Living Free with Jim Buckley
The former senator finds Congress to have become more a treadmill than a deliberative body.

Jim Buckley in 1981


LOPEZ: When did the Senate cease to be “the world’s greatest deliberative body”?

BUCKLEY: When Congress assumed so many responsibilities that properly belonged to the states that senators no longer had the time to thoroughly study proposed legislation, attend extended floor debates about its merits, and to discuss it informally with their colleagues. When did all that occur? There is a Senate rule that forbids committees from meeting while there is action on the floor. Today, that rule is routinely suspended at the beginning of each day the Senate is in session so that senators may attend to their committee work rather than be exposed to what is happening on the floor. I once asked the Senate parliamentarian when that became the practice. He told me it was in the early 1950s. So that might mark the time when senators ceased to go to the floor, participate in debates, and deliberate.

LOPEZ: What do you make of Justice Roberts’s health-care decision, and where do we go from there? How does it impact the future of the court? And health care in America?

BUCKLEY: He reached a tenable conclusion, although I suspect I would have parted company with him on the tax question. It will not affect the future of the Court. As for health care in America: If Obamacare is not repealed, health care will be transformed — and for the worse. This, of course, is Congress’s concern, not the Court’s.

: “Congress’s compulsion to scratch every itch on the body politic has so overwhelmed congressional dockets that its members live on a treadmill.” However do we hit reset on that?

BUCKLEY: We begin by taking the Tenth Amendment — i.e., federalism — seriously. There are now over 1,000 grants-in-aid programs on the books that cost us over $600 billion a year. They bribe the states to do a zillion things the federal way at huge bureaucratic cost; and because they are the principal vehicles for pork, they absorb an incredible amount of congressional attention. I would begin by forbidding the enactment of any new ones, convert the existing ones into block grants, and then phase them out of existence.

: “Fortunately (if that is the proper word!), the excesses of the Obama administration may have turned the heat up fast enough to ignite a public expansion against the dramatic expansion of federal power that is now occurring.” Do you have hope, about 30 days before the presidential election?

BUCKLEY: There are now just 34 days. I continue to hope.

: Does a second term of President Obama mean democracy’s demise?


: I’m reliably told you learned to dance from Audrey Meadows, later of Honeymooners fame. Care to confirm? What do you remember most about her?

BUCKLEY: Wrong! It was her older sister Jayne who taught me to dance. According to my wife, however I was either a very bad student or she wasn’t a very good teacher. I suspect the former.

The Meadows sisters were the daughters of the Episcopalian minister at the church across the street from our home in Sharon, Conn.

: What does being recognized by The Human Life Review as a “Defender of Life” later this month in New York mean to you?

BUCKLEY: A great, great deal, even though so many others are far more deserving of the honor. I have had the opportunity to speak up for life on several occasions during my public career, but others have done so year after year, and to great effect in changing public attitudes towards abortion.

: Did you think Roe would live this long? That we’d mark its 40th anniversary, as we will come January?

BUCKLEY: I feared this would be the case because of the near impossibility of securing the two-thirds support required to launch a constitutional amendment. I had hoped, however, that the Supreme Court would one day revisit the issue and admit its error in Roe. That hope continues, especially as there is a noticeable swing across the country to a pro-life position.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of
National Review Online.