Robert Byrd, flawed though he is, has delivered himself of a number of magnificent speeches recently -- yet conservatives describe him as a babbling old coot. These same conservatives, by contrast, consider William F. Buckley the sagest of elders, a genius because he employs gnarled syntax and really, really long words.
Buckley's latest column for National Review Online is here. It's lazy, half-baked, and utterly lacking in insight. He begins by talking about the prescription-drug bill:
...The emphasis is of course on help to older people, the principal beneficiaries of whatever the reduced cost would be in buying drugs. Older people have more to worry about in looking after their health, but less in looking after school bills and mortgage payments. It would be very difficult to prove, over the long run, that older people will, as a class, benefit from the pending bills.
It would? Have we utterly lost the ability to use higher-level math, or even simple math, to assess the burden of prescription-drug costs on the elderly, and to assess the costs and benefits of a long, detailed piece of legislation? Is an epidemic of math anxiety sweeping the nation, and I haven't heard about it?
There is no tax bill on the table that exempts older people from taxation, and it is probable that they will devote the same percentage of their income as before to medical expenses.
It is? And how was this determined? Is it based on a long-forgotten formula that's been occupying a Buckley brain cell for half a century, right next to the brain cell with the phone number of his yacht dealer? Or did Buckley just pluck this statistical judgment from air?
The House bill being manifestly superior to the Senate bill, ...
For "manifestly superior," read: "stingier, and therefore more pleasing to a rich, selfish old semi-libertarian."
What follows is an awkward segue to a denunciation of the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court has pronounced itself arbiter of all serious questions having to do with states' rights. The president was manifestly pleased that the Court took over the whole affirmative-action problem, and he confessed himself "pleased" that the Court acknowledged the utility and the pleasures of diversity.
Ah, yes, states' rights. Recall this:
Buckley's opposition to federal civil rights measures, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, has remained unchanged. In a recent debate this year on his television show, "Firing Line," he was questioned by ACLU president Ira Glasser:
Glasser: In 1961, you said you were "not ready to abandon the ideal of local government in order to kill Jim Crow."
Buckley: That's true.
Glasser: You ought to be ashamed of that now. Are you?
Buckley: No In order to advance them [blacks], certain cultural changes, including education, had to be done Whether it should have been turned over to the federal government, in my judgment, it ought not to have been.
But let's go on:
Diversity will, one supposes, be interpreted by some as license to incestuous love...
"One supposes"? The utterly nonexistent pro-incest movement is a group hallucination on the right these days.
... It was simply inconceivable, up until a few years ago, that a judge could not display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, unthinkable that marriage could take place except between a man and a woman.
Buckley really needs to get out more. These things weren't inconceivable to everyone. There are more things in heaven and earth, Bill, than are dreamt of in your philosophy....
...The attitude of Mr. Bush on the matter of the other two branches of government is remarkably compliant. He has not exercised the veto power once, matching the record of John Quincy Adams.
He's working with a movement-conservative House and, now, a similar Senate. The Senate was temporarily in the hands of Democrats, but they were Democrats of a particularly supine variety. The exceptions have been the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but what can Bush do about them? You can't veto a filibuster.
The judiciary is apparently secure from his criticism.
Hey, what do you expect? These guys got him the job.
...All presidents, nearing voting time, tend to be dominated by the animal need for reelection.
And maybe that's why Bush isn't denouncing recent Supreme Court rulings. Tactically, he needs to start playing the Compassionate Conservative soon. He wants whatever gay votes and black votes he can muster, and he'll actually get a few; then, after November '04, with, if he's lucky, an even more conservative Senate, he can put a bunch of true Scalia clones on the federal bench -- including the Supreme Court.
Mr. Bush has something to worry about here. His popularity rating in the polls seems to be going down about one half point per U.S. soldier killed. Eighteen soldiers, nine points down, from 61 percent approval to 52 on his handling of the Iraq question.
"Eighteen soldiers killed"? Try 221. Plus 43 from the U.K.
He will very much need the enthusiastic endorsement of conservatives....
Why? Where are conservatives going to go? He has their votes -- inevitably his approval rating among registered Republicans exceeds 90%. And he's been looking like a sure winner in '04, at least until this week. Righties are going to blow off a potential landslide to go huddle in a corner with Pat Buchanan?
There are plenty of reasons for conservatives to vote hopefully for Bush, but he has to remind them what those reasons are.
I don't think so. All he has to say is "I'm not Bill Clinton! I'm not married to Hillary! Bill! Hillary! Booga-booga-booga!"