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The Last Days of Bill Buckley

“They’ve got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression, or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.”

Gen. Curtis LeMay

Talk about your goof-ups! I guess we can attribute his mistake to advanced age, but Bill Buckley’s recently expressed enthusiasm for George Wallace’s 1968 running-mate Curtis LeMay simply couldn’t be overlooked.

In “McCain Levels With NATO”, a February 11 column, Buckley extols the Senator [R-AIPAC] as having “sounded like General Curtis LeMay sounding the tocsin for relentless military action”. This naturally pleased the commentator greatly, as he had fretted that McCain would be “ambivalent on the Iraq question”; apparently, Buckley had gauged the Senator’s appeal as primarily to “liberal ambiguists”.

Of course, Buckley’s not what he used to be. Used to be you could count on Bill Buckley to turn an interesting phrase every paragraph or so. Now the Yalie is but a shadow of his former self, a frumpy widow lingering as the youngsters wait for her to die so they can divvy up her legacy. In this very piece, the author of GOD & MAN AT YALE was reduced to praising career henchman Don Rumsfeld as “vigorous and persuasive confident and resourceful”; encomiums so bland I would’ve thought them beneath Buckley, who seems to be working from an old script.

Time has passed from when the press conferences were aflutter with questions about such trivia as Rumsfeld’s status as a sex symbol. The marriage has lost its novelty; we stare across the breakfast table every morning and see a venal old man with mismatched dentures, who sometimes forgets himself and puts his Gold Toe socks in the toaster oven. That metaphor notwithstanding, it’s difficult to see in what way Rumsfeld resembles a leader in any way accountable to his citizenry. Appointed by a court-appointed president, willing to play hard man with other people’s lives and land, Rumsfeld can’t even be bothered to admit how unpopular the war he pimps is in front of people without press passes and security clearances.

Buckley’s essential disconnect from the political reality his big-guvmint conservative disciples have foisted upon us could be read as the sort of mindless propaganda for the Bush agenda we’ve come to expect from the corporate media. But if that were true, then why would he invoke the name of Curtis LeMay, which carries with it precious little political cachet?

LeMay’s biography, typical of those of historically inconvenient figures, gets little ink in history books. In WWII, he took the impressive step of having B-29s under his command bomb Japanese cities at night from low-altitudes, softening up the evil ones for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rumor holds that he viewed JFK’s autopsy while smoking a cigar; one can only hope it wasn’t a Cuban.

LeMay was not without his idiosyncrasies; no one who gets that close to power is. He must’ve been feeling really idiosyncratic during a campaign stop in October 1968 at Madison Square Garden when running-mate Wallace let loose with some crowd pleasing lines like “you anarchists are through in this country”, in between references to “left-wing intellectuals and Communists professors who advocate a victory for the Vietcong” and “the rebellion in our streets.”

Certainly a long way from compassionate conservatism, aren’t we? Whether in the electoral or the military realms, LeMay seemed instinctively drawn to war as a governing ethos, an end in and of itself. Want to increase economic “cooperation” between the US and Asia? Bomb the hell out of them — nothing else will do! Tired of negotiating acceptable levels of dissent? Run as silent partner in an allegedly populist campaign, nodding assent as your mouthpiece threatens to neutralize political opposition!

It’s easy to pick on a dead man, perhaps easier to pick on someone at death’s door. The latter was proved when Trent Lott’s enemies within his own party cut him down to size after his retroactive advocacy of Strom Thurmond as Presidential timber. Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, and the rest of the jackals jumped Lott and left him to bleed to death, and the whole mess was spun as the Republicans making a clean break from the Southern Strategy that spawned Lott, among others. No more appealing to white nativism, ran the spin from the Party of Lincoln.

If we are to take those heady days of late December at face value, then what do we make of Bill Buckley giving props to a man who, in 1968, actually outflanked the GOP to the “right” on prickly issues such as segregation and military engagement? Is Bill Buckley a mad bomber, or just nostalgic for the days when a dollar was worth a dollar and a black man knew where his drinking fountain was?

ANTHONY GANCARSKI, the author of 2001’s UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS, welcomes comments at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com

 

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ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com

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