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Nonsense of the Day (So Far!)

10:55 AM, Aug 17, 2009 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Over at his excellent blog, Richard Brookhiser highlights an interview that Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Times book review and William F. Buckley Jr.'s biographer, recently gave to MSNBC:

HARWOOD: Well, Sam, I want to switch gears and get a little different perspective. I know you've got a book coming out in September, The Death of Conservatism, you know an awful lot about the patron saint of modern conservatism William F. Buckley. What do you suppose Bill Buckley would think of the nature of the arguments that are being made against the Obama health care plan right now, death panels and all the rest?

TANENHAUS: Well, you know, one of the great contributions Bill Buckley made to conservatism was to move it toward the center. And one way he did that was to repudiate in a very forceful way what was then called the lunatic fringe, people who made-

The sentence in bold is simply ridiculous. As it happens, I've been reading a great deal of Buckley lately, and while he certainly did his best to remove fringe elements -- e.g., the Birchers, the Ayn Rand cultists, various anti-Semites -- from respectable conservatism, in no way did he attempt to "move" conservatism or the GOP "to the center." Buckley wrote and edited two volumes in defense of Senator McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, criticized President Eisenhower throughout the 1950s (and, according to John Judis's biography, didn't vote for Eisenhower in 1956), was a passionate advocate for and lifelong friend of Sen. Goldwater, ran against liberal Republican John Lindsay in the New York City mayoral election of 1965 for the stated purpose of ensuring that the Republican party maintained a conservative profile, defended Vietnam as a "war of liberation," supported Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980, established BUCKPAC in 1988 in order to drive liberal Republican Lowell Weicker from the Senate, and ... well, you get the idea.

Here's Brookhiser: "The big mistake [Tanenhaus] makes here is to locate 'the lunatic fringe' on an ideological axis, and to equate seriousness with 'mov[ing] toward the center.' When Bill tried to expel Birchers or Randians from the conservative movement, it was not because they were too far right politically, but because they were out of this world."

Buckley wasn't a nutball. But he wasn't David Gergen, either.