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That Awful Word 'Social'


That said, I think we want to be cautious about how that “truce” Mitch Daniels evoked has been understood. One way of getting at that is to look at how it has been assimilated to the so-called Buckley Rule or Buckley Doctrine—the idea, in its demotic transcription, that we conservatives ought to rally around the most conservative candidate who is also electable.

That’s how the Buckley Doctrine has been disseminated in its post-Buckley reincarnation. You’ve all heard it. My friend Karl Rove wheeled it out early and often in the last election.

But Neal Freeman, who was there at the creation, has demonstrated beyond cavil that the Buckley Doctrine as originally formulated was something quite different.

The year was 1964. The choice was between Nelson Rockefeller, the Republican establishment’s darling, and Barry Goldwater, the impossible firebrand. Whom should National Review endorse? The debate raged for some time in the sancta sanctorum of NR’s editorial offices, some editors arguing one side, some the other. In the fullness of time, the dictum came down from WFB himself: National Review would support “the rightwardmost viable candidate”—i.e., Barry Goldwater, unelectable in 1964 but viable in the sense of representing a robust and coherent conservative vision of the world.

It was the same in the 1965 New York mayoral race. Bill Buckley hadn’t a chance of winning. Indeed, when asked what he would do if he were to win, he famously replied: “Demand a recount.” But Bill’s candidacy was viable because it enabled him to put before the public an articulate case for various important conservative ideas.

The point is that powerful ideas can have powerful consequences. Barry Goldwater didn’t stand a chance of winning in 1964, but his candidacy was part of the galvanizing force that ushered Ronald Reagan into the White House fifteen years later. Bill’s mayoral race didn’t see him into Gracie Mansion, but it was one of the propaedeutic elements that helped see his brother Jim into the U.S. Senate a few years down the road. I think Neal Freeman got to the core distinction when he observed that “We all understand that it is Karl Rove’s mission to promote the Republican party. It was the mission of Bill Buckley to promote the conservative cause. There should be no confusion between the two.”

But of course there’s been lots of confusion between the two. Which brings me back to the question: “Should conservatives accept a truce on social issues?”