I find myself, for some reason I don’t quite understand, watching grainy, old footage of William F. Buckley this evening, instead of doing something that I might actually enjoy, like reading the motivational affirmations of Old Spice pitchman and rising action star Terry Crews. I think, subconsciously, the seed was planted earlier today, when I read what Rush Limbaugh had to say about Hurricane Isaac being a conspiracy perpetrated by the Obama administration in order to disrupt the Republican National Convention. I must have thought to myself, when I heard that, “Things couldn’t always have been like this,” and made a mental note to investigate it further. For whatever reason, tonight, after putting the kids to bed, I started searching for documentary footage of past Republican intellectuals, trying to prove to myself that there was in fact a time when leaders on the right wouldn’t have publicly engaged in the active perpetuation of conspiracy theories, like Romney did yesterday, when he referenced Obama’s birth certificate, and the kind of non-fact-based nonsense that we’re so used to seeing from Limbaugh and others today.
So, that’s how I think I came to spend my evening getting reacquainted with Buckley. I don’t know that I’ve gleaned anything incredible from the exercise thus far, but it’s been interesting. I’ve seen him threaten to beat up Gore Vidal, trade quips with Woody Allen, and summarily dismiss Noam Chomsky. I’ve seen him argue facts vehemently, and, one could argue, obnoxiously, but, as far as I can tell, he, at no point in any of these exchanges, left the shared reality of those with whom he was arguing. He was clearly a prick, but I don’t get the sense that he was lying. Or, to put it another way, my sense is that he would have been horrified if he’d been found to have said anything that couldn’t have been backed up. In other words, I don’t think he would have said, as a Romney staffer did yesterday, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” My sense is that it was important to him to be perceived as both correct and trustworthy.
At this point in the post, I should probably add that I’m not naive. I know about the “rat fucking” of the Nixon administration, and I know about the race-baiting perpetrated by Lee Atwater and the Republicans into the 80’s. I remember Willie Horton. I know that dirty tricks have been around forever, especially as they involve race, and that politicians have always lied and manipulated their way into power, on both sides, by exploiting wedge issues and taking advantage of the fearful and the poorly informed. Still, though, I have the sense that there used to be such a thing as a Republican intellectual – a leader who had an appreciation of history, a grasp of the facts (even if they were misused), and at least a grudging respect for the truth and the perception of integrity. And, with all that said, it pains me greatly to see things like the following clip from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, a clear intellectual lightweight, trying to laugh off Romeny’s recent mention of Obama’s birth certificate as something other than an attempt to paint our black President as the “other”. If I were a real Republican, it would make me irate. Unfortunately, I don’t think real Republicans… in the mold of Eisenhower, or, for that matter, even Reagan… exist anymore.
It’s absolutely sickening and pathetic that this is what the people of America have allowed the Republican party to become… In 25 short years, we’ve gone from William F. Buckley, the Yale-educated founder of the National Review, to the likes of Reince Priebus and Newt Gignrich, the disgraced former Congressman who failed to earn tenure as a history professor at West Georgia University. It terrifies me to consider what the next 25 years might hold.