I recognize that feelings are running hot about NR’s editorial. I have no desire to lend support to some of the overheated charges being hurled at NR — including from some of our longtime friends. So I will simply say that I don’t see perfectly eye-to-eye with it myself. But that’s often the case with NR editorials. Indeed, it’s the nature of editorials. Perhaps because I know and respect my colleagues, I see no need to attack their motives nor would it occur to me to question their commitment to conservative principles. Did we get this one wrong? It’s perfectly reasonable for some to think so. It’s certainly happened before. Indeed some of the criticisms strike me as entirely fair — why not just endorse Romney if it’s a two man race? Why even consider Huntsman? etc — and there are fair rebuttals to them as well. I will let the editorial speak for itself in that regard.
Now on to some of the unfair, hyperbolic and just plain weird charges.
First of all, what is with this complaint that we are trying to “dictate” who people vote for? I don’t get it. We are, as always, an opinion magazine sharing our opinion. It is not binding.
More substantially, the notion that NR isn’t a conservative magazine anymore (a charge our friend Rush Limbaugh seems to be flirting with these days) or that William F. Buckley would be “appalled” (in Brent Bozell’s words) is just so much nonsense. Under William F. Buckley National Review made many questionable endorsements — a point he would happily concede. NR endorsed no one in 1960 — neither Nixon nor Goldwater. There were heated arguments on every side of that decision. In 1968 the magazine endorsed a much more liberal Nixon (to the considerable dismay of Bill Rusher). In 1971, National Review “suspended support for Richard Nixon.” In 1972 we endorsed the great John Ashbrook for president. In 1973 we essentially endorsed Spiro Agnew for president, even as George Will was savaging him in the same magazine, indeed, the same issue (largely prompting Stan Evans to quit the magazine, I believe). In 1980, WFB kept the magazine from endorsing Reagan (Bill loved the Gipper but had grave concerns about his age). We endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008, for many of the same reasons some of our biggest detractors today did — to stop John McCain.
As I suggested above, some critics of our editorial fault us for not outright endorsing Romney, others complain that we endorse him too much. If you’re a committed opponent of Romney — or a committed fan – those are all fair gripes. But some of our friends should at least consider the possibility that such nuances reflect both internal differences as well as the messiness of political reality. A conservative, James Burnham argued in the debates over endorsing Nixon in 1960, “has to set his course within the frame of reality.” Burnham supported endorsing Nixon on the grounds that the real enemies were supporters of Kennedy. Frank Meyer, meanwhile, argued that endorsing Nixon would be a surrender to the Eisenhower liberalism the magazine had been criticizing for years. Bill found arguments on both sides compelling. So what did he do? He punted, endorsing no one. “National Review,” he wrote, “was not founded to make practical politics. Our job is to think, and write.” In other years he was very much interested in practical politics. Did that make him inconsistent? Maybe. But my guess is he would respond that he was consistent, but damnable events, alas, are not. Ever the sailor, he tacked with the winds and the seas he faced, but never lost sight of his ultimate destination on distant shores.
These maneuvers often invited insults. He was constantly denounced by some on the right as a sell-out and an accommodationist, even as liberals demonized him as an extremist. The odd thing about today is that nostalgic liberals remember Buckley as some kind of moderate while nostalgic conservatives invoke him as some kind of unalloyed purist. The reality is that he was neither. Bill Buckley, like the magazine he founded, has always tried to balance the ideal with the practical, the perfect with the doable. I do not speak for my colleagues, but I’m confident than none of them believe the current crop of candidates is ideal. If we did, we would have written a very different editorial. All of us — you, me, everybody — are trying to chart our way through rougher waters than we would like, with candidates for the captain’s chair that leave us unsure.
Would our editorial have been exactly as it is if Bill were still alive? Probably not. But that in no way whatsoever guarantees that it would be more to the liking of those taking shots at it today.