Thursday, November 17, 2005

Happy Birthday, WFB

I love stories about the behind-the-scenes activities that make up a great political campaign. I have an odd sort of soft spot in my heart for the 1964 Republican party who, in nominating Barry Goldwater on the first ballot, showed the world that they would rather be right than be successful. That's why I enjoyed the following anecdote about a wonderfully hare-brained scheme cooked up by William F. Buckly:
William A. Rusher
Connoisseurs of conservative intrigue are largely unaware of a remarkable idea that occurred to Bill Buckley in or about the late spring of 1964. Barry Goldwater was well on his way to amassing the number of delegates that would (and eventually did) assure his nomination for president on the first ballot at the Republican convention in San Francisco in July. But thereafter he would have to face President Lyndon Johnson in the general election in November, and not even Barry’s warmest admirers were very optimistic about his chances of beating the formidable Texan, who had succeeded the martyred John Kennedy just a year earlier.

It was at this point that the ever-inventive Br’er Buckley hit upon an idea that would, to put it mildly, have transformed the campaign: Nominate Dwight Eisenhower as Goldwater’s vice-presidential running mate! No one was eager to be the person to ask Ike (who at this point was three and a half years into his retirement in Gettysburg, PA) for his consent. But Bill, consumed with enthusiasm for the idea, was willing to let that problem slide while amassing support. He consulted constitutional lawyers, who assured him the Constitution didn’t bar the nomination. (The Constitution would prohibit Eisenhower from running again for president, but not for vice president.) And I believe he managed to enlist Admiral Lewis Strauss, one of Washington’s wise men, in the cause.

But that was about as far as the idea got. The scheme turned out to be one of those in which Bill’s awesome ingenuity simply overpowered his political practicality. But what a race it would have been: Goldwater & Eisenhower versus Johnson & Humphrey!

William Rusher served as publisher of NR from 1957 to 1988.

The link above points to many fond stories about Bill Buckley on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

If I can add my own story. (And why not? This is my blog!) I was a young man, raised in a warm, wonderful family of FDR Democrats. I was taught to properly despise Republicans as the party of the rich. But two things happened:
  • First, I got a job and saw what the effect of government spending meant to my working-lad's paycheck.
  • Second, I discovered Firing Line and weekly saw the zest, brio, and bonhommie that characterized Buckleyism.
I was heartbroken when Firing Line went off the air, and I have found no replacement with the wit, depth, and plain good manners of it. Today's conservative media folk tend to be too poplulist and too ready to descend to the pit. This method has its rough attractions, but it at best provides new facts to buttress already-held positions, not incisive analysis and persuasion to re-align the viewpoint.

So here's to you, Mr. Buckley! I wish you many happy returns!

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