Rick Perlstein dropped by in the comments this morning to put in his two cents on the story of how William F. Buckley and the Birchers:
I went from accepting the story of WFB’s wise and noble purge of the Birchers at face value, to treating it as self-interested historical revisionism, back to considering it relatively true as rendered—after seeing how right-wing media became qualitatively more unhinged at EXACTLY the moment WFB died. WFB was the only person besides “Ronoldus Magmus” Rush Limbaugh revered—he always called him “Mr. Buckley” on the air—and I can only imagine Buckley made discreet phone calls over the years to Rush telling him to rein it in when he started getting too nutty. I’m back to believing that WFB actually did exert a disciplining influence on far-right nuttiness within the broader conservative firmament.
In this video (parts 1 and 2) I state the “self-interested historical revisionism” phase in my intellectual evolution on the question:
So, the only thing keeping the right from achieving wingnut escape velocity is one guy? I don’t know whether to dismiss that as implausible beyond measure, or conclude that the right must be nothing more than a enterprise of sociopaths that have now lost their sole moral compass.
Of course, I’m at a point that I’m half convinced I’m going to wake up and it’ll be Obama’s inauguration day 2009, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
crap… can’t read a MadMen-related thread until after tonight.
I always thought the “Buckley threw the Birchers out” thesis made sense – he always wanted a veneer of intellectual respectability. The Rush connection is interesting, but Buckley’s death happened in Feb, 2008, about when it started looking like Obama was going to win the nomination, so that can explain Rush’s crazy just as well.
Interesting insight, but one thing just isn’t quite hanging together for me. If Limbaugh really did revere Buckley, then why, upon Buckley’s death, would Limbaugh have become more unhinged right away? Wouldn’t Limbaugh have thought, “I need to draw the line here, here and here, because I know that’s what Mr. Buckley would have wanted me to do?” Instead, the way Perlstein describes it, the implication is more along the lines of Limbaugh doing whatever he pleases unless someone he considers an authority calls him on it — more of a “whoops, busted” attitude than a “what Mr. Buckley wants” attitude.
Of course, this could be exactly what it means to Limbaugh to “revere” someone. Not being able to peer into a sociopathic mind very easily myself, maybe I’m just not getting it.
I don’t have a link, but a few years back some brave non-brainwashed soul signed up for one of the infamous NR cruises and blogged his experiences, which included hearing Buckley point out basically “You have to admit it was embarrassing that there were no WMDs” and having the point later shrugged off as merely evidence the “old guy’s lost it.”
I’m willing to concede he was likely repelled at where the party headed in his last years. Whether it was a source of personal regret seems a separate question. His son has touched on it occasionally.
I can this. Buckley was an asshole, but he was a particular type of asshole. I tend to believe he would have found these people to be appalling even as he agreed with many of their ideas.
I’m thinking that the massive stomping the GOP took in the 1964 election* had as much to do with putting the Birchers in the closet as any strings that WFB might have been able to pull, and the lack of any such similar event in recent memory has as much to do with letting them back out of the closet, as the lack of WFB on the contemporary scene.
*And noting that the subsequent come back staged by the GOP starting in the 1966 midterms had much more to do with the fears and passions unleashed in the wake of the civil rights movement than with the more specifically anti-communist and anti-New Deal obsessions of the birchers.
In other words, the birchers took a back seat to the (at the time) new and still being worked out Southern Strategy. But now that the two political parties have flipped their regional and cultural alignments that particular gambit has run to its logical end point and has little remaining to offer. Thus the time has come for the other demons of our Yugoslavia twixt the Atlantic and the Pacific to be unearthed from their crypts and roam the streets in broad daylight, seeking brains and other forms of nourishment.
@Omnes Omnibus: I can see this. That’s what I meant to say.
DougJ is the business and economics editor for Balloon Juice.
Yeah, me too. There’s just something about the simplistic yet authoritative way that Willentz told the story that irked me.
To return to sanity all we need is another William F. Buckley… Because everyone knows it’s not bipartisan to suggest that someone who believes “death panels are coming for your Down syndrome babies” or “Obama is a secret Muslim” is bat-shit crazy.
Just as it’s wrong for a white person to say n*****, it’s wrong for a Democrat to suggest that a Republican is so brain-damaged they should be institutionalized.
@trollhattan: Could be you’re thinking of the Sadly No! post.
And as @mistermix: says, WFB’s demise coincided with the rise of The Kenyan, so it’s impossible to reduce the wingnuttery to a single cause.
The Grand Panjandrum
Correlation, causation, etc … How is one to know for sure?
@DougJ is the business and economics editor for Balloon Juice.:
Especially for a guy who has been very wrong so many times. But isn’t that part of the conservative narrative Perstein points out in the videos; certain of how right they are, about everything?
A-ha, “inspired by” and enough to get me to the source article (not a blog at all, but that’s how my brain rolls anymore). It was worth revisiting.
Here’s the full article.
This is the paragraph you’re thinking of:
I went from accepting the story that the milk was not well-curdled before it spilled at face value, to treating it as self-interested historical revisionism, back to considering it relatively true as rendered—the milk could hardly have spread so far with many curds, or would have been more lumpy, or have better mixed with the dust and crud under the table before it dried. And stank to hell.
In this video (parts 1 and 2) I state the “self-interested historical revisionism” phase in my intellectual evolution on the question…
* * * *
In other worlds, for example, ours:
2.5 Billion with a ‘b’ American dollars will be spent this week on ongoing wars and assorted defensive operations to our fine democratic republic … also, too, our financial system is again locking up, unemployment is increasing and investment dollars dwindle …
Okay, now back to the Sully BJ Wankfest Show … what does Politico have to SAY???
If you’re reading this, I just wanted to say that you have written two of my most favorite books about American history.
No matter what anybody does, there will never be more than 20% actual conservative voters in the US. Since they do not have public opinion on their side, they must keep the uneasy coalition of libertarians, christians, rednecks, fair taxers, hawks and the chamber of commerce voting together in order to maintain power. It looks like infighting is tearing this coalition apart. I say put the Klan back in the Kloset
I enjoyed Buckey’s Firing Line, magazine, and newspaper columns when I discovered him about 1967. When he got into the religion stuff my eyes glazed over, but I liked his take on things. I thought all the New Deal stuff was settled law and the difference between the parties was that the Republicans wanted a stronger defense and all the racists were southern Democrats. I agreed with that. I did see the southerners turning Republican but I didn’t notice the racism. Gingrich threw me over the edge and I’ve voted Democrat since 1994.
However the story I heard is that Buckley is the reason for Joe Lieberman. Seems he thought Sen. Lowell Weicker was too liberal for Connecticut, realized that a Republican couldn’t win and recruited Holy Joe.
And then Gore, looking to distance himself from the Clinton pseudo-scandals picked Joe as a running mate because Joe had come early for censure and Gore wanted this cover. It had nothing to do with a Jewish running mate to one up Mondale picking Ferraro.
So Buckley has been knocked down many pegs in my book.
I dunno about this thesis. I went reading through the Time archives through the time of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and pretty much the entire of the mainstream Republican politicians and party leaders and commentators seemed to be tamping down their influence.
“Buckley’s an old man”? Then what the hell is Podhoretz (only 5 years younger)?
The Buckley/NR purge of the JBS from polite society was over the PR ramp-up to Vietnam and how the JBS smelled a rat and wouldn’t play along.
Also, the JBS pointing to ultra-hawk Buckley’s connections to the CIA in the US effort to control a source for drugs independent of the US’s pesky syndicate partners in Central America and Asia Minor; ie the Golden Triangle of SE Asia.
Buckley’s sponsorship of Trotskyite Cold Warriors in his mag (ultra-Vietnam hawks: neolibs) who were known associates of the CIA, State Department, etc, belied Buckley’s supposed Menckin-ish/libertarian stance that he so loved to assume on “hot” domestic issues, and the JBS wrote about it.
Buckley was Company Man. A Buckleyish example today on the left (since left and right service the same project) is that Moulitsas guy (CIA) who runs the DailyKos site.
The bans of anathema issued from Kos during the last presidential race directed at the poor nobodies running for various offices on the D side were hilarious. And effective.
PS. And No. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the JBS. I have read many of its books, as well as confirming pieces by such folks as Halberstein, Chomsky, Lane, Russo, etc.
PSS. Buckley playing the Mighty Wurlitzer while sweating:
That’s all well and good, but
1. Rush Limbaugh is a far right wing asshole. He’s a racist, gay-bashing, other-bashing asshole. Is he worse than the Birchers? I guess not, but he’s in the conversation. He’s a truly horrible person.
2. Buckley was a racist, gay-bashing piece of shit. He inherited an ass-ton of money, then founded a far right wing, money losing magazine which trumpets the awesomeness of the Free Market. Was he worse than the Birchers? I guess not, but he was an asshole. He used a lot of big words and spoke with an upper class accent, but he was a racist, other-bashing asshole.
Limbaugh is a bad person. Really bad. Same with Buckley. Pretending otherwise about either is insulting to decent and free thinking individuals everywhere and does a disservice to honest and objective reporting. And to History.
As Gore Vidal once said, Buckley spent a lifetime defending his father’s prejudices. He was anti-John Birch only because they were recognizably crazy. The modern day equivalent isn’t so much the Tea Party, as Alex Jones. Occasionally you’ll see him quoted at a Tea Party rally, but he’ll never be endorsed by respectable conservatives.
I was politcal young enough to be able to tell you that WFB’s supposed erudition was always sophistry. He wan’t bright, he was just hard to lay a glove on. He sided with the racists, just as long as he could get away with it, and then he abandoned them, when the country moved to the left a little bit, he swung in ten years behind them. He was without principle, adopting any current platform that best fit his prejudices that would still be marketable. He was a gutless slime.