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November 29, 2013


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Whether it's smart or dumb, the goal of the reactionary right has always been to maintain a hierarchical and deeply unequal society and to squash democratic movements from below. I don't want smarter conservatives. I want to defeat them.

Donna I think you got your wish. Since bush jr its got dumber and dumber.

If you like Whtaker you may like Allen Weinstein's Perjury


On August 3, 1948, Time magazine editor Whittaker Chambers made a stunning allegation before the House Un-American Activities Committee: Alger Hiss, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former high-ranking State Department official, had served with him in the Communist underground. Hiss's defense was the most gripping story of its day, and the question of his guilt has remained an American enigma. Now, historian Allen Weinstein finally solves, once and for all, one of the great American mysteries. Weinstein also, for the first time ever, draws upon previously inaccessible information from Soviet archives. The result is an extraordinary book that leaves anyone who reads it with one inescapable conclusion: Alger Hiss was guilty.

And if you wan to read how dumb the CIA has been, read The Secret History of the CIA by Joseph Trento.

The best Whittaker Chambers bio is the one by Sam Tannenhaus

"Stephen Kinzer’s “The Brothers” tells the story of two siblings who achieved remarkable influence, serving as secretary of state and director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Eisenhower administration. It is a bracing and disturbing study of the exercise of American global power."



I've often wondered about Buckley. He changed over time from a rabid segregationist and ardent defender of Joe McCarthy to someone comfortable with legalizing pot and critiquing Neo-con foreign policy adventures. He was a champion of Franco, Pinochet, and the Argentine generals who massacred thousands of students. He was also someone who was intellectually and culturally engaged in New York City. You can't really be a right-winger in America and live happily in the northeast, which Buckley did.

Buckley's wife Pat and son Christopher also embodied the contradiction between ideological zealotry and living as upper-crust doyens of the New York social scene. To a certain extent, you see a similar dynamic at play with John and Cindy McCain. Both are quite comfortable living apart from one another, even enjoying liaisons not always that well disguised. They're modern people, in other words. During those years when John McCain runs for office, the yokelisms return to his speech patterns so Arizona's God-fearing rubes know he's on their side of the culture divide.

Buckley was very close to and ideologically aligned with his brother-in-law, L Brent Bozell, who over time became rigid in his reactionary ideology (even going so far as to move to Franco's Spain to escape the noxious fumes of modernity). It's telling that Bozell and Buckley began to diverge in the '60s and were largely estranged by the '70s.

The difference between a William F Buckley and an Ayn Rand is that the latter was really provincial and insecure. She probably knew she was a terrible novelist so she removed herself from the intellectual combat of literary scenes. Hence her cult. Buckley, on the other hand, felt reasonably at home there, even having friends who were liberals.

Once conservatism was absorbed by its own media, there was no longer any kind of growth, curiosity, ferment, or reflection. It was all war all the time. As Orwell said, the first casualty of war is the truth. Buckley, no doubt, saw this happening in the aughts. Even National Review exemplified the trend with its stable of hacks and mediocrities (e.g., Jonah Goldberg). Clicking on the link for the Whittaker Chambers' take-down of Rand, I was a bit astonished to see yet one more Obama cartoon-cover that reeked, if ever so subtly, of racism.

This is the baseline requirement for the American right now given its own intellectual collapse into self-pitying grievances and resentments. It's why Sarah Palin is much more emblematic of modern conservatism than, say, Newt Gingrich, who can be reasonably astute when not pimping his know-nothing bona fides in Dogpatch. But the rubes know Gingrich is not one of them, that he's too bright and knows too much. Palin? She's the real deal, an idiot with an unnerving ability to distill difficulty into mindless zingers. She represents the logical outcome of all those years when conservative intellectuals proudly courted racists. Buckley died before he saw her elevation but he might well have guessed who was responsible for her. He died just in time.

Yupperinsky to all that, Soleri.

In addition, wasn't 'Firing Line' on public television? Some cosmic dissonance in that, eh?

There has never been a public figure before of since who could slouch and flounce in a leather easy chair with the somewhat bitchy panache of WFB, Jr., all the while, cranking out BIG WORDS, to impress the boobs with his intelligence.

I remember the word 'litotes' to this day -- not that I was one of the boobs.

Headless, I remember "litotes" as well, although I think I recall it only for being an anagram of TS Eliot. Eliot, btw, was a real intellectual and reactionary. You go back to mid-century Anglo-American culture and you see all these cultural titans who had severe cases of nostalgia. WWII was very unpleasant and I can understand very well why some people simply wanted to take solace in English country houses and cathedrals. In this country, you had Faulkner and Dos Passos leading, as it were, the rearguard. The Southern aspect to this was sharply pronounced, from Flannery O'Connor to Walker Percy. Western civilization was a "lost cause" that took one final swig of holy water.

I'll give these writers credit for poking through the debris of our heritage to find what solace they could. The problem, as always, is commanding the tide to desist. Buckley enjoyed the attention he got from making his famously grand statement: "a conservative is someone who stands athwart history and yells Stop!" I think the lesson from his life is that you don't really choose the tide you swim in. I miss the cultural unities but I don't think going to Latin masses or listening to Bach is going to change anything. It was never about us anyway. There is this thing we call culture and there's us, a zillion mice nibbling away at the giant cheese. "Look at me! I'm holy!" Buckley enjoyed the last couple of decades of that nostalgia bandwagon before he finally gave up the impossible task it imposed.

I actually think that Buckley's internal definition of a conservative was that "a conservative is someone who stands athwart history and yells Stop! -- and thinks that history listens."

A person truly acculturated to mid-century America would have known and appreciated the fact that both Liberace and Duncan Renaldo were Czechoslovakian.

What, do you suppose, is the deeper meaning of that particular factoid?

I think O Henry would have been appalled at Duncans portrayal of the Cisco Kid.
And I would bet you that O Henry would have had a Harry the Horse heart attack at the wager window if he had been approached by Liberace.

Headless can U tell me if Pancho Villas head was really stolen by a Bush family member

Soleri, possibly Buckley “evolved”! Something I believe is not possible for the current tea party rabble. The “rightwing nut jobs” are stuck in a non evolving, creationist sterile gene pool. Disturbing to me are the 5000 people around the world that are in charge of the robot puddle. The revolution must target the 5000 financial barons not the millions of zombie soldiers.

Cal, Buckley was his own cottage industry of "conservative" intellectualism. It had to pain him to realize that ultimately none of it mattered, that it was all a charade where nostalgia was more important than thought itself. Ideologies that don't engage the culture eventually rot from the inside. Buckley soldiered on, insisting that it was the deviations, not the One True Faith that was the problem.

By his end, conservatism was degenerating into, as the French would say, nostalgie pour la boue. I can imagine Buckley tinkling away on his harpsichord Cat Scratch Fever.

Well, you know, there's a reason thrift store bookshelves have lots of Ayn Rand paperbacks: people grow up, learn about gray area and the complexity of the human condition, and move on. She's pretty much just Danielle Steele for juvenile assholes. Had the food trucks ever stopped running in her lifetime, she'd have been among the first to starve.

"I can imagine Buckley tinkling away on his harpsichord Cat Scratch Fever."

Exactly! When he should have been playing 'Jitterbug Waltz" -- just like the Nuge.

Looking beyond Rand and Buckley, I read an article in The New Republic that asks the question, “Think Republicans have been making fools of themselves?”
Some Republicans blame Michael Needham.
The article tells us that Needham is the CEO of Heritage Action, “the relatively new activist branch of the Heritage Foundation” and that it was he who designed the ‘defund Obamacare ‘strategy. The article goes on and on dropping bits of gossip. You can read it here: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115688/heritage-foundations-michael-needham-tears-apart-right-wing

In the comments section someone who goes by Lambofgoth wrote: Aaah Michael Needham. Son of George Needham, a one time partner of Raj Rajaratnam - billionaire Wall Street fat cat now living happily in Federal Prison. Looks like Michael was brought up with a quality crowd.

This afternoon I was trying to recall a Buckley word that struck my fancy at one time. However, the more I tried to remember the word the more elusive it became. I gave up, my recall was not working and I posted a comment without a Buckley word. Seconds after I posted my comment the word emerged – tergiversate.
Buckley used the word tergiversates to describe Republicans at the time when he endorsed Joseph Lieberman.


Suzanne and Jon looking beyond is easy as listening to Stephen Hawkings, "humans have 1000 years to leave the planet" and Clifford Simak, CITY, "and the dogs sat around the campfire and discussed the possible existence of man."
One can intellectually ramble on about mans fate on earth but in a 1000 years earth will be hotter tha a Dante hot dog on a barbecue grill.

Pass me another Cold Corona.

re Heritage Foundation -- ""Heritage was the arbiter of serious, conservative scholarship. Now there's no pillar anymore."

There never was a pillar.

In their heyday, they proposed unsubstantiated, easily understood nostrums that proved disastrous in the implementation and the only thing that will get them back on track is when the public forgets how stupid they are and falls for the same old BS again.

The longer I'm alive,the more I agree with John Galbraith
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

John Calvin took care of that selfishness issue

Cal, I think Calvin gussied it up in a rationalization pretending to be a spiritual truth. I recommend Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead for the best-case interpretation of that. It helped me understand why I can't be a Christian. There's simply too many of those exegetical niceties to really get close to the core spiritual questions. Squaring human nature with metaphysics is neither simple nor all that compelling. I plead guilty to impatience with the exercise. Why not simply state that God may be Love but He is not kind.

Back to Buckley for a moment. As precious as Buckley's persona was, you might think he came from old money. In fact, his father was an oil speculator who made his huge fortune in Mexico. He was eventually expelled for his meddling in its internal affairs. As is so often present in this type of family lineage (a case of Koch, anyone?), there is a strong link between resource extraction and right-wing politics. Buckley pere made the dough so his children could carry on the family hobby, plutocracy. Maybe the difference between the Kennedys and the Buckleys was that Papa Joe made his money in bootlegging and Wall Street. Of course, he was a reactionary, too, but enough of a roué that wealth was more a means to something even sexier - political limelight. Joe and his sons had the best-looking women for a reason.

I'm not sure that John Calvin's doctrine of predestination is the best hook upon which to hang the modern "Greed is good" dogma.

The Randian industrial hero/entrepreneur has characteristics such as pluck and self reliance and a willingness to take risks that makes him successful -- not predestination.

Today's conservative dogma, I would say, is based more upon concepts of social Darwinism than on predestination.

Darwin, Camus and Hamlet went into a bar and.....

Darwin, Camus and Hamlet went into a bar and..... and ordered Manhattans from the priest and rabbi barkeeps.

Camus asked for a swizzle stick to stir his drink with, upon which a monkey swung down screeching from a light fixture and proceeded to stir Camus' drink with his member.


Many people have criticized my jokes for not having punch lines. But really, what am I supposed to say after the monkey performs his stunt: "But wait, here comes the funny part!"

(Credit to Bobcat Goldthwaite for the concept)

Mr. Talton writes on the need for competent conservative voices. Why is this important to liberals? Political policy issues require healthy debate for three reasons. First, because they don't reduce to easily demonstrated tautologies such as "2+4 = 4"; second because wise policy depends on informed views, and varying degrees of ignorance (not omniscience) are the norm; third because policy deals with empirical situations which can be determined as much by irrational reactions as by logic.

Insofar as one side is identified as "conservative" and the other as "liberal" one would like to see each represented as competently as possible in order to assemble a more reasoned and complete viewpoint than either is willing or able to offer by itself.

Intolerance of (civil, reasoned) dissent and insularity of perspective create an ideological "gene pool" so inbred that political evolution is retarded, because adherence to preconceptions is valued above all. A healthy variety encourages flexibility, and flexibility is a way to maintain rationality given changing circumstances or improved knowledge (in theory or practice).

That said, society would be much better served if its leaders viewed public policy issues as problem solving exercises (subordinate to established social goals) instead of as a contest between competing general principles (ideologies) where the goal is to raise a flag of a particular color.

Banning political parties altogether would be a major step in the right direction and is consistent with the early history of the republic as well as the views of influential founding fathers. Banning parties would not eliminate personal ideology but it would destroy the centralized levers of power through which political conformity is enforced.

That leaves the twin problems of special interest money in politics and special interest domination of media: both profoundly anti-democratic forces because they magnify the political influence of money in a society where money is unequally distributed.

The first problem, that of campaign financing, can only be solved by a system in which neither candidates themselves nor third parties are allowed to contribute: full public financing using fixed and equal disbursements to all qualifying candidates is the only way to remove special interest money from campaign financing.

The second problem, that of media domination by special interest money, is nearly intractable in a society where private money buys control of (or a presence in) mass media. The airwaves (radio and television frequencies assigned to radio and television stations) are publicly owned and nominally overseen by the FCC and similar entities. From 1949 until the Reagan administration the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to provide reply time (not equal time) to opposing views and to present contrasting viewpoints to begin with. Stations had to provide persons or groups attacked on air with a transcript within a week and give them the opportunity to respond. Unendorsed candidates had to be notified and given the ability to respond. It may be no coincidence that the "death of liberalism" and the rise of right-wing talk radio followed the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 (it had actually been undermined by weak enforcement by the Reagan-controlled FCC for years prior to that). Restoring the Fairness Doctrine would be a step in the right direction. Stricter enforcement of the Equal Time Rule for political candidates (too many exemptions these days) would also help.

It goes without saying that the political parties will never vote themselves out of existence and that a high court friendly to the principle of "one dollar, one vote" will not cooperate with many of these reforms. The only possible solution is a constitutional amendment, but the United States has no mechanism for a public referendum to alter the Constitution, and constitutional conventions can only be convened by the legislatures of the states. The first order of business is thus to create a mechanism whereby direct popular referenda can be organized. This would likely require a constitutional amendment as well: but a non-partisan, issue-neutral movement seeking only to establish a right of popular national referendum would have a better chance to succeed than any of the previous propositions. The question could be framed as: "Either you're for democracy or against it". How many politicians would welcome an opportunity to explain why grassroots democracy is a bad idea?

Lobbying is another bump on the road to a representative technocracy but, divorced from the power to contribute to party coffers and individual political races, the power of lobbyists is much reduced. Those affected by legislation deserve the right to provide input during the legislative process, and this includes corporations and activist organizations.

The term "representative technocracy" requires some explanation. It's actually already in place, but fouled by politics and special interest money. Democracy, particularly at the national level, requires representative government, first because the general populace is too busy with their personal and professional lives to oversee the day to day administration of government; and second because there are a wide range of complex policy issues and it's difficult enough to become well-informed about just one or two of the major issues, much less a universal expert. In fact, there are no universal experts, only specialists in various fields. Political representatives use research staffs to gather and distill the views of specialists with respect to a particular issue subject to legislative action. The general legislative body votes on laws embodying policy, but it does not design policy or formulate laws intended to implement it: that is performed by small committees, each of which specializes in a particular area. The research of such committees is not generally conducted by your representatives but by their technical staffs; the actual language of laws is not written by your representatives but by lawyers and other legal staff. The representatives themselves hear witnesses, read reports, and offer general guidance.

These are the inescapable facts in a situation where breadth and complexity requires the delegation of authority to specialists. I simply propose to remove party politics and special interest money from the picture. Note that I oppose representative term limits because they arbitrarily remove experienced representatives just when they are beginning to get a deeper understanding of the issues.

One might go so far as to ask: if the general public is unfit to directly decide the solutions of complex issues, how can they be fit to select which political candidates will be elected to solve such problems? The worst criticism of democracy is that representative government depends on the malleability of ignoramuses; but the answer to that charge is that the wisdom of ruthless, power-hungry, insular, fanatical dictators is also dubious; and once ensconced in power they are even more resistant to change or removal than popular prejudices. The general electorate tends to be fickle but only because it is responsive to negative feedback; whereas dictators respond to negative feedback with repression and attempts to maintain the status quo at all costs. When the power of the police, military, legislature, and judiciary is concentrated in the hands of fanatics, the historical results have been along the lines of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Democracies muddle on more or less well but the extremes tend to be muted, because representatives depend on the public for their positions and even the need to create the illusion of responsiveness moderates their worst tendencies.

Political realism means understanding that decisions must be made, not between the ideal and the less than ideal, but between less flawed and more flawed alternatives.

Buckley was a coward. He picked opponents he could dominate, but never invited back those that made him look bad -- the anarchist Noam Chomsky, the bon vivant Gore Vidal, and the socialist George Seldes. I'm sure there are others, but we only get to see him sucker punched on YouTube by Vidal and Chomsky.

Headless: Social Darwinism - yes, but more specifically modern conservatism is based on Andrew Mellon. Now there was an alpha asshole. Actual father of supply-side economics, Mellon wrote the script for the boom of the 1920's and the subsequent crash; it can also be said that he wrote the script for the boom of the aughts and its subsequent crash as well. The similarities between the two are truly eerie.

Thanks for the effort Emil.

I would like to explain to you, however, that your end point and all in between in your essay is, for me and many of the other readers here, already something we have well understood for many decades. There is no need to restate it at length.

I would, though, appreciate your in put on the following thing that I have noticed on many 'mainstream' political discussion shows. To wit: It is assumed in an a priori manner that the Teaparty(bagger)media sources of right wing radio and Fox News is the equivalent of the left leaning Democrat who listens to NPR, and watches Public television and maybe a little MSNBC.

I think that this is a grotesque misrepresentation of the left leaning citizen and puts an ignorant fanatic on a par with an informed citizen.

How can the give and take needed for political discussion take place in such an environment?

eclecticdog, the Buckley-Vidal feud was one of the great things about the late '60s - two grandees of the high culture going at each other like a couple of meth-crazed truckers. We tend to think everything was falling apart during that time, but the spectacle itself was mesmerizing. You actually required a literary culture that intersected the popular culture. That, of course, is no more.

Vidal was "liberal" except, if anything, he behaved more like an entitled aristocrat than Buckley did. I've got some of that juice in me as well. His grandfather was a senator from Oklahoma, Thomas Gore who was blind and recalls a period when a state full of hayseed fundamentalists could actually elect someone with stature. Vidal's father was a noted aviator and co-founder of Eastern Airlines (and lover of Amelia Earhart). His half sister was Jacqueline Bouvier. So, Vidal probably looked down his nose at the upstart Buckley whose family's wealth still had oil stains on their grubby fingers.

Vidal had feuds with Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Charlton Heston, among others. Note that today hysteria percolates from below. Back then, the arguments pitted the gods against one another. If I am guilty of nostalgia, it's for that era.

Soleri: Do you favor the 'Great Man' view of history or are you more of a Howard Zinn sorta guy?

headless, I haven't read enough Zinn to have an informed opinion. Obviously, my politics tend to the left, so there's that kind of emotional connection. The Great Man school is a way of understanding history as a theater where the protagonists stomp onto to the stage mindful - like Newt Gingrich - of their "world-historical" importance. This suggests that some hairless apes in our troop are really masterminds of reality. I argue a lot here that we really don't choose get to choose our pols and, by extension, the pols don't get to choose their issues. Obama, e.g., came into office as a post-partisan transcender. He found out the hard way that the right doesn't want any of that, not even a deal that gives them 90% of what they say they want. Does Obama misunderstand the era? Maybe, but I suspect it really points out that pols are not gods and that people are not particularly conscious. History happens but it's seldom engineered.

Thanks for keeping the conversation going. I promise to have a new post up later today.

"headless" wrote:

"I would like to explain to you, however, that your end point and all in between in your essay is, for me and many of the other readers here, already something we have well understood for many decades. There is no need to restate it at length."

I'm heartened that you agree so thoroughly with me; and I must admire the insight which allows you to know, with such certainty, exactly what many of the thousands of readers who pass through on an average day understand, and for how long. Does anyone doubt that your remarks are motivated by anything less than the noblest sentiment?

...or yours.

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