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What Would Buckley Do?
I wanted to be William F. Buckley Jr. All I lacked was his intellect, education, and unique experiences.
Well, I didn’t want to be him. I wanted to be the next one.
Every day, I wrote a 750-word piece. Poorly. I believed that practice would improve my writing.
One day, I realized, as long as I tried to be the next William F. Buckley, I was destined for frustration and failure. The same would have applied had I chosen to be the next Wayne Gretzky or the next George Carlin.
In the pantheon of great political writers, a William F. Buckley comes along precisely one time. The “next one” will be as different from Buckley as Gretzky was from Howe or Daniel Tosh is from Carlin.
And I won’t be the next one. No one will.
I didn’t know at the time, but trying to be something inhibits progress toward that goal. The writer who wants to be the next anyone mires himself in the bog of his present ineptness.
Success comes from practice, but from an instructive practice. It comes from a desire to improve. Improvement comes from a desire to learn. To learn, one must take risks and make mistakes. And he must be humble enough to recognize his mistakes. Or to accept as instructive the criticism of others. (See, I can still channel Buckley for a sentence or two.)
All of that humility stuff goes against my nature.
I tend toward opportunities to prove my skills, not to improve them. I seek the judgment of people who, I know, will skip the flaws and praise the (scant) successes. Like mom and dad. I gravitate toward activities I do objectively well. And I tend to satisfy myself with mere competence; reaching excellence takes too much work.
With Buckley’s birthday approaching (November 24) and the events of the day, I was pleased to see so many Buckley references in my Twitter timeline today. No human being so influenced America’s right thinking. No human being so elegantly bridged the chasm between high-brow intellectualism and bare-knuckle political brawling. And no person earned more of my admiration. After all, I wanted to be him.
Of all his accomplishments, Buckley’s role in founding Young Americans for Freedom might be his greatest achievement. With the present mess in Washington and Obamacare’s sword dangling precariously above our national head, we’d all do well to review the Sharon Statement, the organization’s founding manifesto, released from Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut, on September 11, 1960:
IN THIS TIME of moral and political crisis, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.
WE, as young conservatives, believe:
THAT foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;
THAT liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;
THAT the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;
THAT when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;
THAT the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;
THAT the genius of the Constitution - the division of powers - is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;
THAT the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;
THAT when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation, that when it takes from one to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;
THAT we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies…
THAT the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;
THAT the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with this menace; and
THAT American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?
I feel a great temptation to expound on each paragraph, but I’ll home in on one.
THAT when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation, that when it takes from one to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both.
And there lies the “eternal truth” that Obamacare hopes to frustrate and corrupt.
Obamacare is, in its conception, incubation, and emergence, an abomination. An affront to freedom, to the individual, and to the moral philosophy of natural rights. America cannot exist without deference to natural rights, making Obamacare an existential threat to our nation.
By that measure, those who support Obamacare are, unarguably, anti-American. Their hearts might be in the right place, but their bodies are on the wrong continent.
So, John Boehner said a lot when he said on ABC’s This Week:
“I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.”
The stand Boehner and his colleagues took was to stand athwart the dismantling of the American Experiment, yelling, “STOP!”
With Obamacare, Barack Obama seeks to undermine and destroy the moral autonomy of every American. That’s a big ambition, on par with Khrushchev’s promise that the Soviet monster “will bury you.” Obama’s dream of a Soviet America fulfill’s Tocqueville’s warning:
the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Put aside your petty grievences against Speaker Boehner and his leadership team. This is a war for America’s existence against the most formidable foe we’ve ever faced. Obama is more ruthless than Hitler, more crafty than Tojo, more brutal than Stalin, and more arrogant than King George.
This menace, this threat, to America is not a foreign enemy risen in a distant land from which the Americans escaped; Obama is a monster raised among us. Obama threatens to fulfill Khrushchev’s other famous boast:
We cannot expect Americans to jump from capitalism to Communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans small doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find they have Communism.
In this present battle, we have no enemies who fight that monster hunkered down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And in this battle, for now, John Boehner is our Patton.
At the risk of putting words in his mouth, Buckley would agree.