William F. Buckley's Son Kicked Out Over Obama

October 25, 2008 · 7 Comments

In one of the most striking signs of the rift in the Republican Party, Christopher Buckley has been effectively kicked out of the National Review – a publication started by his father William F. Buckley – for supporting Obama.  Christopher Buckley is just one of a growing number of conservatives who have supported Obama, most because they simply can not support the McCain ticket or the ascendancy to power of the extreme right wing which resulted in the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.  The abandonment of the ticket by the thinking wing of the party is one of the signs that the ticket will go down to defeat.  Despite the anti-east coast-Washington-chattering class-intellectual public spin that the McCain-Palin campaign spit out at public events, these defections are giving the ticket, and much of the party, pause.

The Republican Party has done an amazing job holding together an uneasy coalition since the time of Reagan.  While the nuances are more complicated, it is not wrong to say that there have been two large clusters who often do not share a great deal within the coalition:  Traditional conservatives and the Religious Right.  Democrats are an even more fractured coalition of labor unions, African-American, Liberals, and teachers, and it is this diversity of interests that have made uniting those groups an even greater challenge than the Republicans have had.

Traditional conservatives include the more intellectual, moderate, fiscally conservative, “country-club” Republicans that formed the core of the Republican party until the late 1970’s.  Think top hats and martini sipping.

Shortly after the Democrats changed course, and went from a party that acted in obstruction of the civil rights movement and instead embraced civil rights, the Republicans started to flirt with the emerging evangelically-led religious right groups in order to obtain the possibility of a majority.  The Religious Right shifted from the traditional fundamentalist separation view which did not wish to be sullied by the worldly concerns represented by politics into the modern evangelical view of engagement that sought control of the political apparatus, using the Republican Party as its vessel.

Thousands of groups formed around specific objectives and interests, but the most visible, and arguably effective in the political sphere, was the now largely defunct Moral Majority.  Leaders in this movement included Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Bill Bright, James Dobson, and Don Wildmon – many of whom remain active to this day.  Most of these groups saw themselves as participating in the tradition of Christian “Great Awakenings” – movements of spiritual revival brought on as waves of new believers repented of their sins, found Jesus, and filled the churches, igniting a spreading wildfire of spiritual passion and renewal.  Concurrent with this socio-spiritual change was the growing movement of Christian Reconstructionism, first popularized by John Rushdoony in a publication in 1973.  The basic idea is that governments are subordinate to God, and that rather than pursuing secular government as had been the dominant paradigm, that it was the duty of Christians to control government, and legislate morality and to become a “Christian Nation.” I know a little of what I speak, having been involved in the movement from the early 1980’s through the mid1990’s first as a part of “Campus Crusade for Christ,” and later as a member of several activist evangelical churches across the country.

In case you’d like a scorecard, William F. Buckley, John McCain, George Will, Christopher Buckley, Colin Powell, William Weld, Peggy Noonan and, yes, even Ronald Reagan are or were traditional conservative Republicans.  Sarah Palin, James Dobson, James Watt and John Ashcroft are part of the Religious RightMitt Romney represents an interesting figure – he could be considered a traditional Republican, except for his Mormon faith.  Mormonism lies far outside the bounds of traditional Evangelical Christianity, which considers it to be a cult, despite the best attempt by the Mormon church to define itself as within the mainstream Christian tradition.  It is an interesting challenge to keep together many groups who define salvation as specific and exclusive.

It is for this very reason that McCain had to work so hard to go against his instincts and his identity as a traditional conservative Republican and embrace the Religious Right in this campaign.  Having called (correctly in my view) the Religious Right “agents of intolerance” after their work to defeat him in earlier primaries, he realized that he needed their support to win the Republican nomination, so he spent years reversing course and cozying up to them.  Unfortunately I don’t believe that we are yet at the place where adherence to the Religious Right’s ideals make one unelectable at the national level, but McCain’s reversal of position left unease on all sides, and made people feel like they didn’t know the “real” John McCain.  If they vote for him, will they get the John McCain of eight years ago (the “maverick” who fought parts of his own party), or the John McCain of the last 8 years (who wrapped himself in the folds of George Bush voting with him over 90% of the time, and embracing the religious movement that he once criticized)?  Many close to McCain have said that it is this fundamental inconsistency that has exacerbated his already cantankerous personality, and made his temperament a critical and possibly fatal consideration for the women and independents he needs to win.

In previous administrations the religious right was mollified by superficial professions of a belief system that was close enough to being “right” combined with policy planks that addressed their specific agenda: against abortion, against gay rights, relaxation of the hard line between church and state.  As a former evangelical, I understand the uneasiness most members of the Religious Right felt when they heard Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and John McCain speak of their faith (which, by the way, is something they restricted to closed door meetings – not open to the media – held by religious interest groups rather than open forums).  After getting elected, the ruling administrations have largely abandoned those parts of the plank that were of most concern to the Religious Right, resulting in that movement feeling, appropriately, used by the party.  This year McCain had enough trouble with the traditional party establishment that the right felt empowered to demand its own Vice President candidate, and McCain was forced to find one that also offset his own weaknesses:  age, lack of charisma and exploit Obama’s perceived weakness with women following a long grueling primary fight with Hillary Clinton.  Thus did we arrive at a place where a relatively unknown and inexperienced Sarah Palin was placed on the ticket.  But rather than heal the rift, as Palin’s fortunes have sagged after an initial burst, Palin is now serving to expose and deepen the divide.

Traditional Republicans are abandoning the ticket in droves.  Uninspired by McCain and horrified by Palin, they are quietly or publicly supporting the Obama-Biden ticket.

This rift has now reached a critical moment and moved center stage.  To get back to the title of this article, Christopher Buckley is the most recent to suffer from the attempt for solidarity and purity.  No longer able to support a ticket that so thoroughly disdains the intellectual underpinnings of conservatism that his father had been so instrumental in creating, he came out in support of Barack Obama.  He wrote that his father William F. Buckley would have been “appalled” by Palin’s vapid folksy talking points and philosophical incoherence.

The resulting outcry came quickly and vehemently.  So much so that Christopher Buckley decided to offer up his resignation as a symbolic act of protest.  To Buckley’s surprise the editors accepted his resignation, believing that they needed to hew to party unity.  This insistence on falling in with the party line to foster unity and the attempt to paper over real differences will only weaken the Republican Party.

I will confess that I have always adored William F. Buckley’s writing, and it has influenced me greatly.  He had an ability to write thoughtfully about nuanced topics with great clarity, and with a love for and mastery of the English language that was rare.  While I have grown out of much of his system of beliefs, he was always someone whom I would have loved to have met, and to have engaged in lively discussion and debate.  But our political culture seems to have lost the idea that a robust debate about ideas is healthy and can be civil.

This week I have again been challenged about the appropriateness of this site’s URL:  hatepalin.  I have been told that I am feeding the trend toward vulgarity and incivility with the use of the word “hate.”  The idea when I started this site was to:

  1. Help vet Sarah Palin – to find and expose the truth, since so little was known about her
  2. Expose the hate engendered in the exclusionary and divisive agenda of Sarah Palin and the Religious Right
  3. Write about my disdain for the policies of Sarah Palin that I hate

I will repeat here and perhaps figure out a way to move to the front of the site the statements on the “About” Page:  I don’t hate Sarah Palin.  I do hate her policies and much of what she stands for.  If you want to know what this site is about and the word “hate” so disturbs you, ignore the URL, and focus on the title page.  Here’s what it looks like and says:

hatepalin site title and mission

And I stand firmly by both of those premises.

Christopher Buckley, thank you for standing up for what you believe.  Thank you for staying true to what your father worked so hard to build.  You will not be the one left in the wilderness when the Republican rift has worked its course.  You will help rebuild a truly Grand Old Party into its historic best and not its present worst.

But read it for yourself from Christopher Buckley:

Buckley Bows Out of National Review


Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama

Categories: Bush · McCain · Palin · Politics
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7 responses so far ↓

  • SuzieQ // October 25, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Reply

    I think your site name says what you are: a hater. Most of the good in this world comes from Christians who follow the teachings of Christ. Clearly you hate God and religion, and your reward – well it won’t be in heaven.

  • The Rakester // October 25, 2008 at 7:42 pm | Reply

    Really interesting and thoughtfully written.

    It’s so gratifying to finally see that dysfunctional GOP marriage finally disintegrate. You know the party is in trouble when even investment bankers are voting 4 to 1 for Obama.

  • christalmighty // October 26, 2008 at 6:18 am | Reply

    wow so you had one comparitive religion class and used to go to church guess that makes you an expert huh? nice superfishal analysis dude or dude-ette

  • john // October 26, 2008 at 9:52 am | Reply

    Wow – really great detailed post. I knew some of this, but hadn’t put it all together like this. It’s kind of scary how beholden the GOP is to the Christian loonies.

  • the gop left me // October 26, 2008 at 10:05 am | Reply

    Wow, I guess the non-thinking churchies learned how to use the Internet. Your post was better than a lot of what passes for journalism.

    The fact that MY party has been hijacked by the lunatic fringe makes me so sad. If there was a major party or candidate who was actually for small non-intrusive government, low taxes, a balanced budget, consistently and intelligently pro-life (with appropriate exceptions), stayed out of people’s bedrooms – basically socially progressive but fiscally conservative I’d sign up today. As it is I’m left with choices I’m not crazy about, but with what we’re given I can’t see how anyone could do anything except vote for Obama.

    Love the site, keep it up, and don’t let the

  • Derek Villanueva // October 28, 2008 at 8:42 am | Reply

    Hey listen Susie Q,
    For you to label the ghost writer as a hater, and I happen to contribute to this site, might just be appropriate, but at least we bring facts to the table to help support messages in order to help people understand issues in the media. And I doubt someone can hate something that they don’t believe in. And about your “Good comes from Christ Message,” Good comes from all people, not just Christians. So does evil, for example, your evil statement about good. This is usually the first thing a child learns or should learn in Sunday school class. For you to believe that good may only come from the teachings of Christ is quite ignorant. For your information there have been previous signs of other civilizations without the belief of Christ that have produced good things and good deeds, and the same for evil in human’s history. Its people with your mentality that say they are the only ones to see and produce good that make genocides and mass murder take place in this world. Why continue this ‘I-Am-Higher-Grade-than-you-because-I’m-Christian’ talk?

  • Obamagonnawin // October 29, 2008 at 11:23 am | Reply

    small minded, small town people are AFRAID of change.
    evangelicals, in a nutshell.

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