By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Christopher Buckley knew he was venturing into treacherous territory when he endorsed Barack Obama: "It's a good thing my dear old mum and pup are no longer alive. They'd cut off my allowance," he wrote.
The penalty turned out to be more severe. William F. Buckley Jr.'s son said yesterday that he had lost his back-page column in National Review, the conservative bible founded by his father.
"Within hours, poor NR was being swamped with furious mail, 'Cancel my subscription, this is betrayal, Judas, Benedict Arnold,' " Buckley, 56, said in an interview. "I thought the decent thing to do would be to offer to resign the column. Well, they accepted it."
Buckley can't be completely disappeared; the Washington author owns one-seventh of National Review and serves on the magazine's board. But he is the latest right-leaning pundit to be slammed by his side for criticizing or breaking with John McCain.
National Review editor Rich Lowry, a Bill Buckley protege, told readers in a posting that the younger Buckley had been writing the column for several months on a trial basis, although Buckley believed it was permanent.
"Chris says that his Obama endorsement has generated a 'tsunami,' that e-mail at NRO [National Review Online] has been running 'oh, 700-to-1' against him, and that there's a debate about whether to boil him in oil or shoot him. Chris is either misinformed or exercising poetic license," Lowry writes. "We have gotten about 100 e-mails, if that [a tiny amount compared to our usual volume], and threats of cancellations in the single digits."
Buckley delivered his endorsement of the Democratic presidential nominee last Thursday in the cyberpages of the Daily Beast, a new, blog-heavy Web site launched by Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. "I went out of my way to spare NR from being associated with this endorsement," Buckley said.
In that piece, Buckley said that he has known McCain since 1982 and once wrote a speech for him but that the senator has changed, airing "mean-spirited and pointless" attack ads and -- "What on earth can he have been thinking?" -- picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. While the result was "genuinely saddening" and even "tragic" for the country, Buckley wrote, he had concluded that Obama has a "first-class temperament and a first-class intellect" and could be a great president. That is, "assuming anyone gives a fig" about his views.
Buckley noted that columnist Kathleen Parker, after a National Review Online piece declaring Palin unqualified to be vice president, had received 12,000 hostile e-mails. Parker, who is syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group, described the reaction in her next column: "I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn't, I should 'off' myself."
In his embrace of Obama, Buckley quoted his father as saying, "You know, I've spent my entire lifetime separating the Right from the kooks."
That didn't sit especially well with Lowry, who declined to be interviewed. "No doubt part of what upset these readers was the dim view Chris expressed of them in his first Daily Beast post," he wrote. "So it goes. It's an intense election season and emotions are running high. We continue to have the highest regard for Chris's talent and wit, and extend to him warmest regards and understanding."
Buckley, who said his proffered resignation was "briskly" accepted by Lowry on Saturday, declined to criticize the magazine: "I'm very fond of NR and I'm sorry this happened." But as he wrote in a follow-up Beast essay, "It's pretty darned angry out there in Right Wing Land."
Buckley noted that his father was unpredictable, had endorsed such Democrats as Joe Lieberman and wrote in 1969 that it was time America had a black president. "He would let you say anything you wanted as long as it was argued."
Were his pup still alive, Buckley said, "what my dear old dad probably would have done is taken out two pages and had me roundly denounced, carcass tossed out on the sidewalk. It would have been journalism. It would have been interesting."