Category Archives: bill buckley

>REACT: The passing of Titans

>Within a few short weeks, two of the most senior political icons have fallen, one to the inevitability of dead and the other to the precursor of terminal illness.

Throughout his career, William F. Buckley has been the conscience and oracle of conservative ideology. He rose to prominence during the darkest days of conservative ostracization – the post Eisenhower ear of “good times” having given way to the “days of rage.” In 1964, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was the standard bearer for a presidential annihilation.

The power of Buckley’s intellect sparked the birth of the modern conservative movement that culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan and the eventual Republican Congress. These were more than elections. They represented the fundament shift in American political culture to the right for the first times since Franklin Roosevelt lead the nation to the shoreline of socialism. Even as Roosevelt proffered that the only thing our nation had to fear “was fear itself,” he pandered to the fears inherent in both depression and war to drive the people to the alter of government for sanctuary.

Often seemingly the lonely voice in the wilderness, Buckley penned the epistles of individual freedom and the righteous of the free market. He did so with conviction, compelling logic and common sense. He believed in principle over politics.

His success was not only in substance, but in style. He was ever the gentleman – the powerful but polite adversary on the debaters’ platform. Though less valued today than in times past, he was a man of virtue and honor. He is almost exclusively known for his beliefs, with little notoriety drawn to his personal life.

Edward Kennedy is, and has been, the personification of the anti-Buckley. He is the iconic personality of the radical left – or progressives, as they again prefer to be called. He too, could be dubbed the lone voice in the wilderness as conservative ideology gained favor and dominance under the rubric of the “Reagan Revolution.”.

He never lost his devotion to the tax and spend policies that would make the central government the point of resolution for virtually all human plights. Though cloaked in the skin of the lamb, the bloody fangs of socialism were always evident.

Kennedy’s ideology is less about freedom and more about amassing political power and privilege — personally and collectively. His brand of liberalism shifted the center of political gravity away from individuals to the paternalistic propensity of government. Inherent in this philosophy is a compulsion to govern — where pragmatism takes precedence over principle. He is more Machiavelli, for whom principle bowed to power, than Mother Theresa, who believed that keeping the faith reigned over temporal success.

This tendency to place pragmatism in the fore creates a selfish notion that the ends justify the means. Principle and policy become meaningless without the acquisition of power.

In his personal life, Kennedy has historically demonstrated that same pragmatic and selfish relativism. His excessive indulgences and tragically scandalous behavior has made him more notable in supermarket tabloids than intellectual journals.

While Buckley articulated the academic underpinnings of free-market conservatism, Kennedy is a constant campaign orator – articulating the language of political advantage at any given moment. While Buckley educated on the ways and means of individual freedom, Kennedy is the salesman of the “big brother” government that he and his fellow believers would provide if given the reigns of power. While Buckley wanted a nation that would think, Kennedy looks to a nation that will only respond.

Still … no matter one’s opinion; we can all rue the end of this clash between ideological Titans. They have personified the Yin and Yang between the philosophic poles of conservatism and liberalism. It is not easy to find their eloquent replacements in the vapid political firmament of these times. Taking sides does not prevent us from mourning the loss of Buckley, or praying for the well-being of Kennedy. Apart from all else, it can be said that both were faithful to their respective causes and visions. Each leaves a great legacy over which we lesser luminaries can carry on the debate.