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

Jim Buckley in 1981


‘We won’t be able to bring our expanding administrative state under control and avoid national bankruptcy until the American people insist that we do so,” Senator Jim Buckley, beloved brother of the founder of National Review, writes in his book Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State. “This requires,” he continues, “that our citizens rediscover that the price of cradle-to-grave security is the ultimate erosion of their freedoms. This is the hard lesson that history has to teach.” As we approach the 2012 presidential election, Senator Buckley discusses what’s at stake and lessons learned from a lifetime of service, with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

: You’ve served in all three branches of government. Do you have a favorite?

JAMES L. BUCKLEY: Because my primary interest has been in the area of public policy, the Senate was my favorite. But Congress has taken on so many concerns beyond those assigned to the federal government by the Constitution that the Senate has been converted from a deliberative body to a treadmill that allows virtually no time for the kind of study and thought that responsible legislation requires. Given my interests, though, there could have been no more glorious place to be than the Senate a hundred years or so ago.

I should note that when I served as a judge, I recognized that public policy was Congress’s responsibility, not mine.

LOPEZ: How alarmed are you about the state of religious liberty in the United States today?

BUCKLEY: The administration’s refusal to honor the First Amendment rights of Catholics and Catholic institutions with respect to paying for other people’s contraception is a bad sign.

: Is this election more important than others you’ve lived through?

BUCKLEY: I believe this is the most important election in my almost-90-year lifetime. If President Obama wins, we will be transformed into a social-welfare state in which Washington gives all the orders and our individual autonomies will be increasingly chipped away. It will be almost impossible to recover the energy and enterprise that have made us exceptional.

: Has your faith made a difference in your public service? In life?

BUCKLEY: A yes to both. With respect to the first, I have taken my oaths of office seriously — the threat of hellfire is quite an incentive to do so. Among other things, it has caused me to faithfully enforce laws as a judge that I voted against as hideously misguided when I was a senator.

: Was it ever hard for you to be a Catholic in public life?

BUCKLEY: Not if you take your religion seriously.

: Do any rising stars in politics impress you?

BUCKLEY: Yes, the standard ones: Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio.

: How does claiming “that morality and law do not or should not mix fl[y] in the face of everything we know about American history,” as you write in Freedom at Risk?

BUCKLEY: Yes, there are lots of hard calls in a country’s life — such as the support of despots who were critical allies in the Cold War. But how, for example, does one describe the civil-rights laws of the 1960s other than as the harnessing of the force of law in support of a moral objective? There are countless other examples.

: Why did you introduce the Human Life Amendment?

BUCKLEY: It was a simple matter of correcting a hideous mistake by the Supreme Court. Justice Blackmun stated in his Roe v. Wade opinion that we didn’t know when life begins. So my proposed amendment invoked biology to establish that a unique human life begins at conception. We used to have a prejudice against taking innocent life.