Thursday, October 16, 2008
I'm sure it's obvious I'm an old guy. Back in the day, I loved watching Bill Buckley's Firing Line. Pomposity and self-satisfaction aside, he always had interesting guests, with whom he usually disagreed, and intelligent discussion ensued. Typically it was respectful, often featuring a friendly exchange of repartee laced with wit. On one occasion he had Eldridge Cleaver (no relation), and as Buckley did his characteristic lean-back, Cleaver did the same. It was some sort of contest against one another and gravity.
I never met the man, but a good friend of my parents was a good friend of his, was credited in some of his books; I heard stories, I liked him despite finding him annoying. And I've read most of his son Chris' books, enjoyed them, met him at a book signing and dropped the name of his dad's friend, got a mild response at best.
Having founded National Review, long considered the official organ of conservatism, William F. Buckley would no doubt have been proud of his son's having acquired a writer's position thereon. And I'd guess that whether he agreed or not with Chris' decision to endorse Barack Obama, he'd have given the opinion credence. Likely a place in the magazine. In fact, it's my opinion he'd have agreed. Whether or not that's true, WFB without question believed in civil discourse and fair hearings, admired opposing arguments well-presented.
Chris Buckley had to resign from National Review after his piece appeared (not, by the way, in that magazine: he said he published elsewhere to avoid embarrassing them). A bucket of vitriol ensued, in the form of comments at NRO: demands to cancel subscriptions, threats of all sorts, outrage at its most primal.
So there we have it: no longer can a person disagree with his party line, even on its formerly most respected repository of reason, no matter how thoughtfully and measured. The pattern has been repeated with other dissenters. Nor would I claim the phenomenon is only on the right. I read, and occasionally post on, the Daily Kos. I see people get roundly criticized, often in the most ugly ways, when they take on "established" viewpoints. But it's only in the "diaries," and rarely in the main columns. There, differing points of view are not rare, and seem well-treated.
Besides, isn't it the Democrats who've always been (until this year) disorganized, unfocused, all over the map? "Lockstep" is the way Republicans march. Dems wander the streets in Birkenstocks, right?
It's pretty awful, all right. We really are beyond coming together. As McPalin continue to fan the flames, the job of the next president gets even harder: there's no quarter on the right, and resentment on the left. If neither party is pure, it's clear that Barack Obama sees the commonality of purpose in solving our problems, and that John McCain either doesn't, or, in putting himself first, doesn't care. These are tough times we face, and we couldn't be more unprepared to address them. With half the country hating or distrusting the other half, and with one set of potential leaders feeding on it, one can't help but have a deep sense of pessimism, even if Barack Obama wins. If he does, and if he's able to persuade at least some of those who are convinced he's a terrorist that he's not; if he's able to call people together enough to propel us towards solutions, then he's even more of a mensch than I think he is.
And if Obama doesn't win, John McCain will preside over a nation at war with itself. He'll get nowhere, and he'll have himself to blame. Wonder if he'd ever come to realize it.