On October 10, 2008, Christopher Buckley, the son of the great William F. Buckley, author of Thank You for Not Smoking and National Review shareholder/back page columnist, informed the waiting world that he’s pulling the lever for Obama in November. He unburdened himself on a website appropriately named The Daily Beast. Ron Reagan, Jr. has owned the genre of true confessions by sons of famous conservatives, but here we had Chris Buckley, a well-known author in his own right! No matter how unpleasant, surely Buckley the younger would deliver a wallop.
Regrettably, the read is scarcely worth the click. Buckley provides a mundane and unconvincing explanation for his desertion of party and candidate. It is as though he couldn’t quite get his heart into it or worse is like a hostage trying to signal with his eyelids that what he’s saying isn’t true. Because Buckley is justly known as a comic author, one wonders whether he is kidding and simply failed to develop a good punch line. Whatever the reason, the result is disappointment. After all, this is the scion sprung from the loins of the founder of National Review, the mightiest political provocateur of his age.
Buckley begins with a bit of cheek regarding his parents, which is off-putting considering that both died recently. The title of the piece is, “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama.” At one point, Buckley joshes that his parents’ passing is fortunate lest they be around to cut off his allowance for betrayal of the family cause. Funny stuff, that. He also acknowledges that the only reason any one would care about how he is voting is because of his last name, which he inherited. So, if the reason for the interest is so poorly founded, why offer this true confession?
The NR shareholder begins by admitting a longtime admiration for John McCain and refers to a column he wrote in The New York Times earlier this year defending McCain against Rush Limbaugh and others. But the author would have us believe things have changed in a period of months and that McCain has gone from being real, unconventional and someone Buckley felt should be president to a temperamental and inauthentic person.
But what about the list of particulars? Buckley has them. For example, John McCain promises to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Buckley finds that indefensible. It is difficult to imagine why such a promise would be so troubling. Both parties maintain the desirability of balancing the budget sooner rather than later. When it happened during the Clinton years it was almost like receiving an unmerited gift from God. He also questions the McCain decision to suspend his campaign to address the financial crisis. Again, the critique is hard to sustain. If anyone in the senate has shown an ability to pass legislation, it is John McCain. Were we to have a hall of fame for senators, McCain would be in it on the basis of his accomplishments. Is it so strange for such a person to feel he needs to actually do his day job during a time of trouble? Meanwhile, Obama stood on the side saying his fellow senators knew where to find him if he could help.
Then, we get to a possible nub of the complaint. Christopher Buckley, like his colleague Kathleen Parker, can’t understand why John McCain chose Sarah Palin. He offers no explanation for his unhappiness with Mrs. Palin. Her faults are supposedly spectacularly apparent. For my part, I am aware of a single edited interview where the vice-presidential nominee is thought to have performed poorly. Based on a full reading of the piece, one could arrive at the conclusion Buckley is dropping McCain in chivalrous defense of Ms. Kathleen Parker who, according to Buckley, received 12,000 nasty emails as a reward for her call for Palin to withdraw.
Before he addresses whatever positive reasons he has for supporting Obama, Buckley offers the following homage to John McCain:
All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain—who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.
I agree with every word of that and wonder why Buckley would wish to contribute in any small way to the occurrence of the tragic event he describes.
As for Obama, Buckley likes his savoir faire and his status as a Harvard man. When I read the bit about Harvard I recalled his father’s famous quip about preferring to be ruled by the first several hundred names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of the university. He also thinks Obama is a very good writer. And that’s it, the whole positive case for voting Obama in 2008!
The rest is simply strange. Buckley reiterates his own position as a small government conservative with libertarian leanings. He would just as soon leave abortion and gay marriage to laissez faire, so Obama is attractive to him on that front. I suppose he didn’t consider the left’s (and Obama is a doctrinaire leftist) approval of taxpayer funded abortions. Neither does Buckley, despite his pedigree, seem to think at all about whether there are basic questions of right and wrong in the abortion debate that may deserve some legal intervention. There are non-arbitrary reasons, of course, for forbidding stealing, murder, or running red lights. Might abortion be the same?
Buckley cites his friend P.J. O’Rourke for the proposition “that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.” The very notion that a fellow quoting such a bracing coda could even consider voting for Obama, whose image decorates the t-shirts of college radicals in the same way Che Guevera’s does, is simply risible. Mr. Buckley, there is a reason Ralph Nader can’t get any attention this year. His natural constituents are all with Mr. Obama.
Having deluded himself that voting for Obama is somehow a vindication of his libertarian instincts, Buckley, like many Obama supporters, inflates the candidate with his own hopes. You see, because Obama is so wise, he will “surely understand that traditional left-wing politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves.” At this point, one wonders whether the cynical, hard-bitten Chris Buckley has finally given in to the desire we all have to at some point DRINK THE KOOL-AID and join the fun. The idea that a man who came up the ranks of radical politics will somehow suddenly transform into Bill Clinton minus the libido is a fantasy. That candidate was Hillary, Chris. You should have endorsed her while you had the chance!