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The Daily Inquisition / October 15, 2008

Today’s Defendant: Christopher Buckley, Again

Statement of the Grand Inquisitor: Being “the latest conservative/libertarian/whatever to leap onto the Barack Obama bandwagon” has lost Buckley his post at the National Review, the rag his father William F. founded, and he’s been bragging about his own martyrdom ever since:

As for the mail flooding into National Review Online—that’s been running about, oh, 700-to-1 against [me]. In fact, the only thing the Right can’t quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

Thus Buckley has put us in the position of agreeing with National Review readers about something—the necessity of torturing Buckley—and that is unforgivable.

However, there’s no doubt that, on further reflection, having Buckley punched in the stomach forever seems an inadequate punishment. Now that he’s actually convinced people he’s an honorable intellectual taking a hit for his integrity, it falls to us to remind everyone that Buckley’s integrity never bothered him much during the years of the W. Ascendency. Though he termed himself a “disappointed Republican” after the glory days of Reagan and H., he was never so disappointed that he’d repudiate the conservative cause while it was still, clearly, the only game in town. But, checking the recent poll numbers and suddenly threatened with life on the losing team, he’s remembered all those iconoclastic-conservative principles he inherited from dear old Pup.

Recall that as long as John McCain looked like a Republican candidate who could win, Buckley was his champion. Here’s a quote from an article Buckley wrote for the New York Times on February 19, 2008, taking his fellow conservatives to task for questioning McCain’s bona fides:

Some of the anti-McCain shrieks on the right have averred that it would be preferable to let a Clinton (Hillary, technically) or an Obama have the presidency, so that the post-George W. Bush (“compassionate conservative,” small or large C not mattering much at this point) mess will land on Democratic laps and not ours.

This is an odd and sour banner to unfurl. It’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan, or for that matter other conservative icons (Churchill, Margaret Thatcher), pounding the podium and announcing: “O.K., here’s the plan — we’ll tank this one and then look like heroes four years from now. Let us march!”

Conservatism is — among other things — a question of character. Mr. McCain has never been boastful on this score. He admits his failures with almost suspicious candor. He can in fact be a real bore on the subject. His Keating Five disgrace so offended his own sense of personal honor that he enacted an auto-auto-da-fé crusade for campaign finance reform: very unconservative.

And yet the sum of Mr. McCain seems (to me, anyway) far greater than the parts. How many elections offer such an inspired biography as his? And who among “us” — with the exception of Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who issued a statement saying that the thought of Mr. McCain in the Oval Office sent “chills up my spine” — would not sleep soundly knowing that the war hero was on the job calculating how to dispatch more Islamic fanatics to their rendezvous with 72 virgins, without an interlude of waterboarding, while in his spare time vetoing Senator Cochran’s latest earmark.

In short, this Buckley martyrdom is simple careerism in action; all the rightish pundits are doing it. We saw it in reverse after 9/11, when all the left-leaning flacks scrambled to realign their rhetoric with the Bush/Cheney talking points that were clearly going to dominate the airwaves for years to come. Few remember now, for example, that slobbering Obama-booster Chris Matthews of MSNBC was, for a few years, a hawkish defender of the Iraq war, because all lefty pundits converted to moronic jingoism at the same time. As for Christopher Hitchens, he’s slued around politically so often in recent years we can’t be sure of anything but the fact that he hates Mother Teresa and he’s repulsive no matter what he says. Hitchens says “Good morning” and you feel unclean for hearing it.

But that’s beside the point, which is: what to we going to do with the abominable Buckley?

Statement of the Defense: Whatever we do to Buckley, we have to make sure we can still do something worse to Christopher Hitchens.

Verdict: Deal!

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