An Accumulation of Little Extravagances: William F. Buckley Jr. on Barack Obama

November 24, Thanksgiving this year, was Bill Buckley’s birthday.  Born in 1925, he would have turned 86 that day. It doesn’t seem possible that he died at the end of February 2008, nearly four years ago. Where have those months gone? It’s as if the company that delivers time blundered, supplying only half the expected number of hours, days, and months these last several years. Yet another illustration, I suppose, of the mysterious fact that life seems to speed up as you get older.

I often think about, and even more often miss, Bill Buckley. He and his wife Pat were dear friends of ours, and propinquity, the fact that we lived quite close to each other, helped cement the bond. It was rare, in the last few years of his life, that we didn’t see him at least once a week and we “spoke” by email (Bill loved email) much oftener. A veteran observer of world affairs, Bill was ostentatiously well-informed about the controversies of the day. I never thought I had pondered a contentious issue thoroughly until I had discussed it with him.

Bill died before the burlesque that is Barack Hussein Obama really got going. As I recall, he wrote about Obama only once, early in 2008, just a few weeks before he died. Linda Bridges, Bill’s long-time assistant, and I include the column in  our recent anthology of Bill’s political and polemical writings, Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr Omnibus. There was little Bill didn’t know about the folly of government intervention, and his connoisseur’s nose for socialist encroachment masquerading as community-based altruism instantly revealed Obama as the redistributionist that he has turned out to be. Thus Bill described as “mischievous” candidate Obama’s suggestion that increased government intervention in our lives would increase the chance that “every American child” would benefit from the riches produced by the mighty engine of American capitalism. It was, Bill observed, a mendacious suggestion, a false promise that would “foster frustration and stimulate disillusion.

“Fostering frustration and stimulating disillusion”: that’s a pretty accurate summary of Obama’s net effect on the body politic of this great county. The title “Athwart History,” as many readers will doubtless already know, comes from the famous publisher’s statement introducing the inaugural issue of National Review, on November 19, 1955. National Review is out of place,” that bulletin declared, “in the sense that the United Nations and the League of Women Voters and the New York Times and Henry Steele Commager are in place. It is out of place because, in its maturity, literate America rejected conservatism in favor of radical social experimentation.”

This brash new magazine had arrived with its brash young editor to cast a cold, skeptical,  and inquisitive light upon that presumption. The magazine “stands athwart history,” Bill announced, “yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”