Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Buckley, buddy

When pals and politics collide

HTML Mencken at Sadly, No! make the following indictment against the universal canonization of William F. Buckley by both the left and the right:

[Perlstein] confuses what is unimportant in the context of politics — sympathy toward X-figure’s personal and private comity, even generosity — with what is important — objective critique of X-figure’s public speech, actions, beliefs.


Perlstein forgets his duty by extolling the “good” private Buckley — who is, after all, an unimportant figure to the audience — while mostly ignoring the bad (no quotes because it is the gospel truth) public Buckley, who is of extreme importance as a leading figure of a destructive, demented political movement that has had a disastrous effect on the country.

As Harvard graduates, we will forever, for better or worse, belong to the cliqueish circle of political ‘intellectuals.’ And, consequently, we’ll find ourselves in social relationships which oftentimes will run orthogonal to our public responsibilities. In such circumstances, we’ve got to hold fast with our duty when speaking as public figures and critiquing as public figures to keep these domains separate. HTML Mencken, though perhaps overly hysterical about the situation, is exactly correct: whether or not Bill Buckley was a nice or dynamic person doesn’t make a whit of difference to the millions for whom he was only the figurehead of an ideology, not a dinnertime companion.

We’ve got to guard against this. I consider Chris Lacaria to be a genuinely honest, nice, and well-meaning individual; every time I’ve had the chance to interact with him, he’s carried himself with respect and even a degree of humbleness. That doesn’t impinge upon the fact, though, that I think his public positions are utterly insane. The reverse phenomenon is just as dangerous: there are people who I personally despise who have a record of enlightened, intelligent public advocacy. It’s not my job to tear down their ideas simply because I find them insufferable.

Ultimately, as a manual for personal politics, the model of decency and loyalty to those who are decent and generous is a robust one. But Perlstein’s (and others’) loving memories of Buckley simply don’t matter in a political context. Buckley the political mouthpiece ought to live and die by the measure of his political words, not the transcript, however accurate, of his personal magnetism.

Garrett Dash Nelson

February 28th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

But perhaps you disagree

2 responses so far

  • [ # ] MarkusFeb 29, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    “It’s not my job to tear down their ideas simply because I find them insufferable”

    Although there are those of us who opt for “tear them down” in either case. Fuck ’em all, I say.

  • [ # ] Danger, Blog RobinsonMar 9, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    […] possible. Private intrusions into the public sphere caused the sort of phenomenon exhibited in the weird liberal worship of William F. Buckley, and it’s already starting to appear in this circle: This hyper-living […]