Magazine article The American Enterprise

"Live" with TAE: A Founding Father of American Conservatism Talks about the Magazines of the Right, Pop Culture, Left-Wing Children, Battling Communism and Spies, and Elvis Presley: William F. Buckley, Jr

Magazine article The American Enterprise

"Live" with TAE: A Founding Father of American Conservatism Talks about the Magazines of the Right, Pop Culture, Left-Wing Children, Battling Communism and Spies, and Elvis Presley: William F. Buckley, Jr

Article excerpt

In November 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr., a World War II Army veteran, Yale graduate, and former Central Intelligence Agent (his main job was editing a document describing Soviet communism's aims for world domination), founded National Review. The magazine became an articulate and intelligent voice of Cold War anticommunism, and Buckley became a maestro of modern American conservatism. In addition to serving as NR's editor in chief he hosted the long-running television program "Firing Line," has long penned a popular syndicated column, and has written 43 novels and works of non-fiction. Buckley's 1950 book God & Man at Yale still stands as a powerful indictment of higher education. His assertion that the Communist Party was hard at work in the United States, presented in 1954's McCarthy and His Enemies, has been vindicated by the emergence of evidence from Russia's post-Soviet archives. In 1965, Buckley even waged a campaign as the Conservative Party candidate for mayor of New York City. John Lindsay won, but the reforms that Buckley championed more than 30 years ago continue to resonate.

At 76, Buckley is as prolific as ever. TAE associate editor John Meroney interviewed him shortly after the release of his latest book, Elvis in the Morning, a fictional story of a boy's coming of age in the Elvis Presley era.

TAE: Several of the warhorse publications of the conservative movement have fallen on hard times. The American Spectator is virtually defunct; Policy Review has faded to a tiny circulation; even The Weekly Standard is reportedly on shaky ground. Are you optimistic about conservative journalism when each subsequent generation of Americans seems less literate and more oriented toward electronic devices?

BUCKLEY: There's a real problem. But, look, when Franklin Roosevelt became President, the circulation of The New Republic was only about 35,000 and it dictated the policies of the New Deal. When Ronald Reagan stood up and said, My policies derived from what I read in National Review, that was, of course, very gratifying. It's almost inevitable that some of our publications would falter when people spend more and more time watching television or on the computer.

TAE: So, do you read National Review Online?

BUCKLEY: No. I read the print magazine. I don't read easily online. The challenge for the Internet is, How do we turn that into income? People have to get paid.

Incidentally, all this is as true on the Left as on the Right; The Nation is more robust now than it used to be, but it loses money, and so does The New Republic. One has to persuade people willing to make a sacrifice to help sustain these kinds of magazines, because it is publications like ours that create new crystallizations.

On certain issues, we come to hard conclusions. On the Soviets, for example, we came to a hard conclusion shortly after World War II, and we stayed there until the Soviet Union collapsed. Today, beyond the current war on terrorism, the issues are: How do we deal with China? What do we do with the World Trade Organization? Should we champion free trade? All that's in flux, especially after the terrorist attacks. As a conservative, what one has to be hopeful for is that the basic guidelines stay in place. National Review and The American Enterprise will be helpful in this regard.

TAE: Recently, Rudolph Giuliani has been crowned "The Mayor of America." Some have compared his leadership spirit after September 11 to that of Winston Churchill during the bombing of London. How do you think he has done as mayor?

BUCKLEY: He's been very effective, and that's in large part due to his personality. He's a curmudgeon, and New York really needs a curmudgeon in that job.

TAE: What did he accomplish?

BUCKLEY: Look at the decline in crime. Of course, that was a national phenomenon, too. And New York City still has many challenges. Though Giuliani sharply reduced the number of people who work for the city, the number is still huge, and the demands of that contingent are out of proportion to the rest of the population. …

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