I’m a fan of Sam Tanenhaus. Among other things, he’s made the NYT Book Review required reading again. But I find this bit of punditry unpersuasive. He tries to argue that the Kossacks are akin to the editors of the early National Review. He does this by focusing almost entirely on the Buckleyite-Goldwaterite Right’s infiltration of the GOP and saying that’s what the Netroots guys were up to with their support for Lamont. This is an interesting comparison. But it simply has a lot less analytical heft, in my opinion, than Tanenhaus wants it to have. The Buckley Project — for want of a more catholic label — was not merely to transform the GOP. It was to construct an entire competing ideology to liberalism. As a thousand bloggers have discussed already, the animal spirits on the left these days have absolutely no interest in constructing such a formidible intellectual edifice. It’s all about “fighting” this and “taking back” that. There’s nothing wrong with liberalism’s “ideas” they claim. It’s merely all about the chestless Democratic Party which won’t fight for them. That is lightyears from what Bill Buckley was up to.
Update: A few more points occur to me. First, it’s an unfair comparison to Buckley himself, who is if anything a man of considerable elan and intellectual sophistication. Kos strikes me as the sort of guy who grabs a dictionary to look up the word “elan.” Think of it this way: Imagine Kos on Firing Line.
Moreover, style matters. Buckley sent the signal that conservatives could be every bit as erudite and cultured as liberals, making him a vital symbol in the conservative battle for the culture. Kos proudly reinforces the stereotypes held against him and his band. In this sense, the Kossacks are more like the pre-Buckleyite and non-Bukleyite right.