From a reader:
Watching you go after Pat Buchanan (regularly) and Jesse Helms (recently) smacks of ingratitude. You are obvously free to disagree with them, but I resent your efforts to recast a movement that they represent more authentically than you or more recent converts ever can. What’s worse — and most offensive — is that your efforts, and those of the like-minded, have been utterly catastrophic to our cause. The conservative movement was in much better shape under the leadership of those who came before you. So pay your respects and keep silly miniscule differences to yourself (humility is a conservative trait).
Me: While I appreciate the civil tone that is so often lacking in emails of this sort, I cannot begin to express how thoroughly I disagree with this nonsense.
First, the idea that I should defer to, say, Buchanan’s protectionism, Caucasian identity politics, attacks on Churchill and defenses of Adolf Hitler out of some misplaced gratitude strikes me a wholly bizarre. This is a writ for outright intellectual dishonesty and right wing political correctness. It reminds me of all the liberal bleating about how it’s somehow mean-spirited or callous to disagree with FDR or LBJ on the merits. The reader may think my disagreements with Buchanan and Helms are silly and miniscule, but I think that says more about him than it does about me. Regardless, they ain’t silly and miniscule to me.
Second, the suggestion that the movement was better led by those who came before me is certainly a defensible proposition, one that I have considerable sympathy for. As a conservative, and employee of National Review, I have enormous respect and gratitude for those who came before me, starting of course with WFB, Reagan, Irving Kristol and countless other heroes of mine. But, there’s so much ahistorical nonsense at work here as well. The conservative movement was in a different stage of development under those guys and the country itself was in a different place. Clicking your heels together, with eyes clenched shut, saying “there’s no place like 30 years ago! there’s no place like 30 years ago!” is not a recipe for continued or renewed conservative success.
I thought honestly dealing with reality — or at least trying to — was a conservative virtue. It certainly was for William F. Buckley who rarely let emotions like this reader’s odd conception of gratitude stop him from speaking his mind.