Editor's note: Because of reaction to the following online essay, Christopher Buckley resigned from his back-page column at the conservative National Review. He explains his reasons - and the volume of hate mail - in a follow-up column at thedailybeast.com - "the only thing the Right can't quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless."
Let me be the latest conservative/libertarian/whatever to leap on to the Barack Obama bandwagon. It's a good thing my dear old mum and pup are no longer alive. They'd cut off my allowance.
Or would they? But let's get that part out of the way. The only reason my vote would be of any interest to anyone is that my last name happens to be Buckley - a name I inherited. So in the event anyone notices or cares, the headline will be: "William F. Buckley's Son Says He Is Pro-Obama." I know, I know: It lacks the throw-weight of "Ron Reagan Jr. to Address Democratic Convention," but it'll have to do.
I am - drum roll, please, cue trumpets - making this announcement in the cyberpages of the Daily Beast (what joy to be writing for a publication so named!) rather than in the pages of National Review, where I write the back-page column. For a reason: My colleague, the superb and very dishy Kathleen Parker, recently wrote in National Review Online a column stating what John Cleese as Basil Fawlty would call "the bleeding obvious": namely, that Sarah Palin is an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that. She's not exactly alone. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who began his career at NR, just called Gov. Palin "a cancer on the Republican Party."
As for Kathleen, she has to date received 12,000 (quite literally) foam-at-the-mouth hate e-mails. One correspondent, if that's quite the right word, suggested that Kathleen's mother should have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a Dumpster. There's Socratic dialogue for you.
Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who fancied himself a WFB protege had said something transcendently and provocatively cretinous, "You know, I've spent my entire lifetime separating the Right from the kooks." Well, the dear man did his best. At any rate, I don't have the kidney at the moment for 12,000 e-mails saying how good it is he's no longer alive to see his Judas of a son endorse for the presidency a covert Muslim who pals around with the Weather Underground. So, you're reading it here first.
As to the particulars, assuming anyone gives a fig, here goes:
I have known John McCain personally since 1982. I wrote a well-received speech for him. Earlier this year, I wrote in the New York Times - I'm beginning to sound like Paul Krugman, who cannot begin a column without saying, "As I warned the world in my last column ..." - a highly favorable op-ed about McCain, taking Rush Limbaugh and the others in the Right Wing Sanhedrin to task for going after McCain for being insufficiently conservative. I don't - still - doubt that McCain's instincts remain fundamentally conservative. But the problem is otherwise.
McCain rose to power on his personality and biography. He was authentic. He spoke truth to power. He told the media they were "jerks" (a sure sign of authenticity, to say nothing of good taste; we are jerks). He was real. He was unconventional. He embraced former antiwar leaders. He brought resolution to the awful missing-POW business. He brought about normalization with Vietnam - his former torturers! Yes, he erred in accepting plane rides and vacations from Charles Keating, but then, having been cleared on technicalities, groveled in apology before the nation.
He told me across a lunch table, "The Keating business was much worse than my five and a half years in Hanoi, because I at least walked away from that with my honor." Your heart went out to the guy. I thought at the time, God, this guy should be president someday.
A year ago, when everyone, including the man I'm about to endorse, was caterwauling to get out of Iraq on the next available flight, John McCain, practically alone, said no, no - bad move. Surge. It seemed a suicidal position to take, an act of political bravery of the kind you don't see a whole lot of anymore.
But that was - sigh - then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, "We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us."
This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget "by the end of my first term." Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on Earth can he have been thinking?
All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain - who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.
As for Sen. Obama: He has exhibited throughout a "first-class temperament," pace Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s famous comment about FDR. As for his intellect, well, he's a Harvard man, though that's sure as heck no guarantee of anything, these days. Vietnam was brought to you by Harvard and (one or two) Yale men. As for our current adventure in Mesopotamia, consider this lustrous alumni roster. Bush 43: Yale. Rumsfeld: Princeton. Paul Bremer: Yale and Harvard. What do they all have in common? Andover! The best and the brightest.
I've read Obama's books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On abortion, gay marriage, et al., I'm libertarian. I believe with my sage and epigrammatic friend P.J. O'Rourke that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.
But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren't going to get us out of this pit we've dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.
Obama has in him - I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy "We are the people we have been waiting for" silly rhetoric - the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.
So, I wish him all the best. We are all in this together. Necessity is the mother of bipartisanship. And so, for the first time in my life, I'll be pulling the Democratic lever in November. As the saying goes, God save the United States of America.
Christopher Buckley's books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. His journalism, satire and criticism have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Esquire. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush and the founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes FYI.