I always had a soft spot for William F. Buckley, as I suspect many in academia did–even those who found him infuriating. Perhaps its just the shift of the right in the US that made him look good in comparison, a shift that it seemed, toward the end of his life, that he too was exasperated with.
I’ll admit to also having had a soft spot for McCain in the past, but I am quite over that. I liked that he was honest to a fault, or at least I assumed him to be. The idea of a straight-talking politician was refreshing, although it seems clear now (I do not believe that personalities can change so rapidly) that this was a craven branding attempt more than anything else.
I was pleased to see a column penned by Buckley’s son entitled Sorry, Dad, I’m voting for Obama. I somehow doubt WFB would have gone so far, but I strongly suspect that he would have found the current state of the campaign beyond distasteful. Christopher Buckley suggests that he didn’t publish the piece in the NRO, because he feared the reaction it would have from the conservative readers. In this, I think he has made a mistake.
He has a clear set of reasons for his position, and I think they are valid reasons. As David Brooks argues, the anti-intellectualism of this race has reached its apotheosis in Palin. She may not be stupid–maybe she reflects the average American’s understanding of the world. While we celebrate the idea that anyone in America could become the president of the United States, implicit in that promise is the idea that anyone could learn enough that he or she could do the job well. It’s not (although I kind of like the idea) meant to be something awarded by lottery.
I understand conservative reactions toward what is seen as liberal attitudes among much of the professoriate. I don’t agree with them, but I understand them. But I think the Republican leadership, in an effort to gain the support of the least educated, and ultra-conservative reactionaries in the country, have begun to believe that merit is a bad thing. As Jon Stewart says, we want Navy SEALS to be our most elite troops, wouldn’t we want our president and vice president to be elite politicians?
So, although I welcome Mr. Buckley’s vote for Obama, and his tenuous endorsement, I only wish more NRO readers would be exposed to it. I am concerned that the negativity of the campaigns will make for a toxic post-election environment in Washington. I think McCain is pretty set in his ways, and I think he has little respect for Obama, but I saw his face when someone in the crowd yelled “Kill him!” referring to Obama. He look flustered, confused, literally taken aback. Others in the audience laughed nervously or openly. In some ways I think McCain is playing with fire that he really doesn’t understand. I am not willing to excuse him and suggest that his campaign leadership is pushing him toward things he wouldn’t otherwise say. Leadership means taking responsibility for your staff and your words. But I hope McCain will understand that when he walks the fence with racist rhetoric, when he suggests that his opponent is disloyal or an enemy of America, he sullies not just the democratic process, but the chance to make America a better place. He has expressed a desire to protect the honor of his family’s name; this campaign is not doing that.