What Would Buckley Say?

Practical politics and principle often chafe against one another. A well-functioning democracy rarely secures its entire trust in any single political party or faction. Adherence to principle is important, but sometimes even the most ideologically devout must reluctantly yield to compromise. A smug ideologue boasting political purity is self-indulgent. A political sail who responds instantly to the political winds is untrustworthy. A statesman pushes a polity when he can, accepts those times when he can’t, and has the wisdom to know the difference.

In 1967, the sainted Conservative William F. Buckley supported the Vice-President Richard Nixon over Senator Barry Goldwater, despite Buckley’s narrower political differences with Goldwater. Buckley followed what has come to be known as Buckley’s rule:

“The wisest choice would be the one who would win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win. If you could convince me that Barry Goldwater could win, I’d vote for him.’’

Given the Nixon presidency, both its end in disgrace and Nixon’s domestic movement toward the Left, one wonders whether Buckley would have liked to reconsider his decision to support Nixon. Would a second Goldwwater loss in 1968 be better than the Nixon victory?

A chance to apply the Buckley rule cam last week in the Republican primary contest. If I were a Delaware resident, I would most probably have voted for Congressman Mike Castle in last week’s Republican primary. Although I would disagree with many of Castle’s vote, I know he would vote for a Republican Senate Majority leader. National Review, the magazine Buckley started, also endorsed Castle. Besides pure tactical considerations, they were also concerned about personal baggage that burdened Christine O’Donnell.

There is outside possibility that Republicans can takeover the Senate this fall and one Republican Senatorial victory could make the difference. Mike Castle almost certainly would have won the general election. O’Donnell, who bested Castle in the Republican primary, has moved the open seat to the probable-Democratic-victory column.

In fairness, despite a late endorsement from Governor Sarah Palin, O’Donnell did not so much win the race, a be the last person standing as Castle let the nomination slip away in the grease of arrogance. Castle exhibited the “I’m entitled’’ attitude that has angered the public. He did not make a sufficient effort to address concerns that Conservatives had with some of his votes. He did not have to. He thought he was a sure winner.

Public anger is not unreasonable. In the last two years, many ordinary Americans have suffering economically, while rich bankers were bailed out by the government. Many ordinary Americans worry about their jobs with unemployment uncomfortably close to 10%, while the government bails out union jobs at GM. Many ordinary Americans struggle to make the mortgage payments, while those who recklessly borrowed far more than they could afford are relieved of some of their obligations.

In this political environment, Castle represented the out-of-touch elite, while O’Donnell’s ordinary resume made her an “every man’’ standing up to the elite. Ironically, the very act of dismissing her qualifications reinforces her symbolism as a member of the beleaguered classes.

O’Donnell does not appear to have the political skills to usher her past this race in a very peculiar election year. This very much like when comedian and failed talk-show hostAl Franken was elected to the Senate, during the anti-Republican 2008 elections. O’Donnell’s election to the Senate — a long shot — would probably be a one-election exception.

WIlliam Buckley also once remarked:

“I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.’’

Given O’Donnell’s educational and professional pedestrian past, perhaps we can argue that she represents someone selected from those names in the phone book. If she manages to win election to the Senate, we will have an opportunity to test Buckley’s hypothesis.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.