Bad Omens by Buckley’s biographer
Sam Tanenhaus writes a biography of conservative titan William F. Buckley Jr. But don’t expect him to be strict or fair.
ASPEN, CO – JULY 3: Sam Tanenhaus speaks during the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival on July 3, 2015 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Leigh Vogel / WireImage)
Sam Tanenhaus is writing a biography of William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National review and the modern conservative movement. Tanenhaus was recently interviewed by Geoffrey Kabaservice from the Niskanen Center. Interview readers will see why Buckley’s friends and conservatives expect a flattering and inaccurate portrayal of one of the most momentous intellectuals of the 20th century.
If Tanenhaus’ biography of Buckley has anything to do with the silly book he wrote in 2009, with the wonderful title The death of conservatism (discussed here) you don’t want to miss out.
Out here The death of conservatismis possibly the silliest sentence – and Tanenhaus at his best? -, which was published by a mainstream publisher throughout this decade: “These are also culturally conservative times…. [C]Onservatives should enjoy the acceptance of “family values” by the country’s homosexual population who seek the sanctuary – and responsibility – for marriage and parenting. “
It doesn’t get richer – and that explains why Buckley admirers don’t expect Tanenhaus to be an honest or accurate picture of Buckley.
Tanenhaus must work to get the facts straight to the Buckley family. He says Buckley could not have written to the King of England about repaying the war debt when he was six years old because “when he did, he wrote it in Spanish. And he couldn’t write Spanish because he had learned Spanish from his nannies and they weren’t writers. It’s one of those myths that surround Buckley. It’s fun to poke small holes in these. You just think it through logically. ” Correct.
But reasoning is difficult without facts. It is absurd to suggest that when he was six years old, Bill was unable to write in English. Yes, his mother tongue was Spanish, but he was also learning English (at the same time? Amazing!) … to converse with his mother and siblings.
Kabaservice and Tanenhaus discuss Buckley’s (partially) southern upbringing and his attitude towards blacks and the Civil Rights Acts: it is fair to say that they are fixated on this topic. It is also fair to say that Buckley was not an early convert to the Civil Rights Acts, although he appears to have changed his mind in part later. But he later also changed his mind about freedom to smoke: while struggling with emphysema, he said the government should ban smoking. Not everything we say as we get older is wise.
The bias of Kabaservice and Tanenhaus is clear: Kabaservice is talking about the “storming of the Capitol” on January 6th. and possibly up to 23 people had what was described in one report as “baseball bats, chemical sprays, a captured cop’s shield, crowbar, fire extinguisher, and metal flagpole.” The only murder was by a police officer (details to be covered up by the Democrats 11 weeks later) of an unarmed woman climbing through a window, a position difficult to describe as “threatening”. When you hear the words, “Storming the Capitol,” grasp your … skepticism.
Kabaservice and Tenenhaus are doing a great sport with Russell Kirk, an early one National review managing editor for taking John Calhoun seriously. You see, Calhoun owned slaves and probably nothing he ever said can be taken seriously. He believed in the rights of states, any serious discussion that the wokies choke on with a racial blanket. And he had a simultaneous majority theory. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s not surprising, but it’s worth checking out.
Oh, poor Calhoun: he has become an arch villain. But it’s really, “Oh, poor us” because he had interesting things to say about minority rights. They get the impression from the Calhoun haters that they would have preferred to die of polio had Calhoun invented the Salk vaccine.
Kabaservice and Tanenhaus make fun of people who have belittled civil rights laws. And from people who didn’t like Lincoln (shhh, some people still don’t). And by people who like constitutional government. You are critical of it National review James Burnham, Senior Editor, writes on “Referendum”. “Well,” says Tanenhaus, “it goes back to the idea that we were originally a republic and that we have developed into a democracy.”
Whoa there, boy. What does “developed” mean in a constitutional republic? If you’re a liberal with big government, this development can make your heart beat faster Pitter Pat. But what happens to the losers in the overflight country when the people of New York (where the governor could soon be indicted) and California (where the governor could soon be removed) rule the country?
Are you interested in Tanenhaus?
Don’t these people with their anti-racism on their sleeves ever look at the results of the policies they promote? They are extremely harmful to … the very people they claim you are discriminating against. It’s really painful to hear New York Timesie Intellectuals who spend their time promoting policies that are harmful to blacks (e.g., minimum wages, illegal immigration, and repression of non-public schools) while complacent promoting Madison and promoting their own racial sensitivity and moral superiority.
Did the early Conservatives misunderstand some things after World War II? Probably. Most of us do. But one thing they got right was the threat to the freedom the gigantic state poses – never more obvious than it is today – and especially to blacks.
Tanenhaus and Kabaservice have some pleasant things to say about Buckley: He was an incomparable discoverer of talent; he exuded a kind of generosity of spirit; he was open to discussion; and it had a size and a capacity that we don’t see anywhere else.
All true, as those of us who knew him well know. But it’s a good guess that Tanenhaus’ book will highlight Buckley’s early positions on racing while diligently ignoring what 60 years of Democratic service against whom Buckley resisted did to black Americans. It emerges from this interview that Tanenhaus is unlikely to complement Buckley. Just think it through logically.
Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of the Education and Research Institute and Director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was also the chief editor and subsequently chairman of the board of directors of William F. Buckley Jr. National review.
Email Daniel Oliver to [email protected]