A Reviewer's Notebook - 1967/2
FEBRUARY 01, 1967 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
The Buckley Campaign
In 1886 Henry George, the Single Taxer, ran for Mayor of New York. He lost. But to this day that particular election year in New York City history is known as the year of the "Henry George campaign." Only the most historically learned of men will recall at this date that the winner in 1886 was a man named Abram Hewitt.
The reason why George is remembered and Hewitt forgotten is that Henry George, right or wrong, stood for something. Prophecies are chancy, but I would be willing to bet a good sum, with a view to collecting or paying off in Heaven, that the 1965 New York mayoral campaign will be more or less bracketed with that of 1886. The third-place loser, William F. Buckley, Jr., will be remembered because he stood for something. John Lindsay, the winner, will be a name for the more esoteric historians. And these historians will have to look him up in Bill Buckley’s own story of the 1965 campaign, The Unmaking of a Mayor (Viking, $6.95).
Bill Buckley, of course, has never written a Progress and Poverty. But he, as much as anybody else, has recreated conservative journalism in the United States as a force. When modern "liberalism" has finally revealed its impotence to solve the pressing problems of the modern world, Mr. Buckley will stand out as a leader among those who really knew what was the matter. So 1965 will be recalled in New York as the year of the "Buckley campaign." Lindsay, like Abram Hewitt, will tend to fade into the shadows.
Buckley’s book about his campaign is interesting because the author talked sense to the voters and now writes about his experience with the same witty aplomb that characterized his political fencing. But the really astounding thing about Bill Buckley is not so much that he talked sense but that he actually made it fashionable to bring intelligence to bear on the problems he threw in John Lindsay’s face.
This matter of making a cause fashionable is of crucial importance. For what is it that makes modern "liberalism" hang on? "Liberalism" can’t feed people, for it knows nothing about the individual wellsprings of plenty. It can’t stop wars, for it hasn’t the least idea about what it takes to keep power in the world limited and balanced. It can’t solve the "race" question, for it fails to see that people rise or fall as separate entities — given, of course, the equal protection of laws. So what is it that makes the dead corpus of "liberal" ideas persist? Fashion is what does it, and only a counter-fashion will oust the "liberals."
What Bill Buckley did in his campaign was to sneak into the affections of men in subordinate but important mass communication positions. He didn’t win the top editors of the big journals or the bosses of the networks. But, by being one jump ahead of anybody else in his all-around verbal flair and in his control of his various subject matters, Bill literally forced the political scribes to abandon their stereotypes of what a conservative candidate must say and do.
He Clearly Stood for Something
The tip-off on the campaign to come was Bill’s experience at the famous Holy Name Society Communion Breakfast, where he made a speech to some 6,000 New York policemen. A reporter, sure in his mind that Buckley must have said what any stereotyped right-winger would have said, missed the true inwardness of the Buckley talk, and what the reporter turned in to his city desk got "escalated" into a defense of the Selma, Alabama, police after it had been passed through a few headlines and been copied by other newspapers. Luckily a tape of the talk existed, and Bill Buckley exploited the tape. The corrections never did catch up with the distortions, but the reporters began to get the idea: Bill Buckley could be a danger to anyone who might trifle with his utterances. Only once before in the history of modern controversy had the "liberals" encountered someone who could fight back from the record. This was when Whittaker Chambers flummoxed his fashionable opposition by actually producing the so-called Pumpkin Papers.
So Bill Buckley went into the mayoral campaign with a growing reputation for effectiveness. He was someone to be feared. When it turned out that he could also be fun, he began to steal the show from John Lindsay (who talked platitudes) and Abe Beame (who spouted statistics). The campaign ended with the tail wagging the dog, which, for headline purposes, was almost as good as a man biting a dog.
Once he had achieved a fashionable break-through, Bill showed to an increasing audience that good prose could be used to set forth good ideas. The Conservative position papers, reprinted as part of the text of The Unmaking of a Mayor, will be mined for many months to come by people who are serious about schools and housing and smog and the water supply and welfare and narcotics control and crime prevention and all the other subjects that bedevil our big urban conglomerations.
A Growing Political Force
The conservatives and the libertarians are still fashionably written off when it comes to talking about the future of U. S. politics. Buckley, so it is pointed out, missed his primary objective, which was to keep Lindsay from winning. In the New York State elections of 1966 the Conservative Party, running an upstate college dean, Paul Adams, for governor, failed to defeat Governor Nelson Rockefeller. And, in elections throughout the nation, "liberal" Republicans won in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, and in Illinois.
But the movement of ideas goes on. In both the Buckley 1965 campaign for mayor of New York City and in the 1966 campaign for governor of New York the Conservative Party finished ahead of the Liberal Party, which means that the Conservative swing vote is becoming more important than the "liberal" swing vote. And, in the nation as a whole, so-called liberals such as Governor George Romney of Michigan and Senator Chuck Percy of Illinois are turning to supporters of "independent sector" thinking such as Richard Cornuelle for practical solutions to welfare and home ownership problems. From the standpoint of economic theory, there is only a hairline difference between a Romney in Michigan (an inordinate admirer of the first Henry Ford) and a Ronald Reagan in California. Both are advocating an approach to economics that would tend to get the State off people’s backs.
A Changing Trend
The measure of Bill Buckley’s success both as an editor and as a political candidate is that very recent events have made the last pages of his book sound entirely too pessimistic. "I greatly regret the prospective decline of the GOP," writes Mr. Buckley, "because the alternative is likely to be a congeries of third parties, adamantly doctrinaire, inadequately led, insufficiently thoughtful, improvidently angry, self-defeating sectarian." But need it turn out that way? Isn’t it more likely that the next two years will demonstrate the complete sterility of the Great Society? Money from Washington won’t solve John Lindsay’s problems in New York City. Rent control won’t build more apartments in that city. Busing children across school district lines won’t improve education. Better ideas than these can be found in Buckley’s position papers, and, out of desperation, the "liberal" opposition will begin to purloin them.
It has already begun to happen. No one has been more critical of the Conservative attitude toward big city problems than columnist Joseph Alsop, for example. Yet Al-sop is now writing that it is the quality of education dispensed in the schools that counts, not the racial ratios. Well, what have the Conservatives been saying all along? Mr. Buckley’s book could tell Joe Alsop a thing or two.
FABIAN FREEWAY by Rose L. Martin, (Belmont, Massachusetts: Western Islands Publishing Co., 566 pp., $9.65) and THE DEMOCRAT’S DILEMMA by Phillip M. Crane, (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 383 pp., $.75).
Reviewed by George Charles Roche III
To those Americans perceptive enough to recognize the dangers of our present collectivist course, one of the questions of considerable interest is: "Who did it, and how was it accomplished?" Surely the traditional values of this nation and the attitudes of the American people were not in themselves socialistically oriented. Thus, some analysis of the personnel and the methods producing the present sad state of affairs would be a definite addition to the improved understanding of our situation, as at least one preliminary step toward reversing the trend. Mrs. Martin and Professor Crane are the authors of two such analyses, both well-researched, complete, and offering a detailed answer to the "Who?" and the "How?" of America’s turn down the mistaken road paralleling European collectivism. To the reader searching for the names, dates, organizations, and activities of the prime movers in the process, these two studies offer a wealth of information, reaching from the origins in the late nineteenth century to the events of the 1960′s.