Saturday, July 3, 2010

What Were The Editors At National Review Thinking?

William F. Buckley must be rolling over in his grave. National Review departed from its normal policy of not endorsing candidates in primaries. That would not be such a terrible thing if there had been a particularly desirable conservative that the editors couldn't resist endorsing. But they chose to endorse, gulp, John McCain in the Republican senatorial primary in Arizona.

Fortunately, some of the collegiality that Buckley encouraged at National Review is still in place. Which means that their regular contributors are free to disagree with the editors within the pages of the magazine. Andrew McCarthy wasted no time taking advantage of this freedom of dissent by calling the editors to task in no uncertain terms.

There are two good reasons why a publication such as National Review should not endorse primary candidates except under extraordinary circumstances. A candidate not endorsed by NR who ultimately wins the primary could easily become an enemy of the publication, damaging its message. This is largely because the left looks for any signs of dissension among conservative ranks, and exploits them with the complicity of the mainstream media. On the other hand, if a solid conservative candidate loses to the moderate or semi-liberal candidate NR has endorsed, many conservatives will blame the magazine in the event of a narrow win by the magazine's pick.

General objections to endorsements in primaries aside, McCarthy is just plain ticked that the editors decided to diverge from their usual policy in order to endorse an unworthy candidate. Aside from running what may be the worst campaign for president that I've seen in my lifetime, McCarthy joins me in seriously questioning McCain's regular election year right turn which is always followed after the election by his "maverick" love fests with the Democrats. And while we're at it, let's face it. John McCain is not exactly the brightest crayon in the box.

In addition, McCain is running against a candidate, J. D. Hayworth, who seems to have strong conservative credentials and has gained adherents by going to the people with a conservative message that is unlikely to change the day after the election. It would probably have been equally unwise of NR to endorse Hayworth, but at least they would have erred on the side of conservative caution. Instead, they picked a candidate who has consistently talked conservative during election cycles then turned squishy progressive immediately thereafter.

McCain's favorite historical Republican is Teddy Roosevelt. Anyone who know his history knows that despite his many good qualities, TR was a dedicated member of the progressive movement. Woodrow Wilson Lite, if you will. As McCarthy points out, the editors know this fact, and felt it necessary to introduce their endorsement with the words "it would be an understatement to say NR has not always agreed with Sen. John McCain's judgment." That is about as much of an understatement as is journalistically possible. Except for some occasional agreement about the necessity of war in America's defense, and a few other minor issues, National Review has practically always disagreed with McCain's judgment, usually very harshly.

Can you imagine William F. Buckley endorsing a candidate as bereft of conservative thinking as John McCain? Guilt by association is commonly derided without much thinking going into the derision. After all, Ben Franklin said it very plainly: "He who lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas." By his friends shall ye know him. So let's take a quick look at some of McCain's longtime friends. In 2000, during another presidential primary run, McCain proclaimed that if he should be elected, he would immediately seek the advice and counsel of John Kerry, the ultraliberal junior senator from Massachusetts. He would also have tapped genius Senator Joe Biden, and best of all, as his national security adviser, he promoted the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski (the idiot who advised Jimmy Carter on how to handle Iran). In 2004, McCain basked in the glory of the possibility of being chosen as the vice presidential running-mate for Democrat Kerry.

Despite their long history of opposition to most of McCain's political stumbling-about, the editors still stated that "McCain, though not reliable, is usually on the conservative side of national controversies." Say what? That must have been one helluva cocktail party that turned into an endorsement session. To bolster their support of McCain, they felt it incumbent on them to say that Hayworth is not obviously a more exemplary statesman than McCain. They would have been much closer to the truth if they had said that Hayworth hasn't been pretending to be a statesman for anything like the number of years McCain has put into the effort.

Let's take a look at some of the conservative stands McCain has taken (with tongue planted firmly in cheek). The editors used weasel-words to describe McCain's stand on taxes. "He has never voted for a broad-based tax increase." OK, but what about his vociferous opposition to the Bush tax cuts? And how about his very leftist-sounding rhetoric about the tax cuts, using words that come right out of the class warfare Democratic playbook? As McCarthy points out, McCain doesn't need to support an outright tax increase, he can simply stick to his opposition to the cuts, wait for them to expire, and work to make sure they aren't reinstated. In effect, if not in form, a huge tax increase.

Like McCarthy, I'm a legal conservative and originalist. So is National Review, most of the time. McCain is not, even if he can't pronounce originalist. Again, NR weaseled out on McCain and the judiciary. "McCain has voted for every conservative on the Supreme Court, and he has a long pro-life record." It's only a quibble, but McCain did not vote for Justice Scalia, since he wasn't a senator yet. But the simple fact is that McCain votes for just about any nominee to the Supreme Court, regardless of the judicial philosophy of the nominee or the politics of the president making the nomination. He both voted for and had kind words to say about Justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, whose views on abortion vary from it being a constitutionally protected "choice" to partial birth abortion being a constitutional necessity in some cases.

In the political arena, McCain has done almost as much damage to the pro-life movement. He filed lawsuits to use his very own unconstitutional campaign-finance law to prevent a pro-life advocacy group from criticizing his partner in free speech suppression, leftist Senator Russ Feingold. And McCain's love of center stage has propelled him to great heights of accommodation with the left. In order to quash filibuster threats against Bush conservative appointees to the federal bench, McCain formed the "Gang of 14" to effect "compromise." Ultimately, almost none of Bush's best appointees got past the confirmation process, and those seats on the federal bench are now rapidly being filled by activist, pro-abortion, living Constitution advocates put forward by Barack Obama.

McCain also supported government funding of fetal stem-cell research, ignoring all the conservative and religous arugments about the destruction of human embryos. He has regularly supported massive amnesty for illegal aliens (except at election time, of course). He is not at all exercised by the concept of cap 'n tax, and at times (even recently) has used the "settled science" language of the left to promote green legislation in order to stop the anthropomorphic global warming that has been thoroughly debunked. And let's not forget that besides McCain-Feingold, there was McCain-Kennedy. McCain always had a particular affinity for the "liberal lion" (and underwater motorist) from Massachusetts.

On national security, he did support the surge in Iraq as well as the proposed surge in Afghanistan. But as McCarthy points out, without the determination and ability to win outright victory, the surges only prevent a "short-term ignominious defeat by replacing it with a long-term ignominious defeat." McCain's inability to sort out his own personal experiences in Vietnam of being tortured from recent practices in the Middle East, and without the intellectual rigor to make the distinction for harsh interrogation methods, joined the chorus of leftist Democrats wishing to indict CIA operatives for using techniques that had been approved by both the president and Congress. He joined in applauding the Obama executive order to stop all harsh interrogation techniques while providing civilian legal protections to foreign terrorists.

So will the real conservative John McCain kindly step forward so that National Review could point him out to us? In selecting McCain for the endorsement, the editors completely ignored the multiple horrendous policy mistakes McCain has made, along with his very unstatesmanlike outbursts of foul language and foul temper publicly displayed against people with whom he had a disagreement. Yet in order to proclaim McCain the more exemplary statesman, they managed to find one misstep that Hayworth made before he was a public official. Hayworth, as a private, paid spokesman for an infomercial, instructed people how to get "free money" from the government. At the time Hayworth was doing that, McCain was fostering legislation which actually did provide free money.

As McCarthy points out, Hayworth would be on the same side of the fence as National Review on freedom of political speech, immigration, interrogations, bailouts, cap 'n tax, tax cuts, keeping Gitmo open, and embryonic stem cell research. McCain stands with National Review's editorial policy on none of those issues. Even NR's editor Rich Lowry referred more than once to McCain's "statesmanship" as shenanigans and "dizzying political shape-shifting."

I'm sure that in the next few days, the editors will have put together a defense of their chimerical support for John McCain. I'm also sure it will be very lame. As McCarthy aptly put it: "Arizonans can figure out which candidate would best serve them without the help of National Review's editorial board. Primary endorsements push us into the spin business, and if we're going to spin, McCain is not the place to start."


Joel Farnham said...


This is almost as bad as NRA's endorsement of Harry Reid.

Some organizations need to get a grip.

Unknown said...

Joel: At least the NRA got something in exchange for their endorsement, which makes them a cheap date. But what did National Review get? They must be the cheapest date in town.

Joel Farnham said...

Good point, but what is happening is the PC police have gotten into the leadership of NRA and National Review. People who fake interest in all things conservative.

They fake it, until they are exposed. Which is now.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--The NRA is one of those "single-issue" organizations that you and Andrew have talked about. The fact that they sold their souls cheap is a surprise, but not a complete shock. But National Review, at least as Buckley saw it, was the voice of the intellectual conservative movement on all fronts. This endorsement is completely mystifying.

Unknown said...

Joel: I think there's some of that involved, but I'm still trying to figure out how they strayed this far. It's to be expected that when the founder of a magazine and its longtime mentor passes away, things will change somewhat with the newer, younger generation. This isn't quite yet the shift from right to left that Time went through after the death of the Luces, but it's still a shocker.

It may have something to do with the "corporate leadership" model and how things change when there is no longer one single guiding thought-process being produced under the leadership of one single powerful chief.

As they say, the definition of a camel is a horse put together by a committee. What Buckley wouldn't have done, the editorial committee did.

Joel Farnham said...

These two "conservative" organizations are defecating on regular conservatives. I think in the hopes of derailing the conservative movement which is gathering momentum.

In other words, they are the Lindsey Graham's of the "right" side. They still think that fascism is to the right of libertarianism, when in fact fascism is to the right of communism and the left of socialism.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: I look at it the same way. Buckley said he wanted to "stand athwart history, shouting STOP." The new, younger editors at NR seems to prefer shouting "SLOW DOWN."

Unknown said...

Joel: I'm afraid I can't really agree with you on that. If you read National Review (preferably the dead tree version, not the online version), you'll see that the magazine, and its editors for that matter, are very traditional conservatives. As an example, they have been consistently critical of Graham's hand-holding with the lefties.

More importantly, they have been critical of almost everything McCain has done, and were very weak in their support of him during the presidential election. That, rather than a shift to the left, is what makes their endorsement so incomprehensible.

Another thing that separates them from the faux conservatives and liberals is their complete willingness to allow, in their own pages, strong criticism of their editorial policy by their own longtime contributors, such as the one by Andrew McCarthy. As for PC, Jonah Goldberg is about as un-PC as you can possibly get.

There's something other than an inadequate left/right dichotomy involved here, and I just haven't figured out yet what it is.

Joel Farnham said...


Mark Levin removed his endorsement of National Review a month ago. He said something is wrong there. He can't put his finger on it.

I expect more of the regular contributers to bail from National Review.

Unknown said...

Joel: Levin had a couple of other disputes with the editors that had very little to do with editorial policy. But what he said about "something being wrong there" is exactly what I'm saying. Something's not right, but I can't figure out what. Ditto for Andrew McCarthy, which triggered my whole discussion.

Buckley believed in being somewhat above the fray. He wanted the magazine to discuss politics and political philosophy, but not become part of them. It may be that the editors have decided they want to be more directly involved in and influential in the actual hurly-burly of politics. Intellectual rigor in that case has to give in to practical realities and social movements, since unlike political theorizing, real politics is the art of compromise.

That's just a wild guess as to what may have motivated them, but it's probably as good a guess as anybody else is making at this point. Perhaps McCarthy's critique will produce an explanation from the editors that makes some kind of sense.

StanH said...

McCain the worst presidential candidate in memory, that’s right on target brother. I watched on the TV News the day that McCain returned from Vietnam, and thought, wow! …what a bunch of studs. Then as a politicians he became such traitorous weenie, go along, get along McCain, reaching across the aisle, with sleazy leftist politicians who hate America. Senator Byrd used to be the poster child for term limits, now that distinction should be McCain’s, come on Arizona, come on JD!

Unknown said...

Stan: I guess by most standards, McCain was a war hero. And I honor him for that. But it doesn't train you to be a good public servant outside the military, where the rules of the game are quite different. McCain is not intelligent enough to avoid his personal experiences as absolute rules on how to conduct a war, for that matter. He was tortured, and mostly for the sheer joy of torturing someone, or for the purpose of a false confession. Yet with his limited intelligence, that meant that all harsh interrogation techniques equal torture. Not only is that ridiculous, but it ignores the fact that we don't torture for fun, we make people extremely uncomfortable for the purpose of eliciting information about pending attacks against America. You can debate both the efficacy and necessity of the use of waterboarding from now until doomsday, but it's a walk in the park compared to what the enemy did in Korea and Vietnam. McCain's personal experience has totally clouded his ability to distinguish, and so he joined the lefties on granting civil liberties to terrorists caught in a theater of war who were not wearing an identifying uniform or insignia which would distinguish them from the civilian population.

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