Friday, February 29, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Buckley, and Thank you.

I was 20 years old and in Vietnam when I first became acquainted with William F. Buckley. It was during a late night beer drinking session in the barracks, with a half dozen GI’s sitting around arguing politics when a fellow Airman asked me if I was familiar with National Review. I was not, and was only vaguely familiar with William F. Buckley. I had probably read his column, On The Right, which I seem to recall, was carried in our local Republican newspaper, but I did not know a lot about him. The next day, the fellow GI gave me my first copy of National Review. I did not know it at the time, but that was a momentous moment and impacted my life.

I grew up in a family that daily watched the evening TV news and read the daily newspaper. My parents always voted and took the responsibilities of citizenship seriously. The news of the day was discussed around the dinner table. My parents were intelligent and informed but neither were college graduates or what one would consider intellectuals. My parents were both Republicans and as I grew up, I essentially adopted their political outlook.

Most of my political education came from my father. His political opinions, other than from the daily newspaper, were formed by what we would now call the “Religious Right”. The Sword of the Lord, a publication of Bob Jones University that I am sure I would now see as narrow minded and perhaps even racist, was an early source of political information. When I was in about the 7th and 8th grade my Dad drove me to school each morning and we would listen on the radio to the Reverend Carl McIntire, a dissident Presbyterian ministry whose message was anti-National Council of Churches and anti-communist. As a little older teen, I discovered another member of the religious right, the Reverend Billy James Hargus and the Christian Crusade, whose “ministry” was also anti-communism and general promotion of the conservative agenda. My early political education came primarily from these religious-tinted conservative sources. Somewhere along the way, I also became acquainted with the John Birch Society.

About the time I was thirteen or fourteen, I discovered another political perspective when I read Atlas Shrugged, the famous novel by Ayn Rand. Rand was thought provoking and excited me and challenged some of the religious right opinion to which I was being exposed. So, I had influence from two extremes of the conservative spectrum, by the time I was fourteen or fifteen.

In the Presidential election of 1964, I became enthused by the Goldwater campaign and was disappointed when my conservative father decided Goldwater was too extreme and he had to vote for LBJ. Throughout that political campaign, I repeatedly tried to get my father to see what a mistake he was making and tried to get him to support Goldwater, to no avail. Those arguments with my father caused me to deepen my political knowledge as I sought support for my position.

So, when I was first handed that copy of National Review, I already had a large degree of political knowledge but with large gaps, and much of it coming from the fringe. In the pages of National Review I discovered the history of ideals and the foundations of western thought and was introduced to economic theory and political philosophy. I discovered critical thought and how to think in a logical manner. I came to discover how neither the extreme religious right nor the libertarians had a monopoly on the truth. I discovered that political ideas cannot always be expressed on a bumper sticker or what we now call “sound bytes.”

After reading my first issue of NR, I subscribed and for most of the next twenty-five years. I only discontinued reading, when my life got so busy, that I realized most of the issues were going unread. During those early years I read every issue cover to cover. National Review and Buckley kept me running to the dictionary looking up new words and Latin phrases. NR whetted my appetite to learn more and I read John Locke and Adam Smith and Edmund Burke and gained an acquaintance with the larger body of western thought. Just by the casual reverences to literary works and historical figures, I discovered there was so much I did not know, and I wanted to know more. Also, from the pages of National Review I read some of the greatest thinkers of the day such as Russell Kirk, Whitaker Chambers, Frank Meyer, and James Burnham.

In addition to NR, for many years I rarely missed an episode of Firing Line. There is very little television that can compare today. In the format of the current day, people do not have conversations about politics or ideas but they shout slogans at each other. Buckley believed passionately in his ideas, but on Firing Line, he and a guest, even one with whom he strongly disagreed, could quietly explain and discuss their positions without denigrating into name-calling. Unfortunately I have failed to be as dispassionate and polite in some of my political discourse, but I admired it in Buckley. On firing line, I leaned a lot from Buckley, but also from his many guest with opposing views.

I also loved Buckley’s stammering pattern of speech, and lifted eyebrow, and his wit and charm. I, or course, did not agree with Buckley on every issue. Buckley was a stanch Catholic and had a deep religious faith. Most of my adult life, I have had a difficult time reconciling faith and reason. On most issues however, I found that Buckley guided the development of my position or we had views that coincided.

Buckley gave me a thirst for knowledge. Coming from a humble working class background, a poor rural school district, and having parents neither of whom had an education beyond a high school GED, and having no roll models of professional and educated people, there was no expectation that I would go to college. Going to college was something other people did; it was never considered or encouraged. After having completing my military service and then working a few years, I started thinking that perhaps, I should take advantage of the GI bill and go to school. So, at the age of 25 or 26 I entered college. To my surprise, I leaned that my fear of college was unfounded, and I was a good student.

If I had had a teacher or parents or someone who instilled in me an expectation to go on to school, I am sure I would have done so much earlier. I think the thing that made me finally decide to take the plunge was reading National Review. At some point I realized that with every issue I was reading the writing of smart, knowledgeable, educated people, and I wanted to be educated. I owe Buckley not only for my political education but also for my desire to become educated.

With the passing of Buckley, I feel that an era has come to an end. Buckley resigned as editor of National Review some years ago, and was only seldom heard from in recent years. But, his death leaves me grieving for our country and for the conservative movement. The Cold war may very well have been the glue that held the conservative movement together and times do change. With the passing of Buckley, it seems like the last link between what was the conservative movement and the politics of today has been severed.

I loved Ronald Reagan, and highly respected and admired Milton Friedman, but their passing did not seem like the end of an era. Their passing did not seem so personal. The loss of Buckley seems much more profound than those. I wish there was another way to mark his passing. I would have liked to have attended a memorial service to mark the occasion of the passing of this great man.

Goodbye, Mr. Buckley, and thank you.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Williams F. Buckley Remembered

The Wall Street Journal pays tribute to William F. Buckley Jr in this video.

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For Some it Begins With Williams F. Buckley, Jr.

There are a pair of satirical memoirs of the libertarian movement by Jerome Tuccille, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand and It Still Begins with Ayn Rand. For me, at least, it began with William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley was, of course, considered conservative, not libertarian, but it was a distinction without a difference as could be seen, for example, in his 1995 statement to the New York Bar Association on the «War on Drugs»:

I have not spoken of the cost to our society of the astonishing legal weapons available ow to policemen and prosecutors; of the penalty of forfeiture of one's home and property for violation of laws which, though designed to advance the war against drugs, could legally be used -- I am told by learned counsel -- as penalties for the neglect of one's pets. I leave it at this, that it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.

Perhaps the greatest way Buckley's loss will be felt is in not having someone to make such an eloquent, conservative case against the excesses of wartime zeal in the current War on an Abstraction.

My Comment: The above is from fellow blogger "Tom Rants" and expresses my sentiment also. While Buckley is often portrayed, by those who are only casually acquainted with his body of work, as a stanch anti-communist, committed Catholic, and a traditionalist, Buckley's political philosophy also was generously sprinkled with libertarianism. He occasionally annoyed the more traditionalist wing of the movement by his more libertarian positions. In the 60's when the generation gap was at its peak and many conservatives were spending time fighting long hair and marijuana use rather than the ideas of the left, the mischievous Buckley admitted that he had smoked marijuana. He said he sailed out beyond the three mile territorial waters of the US to do so however, in order avoid violation of American law. Buckley could make light of marijuana use and advocate decriminalization of marijuana and still hold the various strains of the movement together. Buckley was able to hold the economic free-marketeers, religious and cultural traditionalist, and libertarians in a coalitions and make the movement a coherent whole. He defined was was modern conservatism.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82

February 27, 2008, The New York Times (link)

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn.

Mr Buckley, 82, suffered from diabetes and emphysema, his son Christopher said, although the exact cause of death was not immediately known. He was found at his desk in the study of his home, his son said. “He might have been working on a column,” Mr. Buckley said.
Mr. Buckley’s winningly capricious personality, replete with ten-dollar words and a darting tongue writers loved to compare with an anteater’s, hosted one of television’s longest-running programs, “Firing Line,” and founded and shepherded the influential conservative magazine, “National Review.”

He also found time to write at least 55 books, ranging from sailing odysseys to spy novels to celebrations of his own dashing daily life, and to edit five more. His political novel “The Rake” was published last August, and a book looking back at the National Review’s history in November; a personal memoir of Barry Goldwater is due to be publication in April, and Mr. Buckley was working on a similar book about Ronald Reagan for release in the fall.
The more than 4.5 million words of his 5,600 biweekly newspaper columns, “On the Right,” would fill 45 more medium-sized books.

Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.

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William F. Buckley, RIP

I just now heard on the radio that William F. Buckley passed away. Buckley was one of my heroes. In the late 50's and early 60's Buckley essentially founded the modern conservative movement and made conservatism respectable. He pulled together the coalition of libertarians, anti-communist, and conservatives of various strips into a coherent movement. He provided a home for the intellectual conservative. Some of the greatest political minds of the 20th century worked for National Review, the magazine founded by Buckley. His influence is hard to underestimate. In the books he wrote, on his long-running television program Firing Line, in the pages of National Review, and in his syndicated columns he analyzed the current events and the news developments of the day, and spread the ideas that define modern conservatism. Much of the credit for the West developing the ideas necessary and the will power essential to countering and defeating Communism must go to Buckley. The passing of William F. Buckley is the end of an era. I mourn his passing. He will be missed.

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Bush might be right on Iran,

but then who will believe him?
The Tennessean, Friday, 11/02/07

The Bush administration has two major obstacles to overcome in dealing with an increasingly dangerous-looking Iran. The first is Iran's nuclear ambitions. The second is the Bush administration's own lack of credibility, from the way it handled Iraq.
To continue reading: Bush Might …

My Commentary
This editorial nailed it. We have a dilemma. It seems clear that Iran is a threat to world peace. It is clear that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program that they claim it is for peaceful purposes, but which few believe. The Iranian President has called for wiping Israel off the face of the map. We cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

However, after the Bush history of lies and manipulations that led to war in Iraq and the mess created by that adventure, who can trust Bush’s leadership, integrity, or wisdom?

On the other hand, the moral of the story of The Boy who Cried Wolf is not that there is never a wolf. What if Bush is exactly right about Iran? If Iran is on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, we don’t want to wait until they have nuclear weapons before we decide to take action.

A few months ago, William F. Buckley, announced his split with Bush and argued against a preemptive air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. "If we find there is a warhead there that is poised, the range of it is tested, then we have no alternative,” said Buckley. “ But pending that, we have to ask ourselves, 'What would the Iranian population do?'"

I would not be surprised if we wake up some morning soon to find that we have bombed Iran. I hope not. At some point, that may be necessary. But I will not believe it is necessary if done by this administration. I will be distrustful of any pre-emptive strike by this administration, unless they can prove it meets the Buckley test.

The intelligence community says Iran is about five years away from having a nuclear weapon. Again however, how can we trust the intelligence community, since they got is so wrong on Iraq? If we can assume the intelligence is right, then there is time to wait. I hope the intelligence estimate is right and Bush will leave Iran for the next administration to deal with.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Land Deal Protects Cave with Ancient Drawings

Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation buys 385-acre site south of Crossville

By ANNE PAINE Staff Writer The Tennessean (link)

CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — The green, 385-acre Devilstep Hollow has guarded a secret since prehistoric times. A cave lies underground with bird-man creatures and other mysterious images carved into the limestone or painted on the walls.

This is one of only about 60 cave art sites documented in the Southeast, and 48 in Tennessee, according to Jan Simek, distinguished professor of science and interim chancellor of the University of Tennessee.

The Devilstep cave art should survive modern times because the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation has acquired the land, and the state is buying it at cost, about $2.1 million, including surveying and fees. This will protect the natural area and spring that helps form the Sequatchie River, but the cave is its most unusual feature.

My Comment: Last summer I spent a weekend at Devilstep hollow. The site being protected is a beautiful lush green valley and the mouth of a cold mountain stream flowing out of a cave. The site is surrounded by beautiful mountains. Thanks to the work of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation this archaeological treasure and this beautiful spot of God's good earth is being protected for future generations. Kathleen Williams, the Executive Director of the foundation is my sister. I am proud of the work she is doing to protect the waterfalls, wilderness, and scenic vistas of Tennessee.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Illegal Immigrants Can Get Bank Accounts, Credit Cards, Car Loans, and Mortgages!

Many Americans are outraged to discover than illegal immigrants can get credit cards, bank accounts, car loans and mortgages. Perhaps opponents of illegal immigration deplore bank accounts and mortgages for undocumented people because they see it as aiding and abetting criminals. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a crime to sell goods or services to foreigners. Is not food more important to survival than bank accounts? If providing financial services to illegal immigrants is aiding and abetting illegal immigration this is not selling groceries to illegal immigrants also aiding and abetting criminals? Why are financial services different?

Nashville conservative talk-radio host Phil Valentine’s radio program has commercial sponsors. I wonder if any of those sponsors ever sell products to illegal immigrants? If they do, then we can blame Phil Valentine for facilitating illegal immigration.

When immigrants get bank accounts or home loans, it is not the American taxpayers who are providing these services or financing these loans, but commercial for-profit companies. Just because banks have names such as “First American”, or “US Bank”, or “First National” does not mean they are part of the government. Banks are non-government entities and it is not their job to enforce immigration laws. It is their job to make a profit. Many of the same conservatives who object to the Federal Government loading down American businesses with burdensome regulations, advocate that businesses be required to enforce immigration laws and be able to prove they are not doing business with undocumented persons.

Financial institutions provide services to illegal immigrants because it is good business. To qualify for most of these financial services, the undocumented applicant cannot have spotty job histories, poor credit or no credit, nor can they have been working “off the books.” First of all, they must have their ‘illegal immigrant id card’ known as a matrĂ­cula consular, which is an Id card issued by the local Mexican Consulate. They must then have a W-7, which is also know as an individual tax identification number (ITIN). The ITIN allows the illegal immigrant to pay federal income taxes. If we are not going to allow them to take out loans because that somehow facilitates their illegal immigration, should we not also refuse to accept their tax payments for the same reason? The IRS had issued approximately 9 million of these ITIN’s.

With the proper Id and credit, illegal immigrants can buy health insurance, set up checking accounts, check out library books and make monthly payments on big screen TVs, sign up for phone and cable TV service, and get car loans and mortgages. When they start doing these things, they will be spending more money in America and sending less money home. And, they will be putting down roots.

Perhaps it is putting down of roots that really bothers people. As long as the immigrants were renting and living “off the book” in the underground economy, and had to turn to predatory lenders for financial services they did not seem like our neighbors and part of our community; they were transient and we thought they would move on.

When immigrants purchase homes, establish churches, finance cars, and when their American born children start playing football at the local high school it will be harder to uproot the foreigners among us. When your neighbor who picked up your newspaper when your are out of town and who helped you start your car on that cold morning when it would not start, is suddenly threatened with deportation, you may soften the “no amnesty” rhetoric. It is hard to hate your neighbor when your know him and he becomes more like you. Maybe that is the reason immigration opponents are outraged to discover that illegal immigrants can open bank accounts.

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