Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Criticizing Obama, Praising Buckley

Look below this column to see the much-discussed photos regarding Barack Obama and another column entitled "The Case for John McCain." At the bottom of this current column, you'll find my tribute to William F. Buckley, Jr., who passed away today.

Later this afternoon (Wednesday), I'll have another column up regarding my views on what's fair and what's not in John McCain's campaign against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. I'll also discuss why the revealing photos (see below) regarding Obama are fair. The fact that some of Obama's supporters are far-left fans of Communist fanatic Che Guevara is a matter that deserves attention. Candidates for President surely recognize that everything they do in public is fair game for photographers and writers.

I am interested in Obama's Kenyan roots, which are almost exclusively biological rather than cultural, although he generally seeks to suggest otherwise. In fact, Obama was brought up by a very fine person, his Caucasian mother. Apparently, he only saw his Kenyan father, who deserted the family early in the game, on one occasion. In that sense, Barack Obama is about as "African" or even "Black" as I am (and I am as far as I know completely Caucasian). Obama is doing extremely well in the primaries with Black voters, but he has precious little in common with them. It is not unfair to discuss these points. He's no longer running for the Illinois State Senate, but rather for President of the U.S.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: Rest-in-Peace (1925-2008)

I was lucky enough to know William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of The National Review, a key journal in the history of American conservatism. William and his sister, Priscilla, were important figures in my own writing career, and I'll be writing more about them at some point later today. My first national article was published in NR in 1974, and Buckley and his sister were important influences getting me many assignments from The American Spectator.

The last time I saw Buckley in public was on TV right after the end of Ronald Reagan's funeral. I thought, "Without William F. Buckley, Jr., Ronald Reagan probably never would have been elected President." Buckley had that much influence on his times.

When he founded National Review more than 50 years ago (and to me, it does seem like only yesterday), conservatism looked like a dead philosophy. Prior to World War II, the dominant Republican philosophy on foreign policy was isolationism. In fiscal affairs, Republicans -- well, most of them -- were in favor of a balanced budget, something that was unlikely during World War II and in the subsequent Cold War.

Buckley's conservatism contained a strong element of traditional Roman Catholicism, along with a deep suspicion of Rooseveltian governmental intervention in people's affairs. Most of all, Buckley was opposed to collectivism, the dominant viewpoint underlying Communism, which appeared at the time to be the main competitor for mankind's hearts and minds.

One thing Buckley and his magazine did very well was to encourage young conservative writers, including people like Russell Kirk, author of the important book The Conservative Mind, David Brudnoy, D. Keith Mano, and George Will, among many others. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were very few outlets for conservatives who had something to say, and National Review was a lifeline for writers-on-the-Right. Ronald Reagan said many times that NR was his favorite magazine.

Buckley gave the lie to the liberal illusion that the only intellectuals in America were on the Left. He debated with -- and usually won convincingly -- against every notable liberal in the U.S., including J. K. Galbraith, Michael Harrington, Gore Vidal, and Norman Mailer.

He was a staunch supporter of Barry Goldwater and, especially, Ronald Reagan. Buckley and his NR cohort supplied much of the intellectual firepower that helped overcome the Soviet Union.

I've used many times one of his favorite sayings: "Self-control is the most exhilarating of pleasures." I've often said I don't know if that's totally correct, but I'm delighted that someone said it.

It's conventional to say of someone who's passed that we will miss him. In Buckley's case, it's absolutely true. There never was anyone quite like him -- and there certainly will never be another WFB, Jr.

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