Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How Bill Buckley purged conservatives

Steven Greenhut writes in an Orange County California op-ed:
One of the modern conservative movement’s greatest leaders, the late William F. Buckley Jr., retold a fascinating story from the run-up to the 1964 presidential election. As he explained in the Wall Street Journal in 2008, Buckley and his allies convinced Barry Goldwater to distance himself from the John Birch Society — a conspiracy-minded group that touted his candidacy.

Buckley noted that the society’s president, Robert Welch, had at the time a “near-hypnotic” influence on the right, despite his “wild” ideas: “(Welch) said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a ‘dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy,’ and that the government of the United States was ‘under operational control of the Communist Party.’”

Buckley realized that Welch’s fixations did a disservice to the anti-communist cause. So he convinced Goldwater to reject the core fallacy — “the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the communists, therefore the president of the United States and the secretary of state wished China to go to the communists.”

Goldwater, of course, gained the GOP nomination, and lost the general election vote by 23 percentage points. Thanks to Buckley’s efforts, however, the GOP vanquished various fringe groups.

This story has been told many times, including by Buckley himself.

The story was a simple power struggle. Buckley wanted control of the conservative movement. According to this, it was okay to lose an election by a landslide, as long as its leaders did not tolerate inferring subjective intention from objective consequence.

I sometimes denounce inferring subjective intention from objective consequence. I call it mindreading. I probably denounce it more than Buckley. But I do not agree with Buckley here.

You cannot win political office by purging the folks who only agree 90% with your principles. The above essay was praised by Libertarians, as they are even worse examples of ideologues who are content to lose all the elections.

Buckley is dead, but his National Review magazine continues his tradition by denouncing Donald Trump. The Left probably regards the magazine as the controlled opposition.

Opposition to the Birch Society has always been a little strange. The Society was primarily known for being anti-Communist in a time in which Communism was genuinely evil and a threat to America. So why oppose those who are fighting evil?

The Bircher critics fell into two camps. There were the Leftist Commie-sympathizers who objected to any criticism of the Left. And then there were the cuckservatives and controlled opposition who sought to appease those Leftists. Buckley and much of National Review is in the latter camp.

I have read a lot of criticism of Trump, and 90% of it infers subjection intention. Hardly any of it examine the objective consequences of his policies. Those consequences have been peace and prosperity. Instead, the criticism consists of name-calling and arguments about his supposed thought processes.

Here is another new article that details the Buckley story, and explains how he launched personal attacks on people and organizations he disliked. It adds:

Phyllis Schlafly had just graduated from City House, the now defunct Catholic high school in St. Louis, when Lindbergh gave his speech. It’s hard to imagine that the brightest girl at City House was unaware of America First, since Lindbergh had already given the same speech to 15,000 people attending an America First rally at the St. Louis arena.

Phyllis Schlafly was a tragic figure. She was the abused wife of the Republican Party, an organization which treated her with contempt until it was time to get out the vote. Then like the husband who had beaten her in a drunken rage the night before, the Republicans would apologize and sweet talk her into supporting them once more. Schlafly was a tragic figure because she was cut off from her natural constituency, which was Midwest, America First Catholics, in Alton, Illinois and St. Louis, most of whom were blue collar union members.

Phyllis was the victim of identity theft, perpetrated on her by the conservative movement by people like William F. Buckley, whose job was policing the conservative movement and expelling anyone who showed genuine, i.e., America First, conservative inclinations.

The article has a good discussion of how conservatism and Trumpism fit into history. Much of Trump's struggle has been against control-freaks like Buckley who do not want an open discussion of some issues.

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