goings-on in the historical profession, some members of the white Jefferson family have pointed to an academic cabal intent on tearing Jefferson down for contemporary purposes. If his personal probity is called into question, they say, it becomes that much easier to flout his limited-government principles. Note that Jefferson’s personality and sex life are the prime concerns of contemporary Jefferson scholars. Long gone are the days when attention to his advocacy of peace, limited government, states” rights, and citizen involvement in decision-making lay at the heart of prize-winning books. Gordon-Reed, Burstein, and Ellis are typical of contemporary Jefferson chroniclers.
How might public awareness of Jefferson’s siring slave offspring affect today’s political debates? While scholars long have known that slave-owners, indeed men of the slave-owning class, commonly had sex with slaves, that knowledge seems not to have made much of an impact on the populace at large. If it had, the reasoning goes, perhaps contemporary proposals of compensatory measures would be more popular. So, this fact about Thomas Jefferson and the stories of his slaves” relationships with him certainly could help to make a “usable past” for those with contemporary ideological and political fish to fry.
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Gordon-Reed, from all appearances, is not one of them. She does not say that Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings was tantamount to rape, although she might have. (The Journal of Southern History review, in evaluating the onset of the Hemings relationship, rightly calls Jefferson “creepy.”) Instead, she endeavors to situate the two of them in their environment and to imagine a relationship consistent with everything she knows about them. This, too, marks her as an excellent historian.
How much effect should recognition that Jefferson quite likely behaved this way have? While Jefferson remains a popular personage with Americans today, his political philosophy is essentially defunct. States” rights? Almost entirely local self-government? Highly limited federal spending? Strenuous endeavor to avoid war? No entangling alliances? Anger at federal judicial usurpation? They are nearly as dead as Jefferson’s seemingly comfortable acceptance of the idea that, as a slave-owner, he had a certain droit de seigneur. There’s really not much of a Jefferson legacy to fight over, intensely lamentable though that fact may be.
As I said, I am persuaded. The far more interesting issue, though, is what so many people are so excited about.
Rolling though picture-perfect hills and fields of maize and barley towards Wembury House, Devon, for the annual Hanbury cricket match. At times it’s a scene from a ‘50s film of a long-ago England, beautiful, tranquil and law-abiding, with glimpses of broad greens, riverside walks and winding country lanes. But then comes the announcement in an English I can hardly comprehend, however hard I try, apologizing about a diversion because of hay on the tracks. “Hay on the tracks?” I ask incredulously.
The bucolic view of beeches and oaks, as well as the armour of decorum, is suddenly replaced by the uniquely British subculture of ritual drunkenness and violence, as yobs and hurried couples carrying screaming, snotty children pile into the first-class carriage filling it to the brim. They, too, have been diverted. They lie down in the corridors, stand menacingly over one’s seat, curse out loud as the train lurches and leans at a donkey’s pace. Welcome to England 2009, and the Great Western railroad, whatever the misnomer.
Mind you, once in Plymouth, after close to six hours of suffering—the regular journey should be three hours 20 minutes—two large cars are waiting for us and we’re whisked to Wembury House where the festivities have already begun. Tim and Emma Hanbury have hosted the cricket fixture for years, but this time, instead of 20-odd free-loaders, there are more than a hundred of us. It is billed as a “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” the gardens, where the tent is already up, stretching to a large wall in the distance where hay bales have been put up as seats around a bonfire. The main event is the cricket match between the Hanbury team, and that of Ben Elliot, substituting for Zac Goldsmith.
Instead of hitting the sack early in preparation for the game and Saturday night’s bash, we begin to drink as if prohibition is coming the next day. There are some very pretty young women, Georgie Wells, Georgie Rylance, the actress, whose father is a high court judge, our host’s two daughters, Marina and Rosie Hanbury, and others whose surnames I never caught because young people today don’t use them. Alice, Willa, Violet and one we christened Uma as in Thurman, as she was a lookalike. (The Uma lookalike, incidentally, was still there on Monday afternoon, along with three other lost young souls, although the invitation was meant to end after Sunday’s lunch.)
Now let’s get something clear. I don’t know what it is that makes me go nuts the night before a party, but obviously there is some pent-up fury that masks years of angst, except I can’t remember those years. I don’t smash crockery over the empty absurdity of man’s fate, I simply get hog-whimpering blind drunk, and fall madly in love with any girl in front of me. And that night the place was spilling over with them. Even more inspiring than the girls was the music. Tom Naylor-Leyland is a brilliant pianist of country and rhythm and blues. He plays and sings like the pro that he is, and is a hell of a wicket-keeper to boot. The evening finished around 7.30 in the morning and at 11 both Harry Worcester and Timmy were in my room ordering me to the cricket pitch. No thanks to me, we had 197 runs by lunchtime, and we would have had fewer without the hangover. After a liquid lunch we fielded like heroes, and Xan Somerset, aged 13, almost got a hat trick for one wide ball. Then it was party time.
Things got out of control straight off the bat. With excuses to Joseph Moncure March, “Blurred faces swam together locked,/ Red hungry lips, closed eyes,/ Rocked./ White slender throats curved back beneath, attacking mouths that chocked their breath./ They murmured:/ They gasped:/ They lurched and pawed, and grasped.” A priest-like boy and a girl-like nun lay deep on cushion, locked as one. And all this was before dinner was served: 150 bottles of vodka were consumed that night, more than 55 magnums of red wine and I was too shy to ask my host about the amount of white wine and champagne.
The announcement of the wedding came almost as an afterthought, following the cricket scores. Timmy, who mumbles his words like no other, said something about his daughter Rosie expecting twin boys and that she will marry David sometime this summer. I happened to be sitting next to David, whose full name is David Rocksavage, Marquess of Cholmondeley, pronounced Chumley for any foreign-born Spectator readers. David is the person who walks backwards in front of the Queen during the Opening of Parliament, but last Saturday night he was one of the few who walked straight.
The announcement caught me by surprise. It was as if my little girl had got engaged, so happy was I. The Hanburys went on Bushido for their honeymoon 29 years ago, a smaller, more beautiful Bushido, and I joined them on it in Greece. I am close to them and their three children, and now I had an even better reason for celebrating.
At one in the afternoon the next day, in brilliant sunshine, I was still swilling from a wine bottle, glassy-eyed, unfeeling, a headachey mumble replacing speech once in a while. A friend dragged me away and as I headed for a taxi I could see the pretty girls still dancing, Tom’s music still ringing in my ears. It was a weekend I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
The fascinating news that the ageing William F. Buckley, beset by bladder problems, developed the habit of opening the door of his moving limousine and urinating into passing traffic”revealed by his son, Christopher Buckley in Losing Mum and Pup, his unsparing memoir of his just-deceased parents” final year”is almost laughably symbolic.
CB himself”whose father certainly presented him with much more distressing problems at the terrible end”seems to think WFB was just importing the manly casualness of his much-publicized yachting days. He writes jovially to WFB’s possible victims:
In fact, of course, WFB’s behavior was insanitary, disgusting, offensive and sociopathically irresponsible. Equally, CB’s account of the youthful WFB’s flying a private plane from Boston back to Yale despite never having soloed, and losing his way in the dark, glosses over (“derring-do”) the reality that innocents on the ground could have been killed.
We do learn, however, that CB refused to sail any more with WFB in 1997, after he had insisted on taking CB and others out on overnight excursion although Long Island Sound was wracked by a rising near-hurricane. CB suggests he was thinking of his own, potentially fatherless children. He does not mention the Coast Guard, whom his mother, Pat, had already contacted and who would have been required to attempt a rescue.
CB is aware that he was born into privilege. He repeatedly notes that the weird coldness and selfishness with which both of his parents apparently treated their only child”WFB got bored at CB’s Yale graduation ceremony and made the family party leave for lunch, with no word to CB, abandoned to celebrate alone in a diner”does not constitute tragedy by the standards of the world. And he does not, really, dwell on it.
Regardless of his parent’s behavior, however, being WFB’s son came with a real cost. I became aware of this at the first dinner I had at Buckley’s house, in 1978. On leaving, I said politely to CB, then in his mid 20s, that I was sorry not to have had a chance to talk to him. I was taken aback when he instantly broke into a grin of unmistakable relief. Outside on the pavement of East 73rd Street, Barbara Amiel, my fellow guest and colleague from Canadian journalism, whooped sardonically. But it cannot have been easy to have your home invaded so often by strangers, particularly given the surprisingly trivial talk and constant flattery that WFB required.
Years later, when I was at Forbes Magazine in New York, I exercised editorial privilege, on an impulse of altruism, to insist that a picture of the recent publicity event for CB’s novel Thank You for Smoking be run with my, only loosely related, article on the health advantages of tobacco. To drive home the point, I appropriated the title as a headline. (It’s still my most anthologized article.) I was surprised to meet bitter opposition from the Forbes Art Department. To me, Buckleyism had become, in Tom Piatak’s phrase, “the harmless persuasion,” no longer confronting liberal ideological hegemony, increasingly subservient to the timeserving GOP Beltway Establishment. But to the lumpen liberal functionaries at Forbes, WFB was still the Devil Incarnate, a racist cryptofascist”in fact, all the things that the late, decadent National Review now says about paleoconservatives. And they were illiberally eager to visit the father’s sins on his son.
Conservatives often complain that CB does not have his father’s political interests. But these would have been absolutely incompatible with the career in society journalism that he has made.
(I told my Forbes story to Pat and Bill Buckley at a lunch at their house in Stamford to which Pat had kindly invited me. I thought at the time that WFB was oddly uninterested. I read now that his jealousy of CB’s humorous novels was one of their numerous points of friction).
One other memory of that 1978 dinner: I was impressed to see that WFB and CB greeted each other by unselfconsciously kissing on the mouth. I had never seen American fathers and sons do this, although it is (or was) common in the North of England, where I was born. It was obvious then that they loved each other. And it is obvious now that Losing Mum And Pup, its ruthlessness notwithstanding, is a work of love.
Like Chris Buckley, I am a now-orphaned Baby Boomer. Like him, I had to give the order to take my comatose mother off life support. I found his book skilful and moving. I believe it could very well be helpful and comforting the many millions with elderly parents, who, as he notes, are inexorably moving toward what must be regarded as one of the more serious of life’s passages.
But at the same time, Losing Mum And Pup also makes clear the personal failings that made Buckley such a disaster for the American Conservative Movement and (particularly interesting to me) to the cause of patriotic immigration reform, which he encouraged some of us to champion in National Review before stabbing us in the back and handing the magazine over to hostile neoconservatives and GOP publicists.
Reading CB’s book, I was grimly amused to see how many of the traits I cited in my obituary for WFB”apparently causing great offense to his surviving courtiers at National Review“are confirmed here.
Financial insecurity“CB notes that his parents were not “rich rich” and even claims that WFB’s patrimony was squandered in the stock market in the 1950s, after which he supported his plutocratic lifestyle entirely through journalism.
As a journalist, I find this incredible. But National Review certainly subsidized WFB to a scandalous extent and I have often wondered if money played a role in some of his editorial decisions. Thus patriotic immigration reform was always opposed by Dusty Rhodes, the former Goldman Sachs executive whom WFB, with his snobbish weakness for the wealthy, installed in a vague (probably power-balancing) role at NR.
Alcohol and drugs“CB reports that both of his parents drank heavily”news to me in the case of Pat”and he provides excruciating details of WFB’s massive use of uppers (Ritalin “from his private stash””legal?) and downers (Stilnox).
At the end, WFB paid a cruel price for this habit. But my own hypothesis is that it accounted for his extraordinary personality change, from the legendarily brilliant rebel who challenged John Lindsay in the 1965 New York Mayor’s race to the exhausted, vacuous, vain volcano I saw in 1978, and was finally betrayed by in 1998. By the 1980s, WFB was quite incapable of fulfilling the leadership role he still insisted upon. And it was the conservative movement, and America, that paid the truly cruel price. Like WFB himself, it turned out that the conservative movement was to have no “second act,” n Scott Fitzgerald’s famous phrase, after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. WFB simply did not have the energy or the courage to adapt to the next generation of issues. And he was not prepared to tolerate those who did.
Ego and Vanity“CB says frankly that WFB “certainly did like praise. Not unusual in writers, but Pup had developed certain”shall we say”Conradian aspects in his declining years”. (This is a reference to Joseph Conrad’s famous remark, “I don”t want criticism, I want praise.)
CB reveals that WFB, like many writers, had programmed Google to send alerts when his name was mentioned. But, unlike many writers,WFB was able to require his son to read them to him:
(They”re all the same, by the way).
CB also recounts his shock at hearing that in June 2007 WFB intended to skip the funeral of his own sister, CB’s aunt, to go to Washington to accept an award:
(It was actually the American Hungarian Federation‘s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.)
CB’s diagnosis: his father missed “the roar of the crowd.” This also illuminates Larry Auster’s quip in his savage obituary for WFB: “The man has basically been the recipient of a rolling memorial service for the last 20 years, even while he was alive.” Ironically, on CB’s own account, it was the strain of this last ceremony that broke WFB’s health and sent him into terminal decline.
CB says, applying to himself the frankness with which describes his parents, that making audiences laugh is “my one talent.” This is true. He is a gifted humorist, but not a political thinker. Losing Mom and Pup is completely devoid of political ideas, although full of politicians. John McCain is criticized, but simply because he failed to offer his condolences on WFB’s death from the presidential campaign trail”a personal gesture which, CB is no doubt right to observe, his own former employer George H.W. Bush would not have failed to make.
Similarly, CB describes WFB’s peculiar attachment to Henry Kissinger through the dÃ©tente years as simply a matter of long-standing personal friendship. Yet all by itself, WFB’s behavior during this period discredits the claim, repeated here credulously by his son, that he was father of the modern conservative movement and even the progenitor of Ronald Reagan. To the contrary, Reagan rose to power precisely in opposition to Kissinger’s dÃ©tente policy and above all to his sell-out of the Panama Canal“which Buckley, breaking ranks with the Right, notoriously supported. (“If Bill had opposed the Panama Canal treaty, he wouldn”t even have gotten on NPR,” William A. Rusher, National Review‘s long-time publisher and a shrewd Buckleyologist, explained to me at the time. Rusher, passionately involved in every major conservative battle from the Draft Goldwater movement to the nomination of Ronald Reagan”when WFB, according to Rick Brookhiser in his just-released Right Time, Right Place , preferred Bush, or even (!) Pat Moynihan”is my candidate for father, or at least nursemaid, of the conservative movement.)
Yet CB is delighted to relate that Kissinger delivered eulogies at both of his parents” memorial services, not the least element in what he obviously regards as great social triumphs. And the fact is that his personal explanation of his father’s support for Kissinger in the dÃ©tente years is probably right.
Last year, CB garnered great publicity for announcing that he would vote for Obama, neatly maneuvering the flat-footed Dusty Rhodes and Rich Lowry into appearing to force him out of National Review so that he could go off in triumph to be a columnist Tina Brown’s fashionable Daily Beast. Just because you have no political ideas doesn”t mean that you can”t be politic.
There is nothing surprising in this. A monarch butterfly is not going to stay around in winter, even a nuclear winter created by the Bush catastrophe that its father must in part be blamed for. The irony is that WFB, who had already undercut NR editors by bailing out on the Iraq War, would have been perfectly capable of doing the same thing. Son and father were more alike that has been generally assumed.
But at least CB has never pretended to be serious. Nor (as far as I know) has he urinated on passing motorists”or on his country.
This article was originally published at VDARE.com.
Obama is a heavy-duty planner; a command and control kind of guy. He aims to replace cumbersome, heavily regulated medicine”the kind Americans have now”with Kafkaesque, centrally controlled care. He”ll start small”a modest healthcare expansion totaling $2 trillion”and will proceed from there.
During the recent ABC News Health Care infomercial, put on for the Big Man‘s benefit, the president smirked: “If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best-quality health care; if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business?”
The market place, of course, doesn”t conceive of separate spheres, neatly carved-up by statists. The laws of supply and demand don”t answer to Barry the Bolshevik. Private practitioners and providers, in extant and nascent markets for medicine, must know that if The Man and his Machine bring in a “public option,” offering coverage to whomever wants it, the market place will change.
To fit his fanciful confabulations, Obama has insisted that “because the public plan will have lower administrative costs, “we can keep them [private insurance companies] honest.””
This is instructive. Ever wonder why the president is so confident that the “public option” will be cheaper? Here’s why: a “public plan” is a subsidized plan in which prices are artificially fixed below market level. As sure as night follows day, overconsumption and shortages always ensue.
If he is as smart as he thinks he is, even the smarmy president must knows that, to compete with the state, private plans and insurers cannot offer services below their real cost for long. Private practitioners who sell their wares at a loss”are who not “too big to fail” and have yet to slip between the sheets with the derriere doctor-in-chief”will be waylaid.
Conversely, because it enjoys a monopoly over force, the government is immune to bankruptcy. It covers its shortfalls by direct and indirect theft: by taxing the people, or flooding the country’s financial arteries with toxic fiat currency.
Other than to indenture doctors, the overall effect of forcing professionals to provide healthcare below market prices will be to decrease the supply and quality of providers and products.
Obama’s supporters dislike the socialism sobriquet, but socialized medicine by stealth is what we”ll end-up with. Moreover, and for the sake of semantic veracity, let us, at the very least, name the beast rising out of this sea of statism: the “public option” is really “tax-financed healthcare.”
“Tax-financed healthcare” is a gulag for doctors and patients alike. “Minimum standard of care for all” is how the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons describes the mission of the Japanese “tax-financed healthcare.” There, capped care is killing cancer patients, because they can see only one specialist who diagnoses and supervises treatment. “The average physician’s income in Japan is about half as much as in the U.S.”
“The consequent impossibility of centralized economic calculation means that central planners necessarily lack the knowledge needed for the efficient allocation of resources,” explains Ronald Hamowy in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. “In a capitalist system, it is the rivalrous entrepreneurial activity of markets that generate prices. Such rivalrous entrepreneurial activity is, by definition, ruled out in a centrally planned [system].”
Immune to insolvency, government programs, funded indefinitely and coercively by taxpayers, squander rather than conserve precious resources, human and material.
If you think the misallocation of bailout billions has been criminal, wait until Obama’s politburo of proctologists attempts to figure out how many Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners to purchase for The Plan. Courtesy of bureaucratic calculus, the waiting time for an MRI scan in British Columbia, Canada, runs into weeks and even months; not ideal if you have a malignancy.
Yes, the hubris. Where the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics failed, the “United Socialist States of America” will prevail. Duly, B. Hussein insists that, “If we are smart, we should be able to design a system in which people still have choices of doctors and choices of plans that make sure that necessary treatment is provided but we don’t have a huge amount of waste in the system.”
The pit of perverse incentives Papa Obama is engineering includes leveling the insurance industry, which by definition must discern and discriminate between applicants based on their health status (largely under individual control). Under his benevolent rule, private insurers will be subjected to a host of new regulations, “including a requirement to insure all applicants and a prohibition on pricing premiums on the basis of risk,” in the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner’s rendering.
This means one thing: moral hazard. Writes libertarian economist Walter Block: “The greater the protection from the random expenses of sickness, the greater the potential over-consumption of the item in question.”
We currently labor under “a seeming patchwork of indemnity insurance arrangements, managed care, private payment, and charity.” Yet the fewer the intermediaries interfering with the primary, patient-doctor relationship, the better the patient’s prognosis. The president’s prescription for too little freedom, however, is even less of the same!
Misguided government policies have already dealt vicious body blows to our economy, but that hasn’t stopped politicians this week from launching two new kicks to the groin: a national health insurance plan and a carbon emissions regulation system called “cap and trade.” Even if these plans could achieve their desired ends, which is highly unlikely, I would have hoped Washington would refrain from throwing more monkey wrenches into the economy until it shows some signs of resurgence. The last thing we need right now is to further encumber our economy with higher taxes and additional regulations.
The meteoric rise in health care costs, which has become an unending nightmare for U.S. businesses and consumers, is not an accident. This painful condition has arisen from excess government involvement in the system, tax provisions that encourage the over-utilization of health insurance, and government support of an out-of-control malpractice industry. Rather than allowing more bad policy to drive health care costs further upward, we should be looking at ways to allow market forces to reign them back in.
If left alone, the free market drives quality up and costs down. Government programs produce the opposite result. Despite the president’s claim that a federal plan will bring costs down, there is no historical precedent for such faith.
Simply providing more widespread health insurance, as the Obama plan offers, is not a solution. In fact, it will aggravate the problem. Since consumers no longer pay for routine medical expenses out of pocket, comprehensive health insurance creates a moral hazard for both patients and doctors. To maximize the value of the health insurance “benefit,” most workers opt for low deductibles and co-pays. Therefore, doctors learn that their patients are not concerned with the cost of care, and so they are free to bill insurance companies at the maximum allowable rates.
Given our current tax code, the simplest way to bring down medical costs would be to fully tax health care benefits as wages and simultaneously increase the personal deduction by an amount significant enough to neutralize the effect of the tax increase. This would do two things. First, the uninsured would get a huge pay increase, enabling them to buy reasonably priced catastrophic policies. Second, those currently insured could opt out of expensive employer-provided plans, trading premiums for extra wages, then buy a more economical plan. The savings would go right into their pockets.
The bottom line is that aggregate medical costs will never come down unless services are rationed more wisely. Rather than being used as a pre-payment plan for routine care, insurance should only cover unpredictable, catastrophic costs.
As a comparison, homeowners often carry fire insurance, but seldom maintenance insurance. You buy fire insurance to guard against a catastrophic loss, which is a low probability but high cost event. As a result, fire insurance is relatively affordable, since premiums paid by all those homeowners whose houses do not burn down more than pay for the losses on those few whose houses do.
On the other hand, no one carries home maintenance insurance to pay for a clogged drain or broken garage door. If insurance paid for the plumber visit every time a toilet overflowed, we would now have a plumbing crisis, and Congress would be looking to reign in runaway plumbing bills with “national plumbing insurance.”
In his press conference, President Obama claimed that government insurance would not drive private providers out of business. This is absurd. As the government provider will not have to produce a profit or accurately account for its contingent liabilities, it will provide insurance on an actuarially unsound basis. With taxpayer subsidies, the government provider can run losses indefinitely. If private insurers did this, they would either be shut down or go bankrupt. Therefore, the cost of government provided health insurance will not be confined to the premiums paid, but will include the taxpayers’ bill to continually bail out the government provider.
When Medicare was first proposed back in 1966, it cost $3 billion per year, and the projection was for inflation-adjusted annual costs to rise to $12 billion by 1990. The actual cost in 1990 was $107 billion, and the 2009 estimate is a staggering $408 billion! So much for government estimates on health care.
As if this were not bad enough, today the House votes on “cap and trade” legislation. Disguised as an environmental bill, this proposal would merely be another gigantic tax. The lion’s share of the new revenue is already committed to politically connected special interests that will reap windfalls at everyone else’s expense. To make matters worse, the bill before Congress amounts to a blank slate, with the EPA empowered to draft the details in any manner they see fit. If Congress is going to shoot the economy in the knee, they should at least be required to pull the trigger themselves.
“Cap and trade” will do nothing to reduce pollution, yet it will drive up production costs throughout the economy “ rendering us even less globally competitive that we are today. In addition to the huge cost of paying the tax, its enforcement involves the creation of an entire new bureaucracy, the costs of which will be borne by American consumers in the form of higher prices.
Years of reckless borrowing and spending have left us in a gigantic hole. Getting out of it requires that we make the most effective use of all available resources. We need labor and capital to operate as efficiently as possible so we can save and produce our way back to prosperity. Unfortunately, national health insurance and “cap and trade” are two steps in the wrong direction. Rather than getting us out of this hole, they will merely cave in the walls around us.
It has to be said that punching Perez Hilton is something that has crossed my mind more than once. I find this blogger about celebrities who has become a celebrity (although Z list as yet) in his own right insufferably annoying. Sorry. But there it is. It’s not particularly rational nor even an honorable thought, but the man just manages to trigger every aggressive switch I have.
The reason I have to reveal these personal failings is that someone has, indeed, just gone and punched Hilton: not on my behalf you understand, but for their own reasons. The basic background is that at some awards ceremony somewhere (not important which one, Perez Hilton is the type that’d turn up to the opening of an envelope), Hilton got into a shouting match with Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. In the course of which Hilton screamed “Fucking Faggot” and was rewarded with a quite beautiful shiner.
There are, of course, things to enjoy here: the open homosexual using an (ahem) “heteronormative” insult, the black eye from the Black Eyed Pea entourage, the point that I no longer have to harbor fantasies of exerting myself as I can simply watch the film of the event. There are also further, less enjoyable points. Suit has, we are told, been filed, police are involved and a court case in the offing. Now it is true that the State claims a monopoly on the legitimate deployment of violence and for good reason. It is also true that Hilton is, as is any and every individual purely by the fact of their being such an individual, worthy of the full protection that the law provides.
However, then we come to Hilton’s own statement on the entire matter. At this point I’m afraid an entirely different set of feelings kick in. It’s a horrible, to me at least, rambling self-justification. He wanders from being oppressed because he cannot legally marry the sexual partner of his choice to insisting that he used the vilest epithet he could but that no one should have done anything about it. Or something, I defy anyone to parse it properly. He finishes with this:
“And I look forward to standing up for my rights in a Toronto courtroom shortly, as I fully intend to seek every lawful remedy against the man that attacked me.”
No, that’s not how backstage insults and punches are meant to end. It’s not about his rights under the law, it’s not about dragging people through a courtroom, it’s about, or should be, being an adult. About something much more important than what the legislature has said is right or wrong, it’s about manners, the very oil that makes us all rub along together in civilization.
Hilton screamed sexual epithets and got bopped for his troubles. That’s the way that it sometimes works, that you’re forcibly reminded of the social conventions under which we all live. The correct response to such episodes is not to take legal action, it is to do what your Mother always told you. Apologize, make amends and promise not to do it again. “Dreadfully sorry, don’t know what came over me, I do apologize” would fit the bill. Once Hilton had done that and so had his assailant then the entire matter would be closed: along with providing a suitable lesson in comportment for the younger generation.
That it is going to court, that men apparently no longer have the manners that maketh them, has my own fist twitching in the air again, I’m afraid. Excuse me if I go off to see the action once again, replay that little YouTube movie…..
That a man whose entire career had been defined by his staunch fidelity to the American taxpayer would throw it all away by committing infidelity seemed like a fate fit for some other politician. In his political life, Sanford had never been a scumbag like Eliot Spitzer, a hack with something to hide like Larry Craig, or even remotely in the same universe as the modern standard bearer for secret sexual affairs, Bill Clinton. Lying seemed a natural fit for all these men. It was not a surprise that these elected officials, whose only guiding principle at the political level seemed to be self-empowerment, would be just as selfish in their personal lives.
But Sanford was a surprise. Here was a Republican who could have easily taken the same career path of most Republicans, but instead spent much of his time fighting his own party, taking the GOP to task at both the state and national level for betraying its conservative principles. Sanford took the hard road, standing up for limited government when no one else would. He was decidedly an unconventional Republican for all the right reasons. And yet last week, by his own actions, Sanford ended up in the same sort of tawdry, sleazy, and politically predictable place typically reserved for less sincere, less principled and simply, lesser men.
But sadly now, the conservative hero that could have been probably never will be. And more sadly, due entirely to his own actions, it’s almost as if he never was.
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