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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Buckley’s Defection

In this frantic stage of the presidential contest, there have been some significant conservative opinion-leader defections from the McCain-Palin ticket. George Will all but condemned McCain in the midst of the financial market crisis. David Brooks (a 2000 McCainiac, lest we forget) has gone south. Christopher Hitchens, though hardly a conservative, made some waves with his endorsement of Obama, given his previous monomania about Islamofascism and the Iraq War Cause (a holy cause to some, but something different to the militant atheist Hitchens).
But from a symbolic point of view, the most remarkable defection has been that of Christopher Buckley, humorist, novelist, son of WFB, and until this week, a columnist for WFB’s magazine, National Review. At the Daily Beast blog (a creation of the irresistable lowbrow Tina Brown, alluding to the equally irresistable highbrow Evelyn Waugh), Buckley endorsed Obama. In a follow-up post, Buckely disclosed that he was resigning from his NR column.
Symbolism aside, Buckley’s rationale for endorsing Obama is interesting, particularly since he (like David Brooks) used to be a McCain enthusiast, and even a McCain speechwriter:

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?

Citing Barack Obama’s “first-class temperament” and “first-class intellect,” Buckley concludes:

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

Christopher Buckley’s defection is signicant because he’s precisely the sort of conservative public figure that would normally tow the party line with no enthusiasm, or remain sllent or neutral, in this sort of election cycle.
Buckley is already one of those rare conservative writers with crossover appeal. He didn’t need to take a walk on the wild side by endorsing Obama. He seems to believe what he says, and his willingness to say goodbye to his father’s magazine is another sign that heresies abound in the ramshackle political party represented by John McCain on the ballot.

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