EDITOR’S NOTE: This was WFB’s August 14, 1971 “On the Right” column.
I have written only once about my sainted brother since the voters of New York, in their wisdom, sent him to Washington to serve them in the Senate. I am prompted to do so again, for reasons major and minor.
Recently a small but vigorous assembly of opinion leaders in the American conservative community (myself among them) met to discuss their evolving position concerning President Richard Nixon. It was decided not to invite to that conference any public official.
In due course a statement was issued, announcing that said conservatives intended to “suspend” their support of Richard Nixon until they were satisfied that he could explain, or reverse, or integrate successfully into an anti-Communist mosaic, a) the German policy of Ostpolitik, b) the Sovietization of the Mediterranean basin, c) the convulsion in our relations with Red China, and d) the continuing relative deterioration in our tactical and strategic armaments .
Enough gentlemen of the press assumed that Senator Buckley was involved in the conspiracy to cause him formally to disengage, not from the sentiments expressed by the conspirators, but from the conclusions they reached. He then proceeded to write a long and thoughtful statement of his own, to the effect that if the President permits the crystallization of conservative opposition, he is unlikely to be reelected. It is all very well to say that conservatives have nowhere else to go. That may be true. But a successful campaign by Mr. Nixon is going to need enthusiasm. And it is from among American conservatives that most of the political enthusiasm springs. Right? In any case, the problem arises whether one is better off consulting with august relatives who come from the same ideological mold; or whether it is better to proceed on the assumption that life is easier for them if they are in a position to say to the press, or to the head of the Republican Party, or to Richard Nixon, or whomever, that they knew nothing about their siblings’ activity before it actually happened .
Now I am informed that a significant number of readers of National Review have written to Senator Buckley to inform him that they are cancelling their subscriptions because of his vote on Lockheed. And, from the Rome Daily American, I am sent a copy of my column, which appeared recently under the caption, “By James F. Buckley Jr.”
I admit I had a hand in creating the confusion. It was a few months ago. My brother received a letter from a prominent attorney in Buffalo, New York: “Sir: Now that my nausea has subsided after accidentally observing your appearance on Laugh-In last evening, I, as one of your constituents and former admirers, am constrained to comment. Your silly grin as the inane and vulgar questions were asked and your equally inane replies were less than worthy of a senator of the United States. The fact that you appeared on that program at all was an insult to the decent people whom you represent. The disgusting episode in which you freely participated and apparently enjoyed as an accomplice in lending your position to a disgraceful program is an affront to the dignity of the Senate, to your family, to your church, and to your constituency. I trust that you acting the clown insured the support of the addicts of the program who undoubtedly enjoy its indecencies. I trust, too, that they are in the minority. Yours,”.
My brother, in his sweet-natured way, answered: “Sir: I have forwarded your letter to my brother the columnist–William F. Buckley Jr. It was he, not I, who appeared on Laugh-In. I can’t help but be curious as to why you consented to watch a program of which you so strongly disapprove. Sincerely,” and forwarded the original to me.
I replied, “It is typical of my brother to attempt to deceive his constituents. It was, of course, he, not I, who appeared on Laugh-In, just as you suspected. On the other hand, you need not worry about it. His greatest deception is as yet undiscovered. It was I, not he, who was elected to the Senate. So you see, you have nothing to worry about. You are represented in the Senate by a responsible, truthful man. Yours,”.
In any event, gentle reader, pause before you attribute my vices to my brother, or his virtues to me.