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The Unmaking of a Mayor ()

Orrin's All-Time Top Ten (or twelve) List - Political

The modern history of the Republican Party is very much the story of a battle between East Coast Moderates/Liberals (who essentially accepted the New Deal, Internationalism, and later the Sexual Revolution) and Southern, Western, and Midwestern Conservatives (who maintained their opposition to government aggrandizement of power in the domestic, international and moral spheres).  The Establishment repeatedly managed to foist such milquetoasty candidates as Wendell Wilkie, Thomas Dewey and Dwight D. Eisenhower upon the Party--luckily, Ike turned out to be much more conservative than anyone anticipated.  Then in 1964, when the Right Wing finally managed to get their standard bearer nominated, Barry Goldwater had the bad fortune to run in the wake of JFK's martyrdom.  When Goldwater went down in flames and took much of the Party with him, the Easterners seized on this episode as evidence that the Party had to repudiate conservatism and hew more closely to the politics of the Democratic Party.  The fair haired boy of this movement was John V. Lindsay and his campaign for mayor of New York City was widely seen as a stepping stone on a path that might lead Republicans back to the White House.  It is against this backdrop that we must view the quixotic 1965 mayoral run of William F. Buckley and, given this context, it is not too much to say that Buckley's campaign, though nearly forgotten now, was one of the seminal events in modern political history.

When it became clear that Lindsay would be the nominee of both the Republican and Liberal Parties, and furthermore, thanks to incumbent Robert Wagner's scandal ridden term, that Lindsay would likely win, Buckley began to write pieces asserting that it was important that someone who actually represented Republican views enter the race, simply to guarantee that there would be an honest debate on the issues.  When leaders of the recently formed Conservative Party approached Buckley and asked him to take on the race, he agreed, on the understanding that he would not campaign full time and would continue to fulfill his obligations to the several jobs he held.  He made his reasons for running clear in his announcement speech:

    The two-party system presupposes an adversary relationship between the two parties.  That there is
    no such relationship in New York Mr. Lindsay makes especially clear when he proposes as running
    mates members of the Liberal and Democratic Parties.  Mr. Lindsay's Republican Party is a sort of
    personal accessory, unbound to the national party's candidates, unconcerned with the views of the
    Republican leadership in Congress, indifferent to the historic role of the Republican Party as
    standing in opposition to those trends of our time that are championed by the collectivist elements
    of the Democratic Party.  Mr. Lindsay, described by The New York Times as being "as liberal as a
    man can be," qualifies for the support of the Liberal Party and the Republican Party only if one
    supposes that there are no substantial differences between the Republican Party and the Liberal
    Party.  That there should be is my contention.

It was clearly understood by all concerned that he would basically play the role of a gadfly in the race.  Indeed, any doubts that he reckoned how little chance he had of being elected were cleared up at his first press conference, when to the consternation of staff and Party officials he gave the following answers to questions:

    Q: Do you think you have any chance of winning?

    WFB: No

    Q: How many votes do you expect to get, conservatively speaking?

    WFB: Conservatively speaking, one.

In the campaign that followed, Buckley, freed from the restraints that bind a politician who thinks he may win, proceeded to run one of the most ideological, honest and entertaining campaigns that anyone had ever seen.  He quickly became a media phenomenon, although they were almost uniformly hostile to him and his views, they loved covering him.  And when the cities newspapers went on strike the race came to center around television and Buckley was able to totally outclass his opponents, Lindsay and Abe Beam.

Besides his natural facility with the fairly new medium, Buckley's political platform turned out to be more popular than anyone expected.  Indeed, his proposals were twenty or thirty years ahead of their time, including Education reform, Welfare reform, beefed up law enforcement, tax cuts, balanced budgets, an end to school bussing, abolition of rent control, and so on.  as a result, when the first polls came out, not only was Beame beating Lindsay, Buckley was polling over 20% and doing particularly well with Blue Collar Democrats.  Suddenly everyone, including he, had to take his candidacy seriously.

From that point on Lindsay and Beame and their cohorts trotted out all the trusty anti-conservative canards--tarring him as a racist, an anti-Semite, anti-Protestant and, somehow, even an anti-Catholic.  Buckley ended up spending so much time defending himself that he lost the momentum he had gained by being a purveyor of brash new ideas.  He acknowledges that his political inexperience was a major handicap as he allowed himself to drift off message and into a defensive posture.

When the votes were finally counted, Lindsay won, but with just 45%, Beame tallied 41%  and Buckley polled an impressive 13%.  In the process, he had carved up Lindsay to the point where no one seriously considered him to have a future in Republican politics and indeed Lindsay eventually left the party for his natural home with the Democrats.  But more importantly, Buckley demonstrated that there was a significant segment of the democratic Party that was just waiting to be wooed by a conservative Republican message.  These folks--largely middle or working class, White, ethnic and Catholic--would later form the backbone of Nixon's "Silent Majority" and would come to be called Reagan Democrats, but it was the 1965 New York mayoral race that really showed that conservatism had an inherent appeal to this population.  For this, as for so much else, the Republican Party is indebted to William F. Buckley.

This book, his account of these events, is one of the funniest political stories ever written.  He looks back not in anger but in bewilderment at the neophyte mistakes he made, at the shoddy media coverage he received, at the character assassination he was subjected to and at the entire chaotic process of running for office, especially in New York City.  It's a real shame that the book is out of print (though easy to find used, see the link above); it is almost frightening how much of the story remains topical and pertinent today.  In particular, and somewhat ironically, I couldn't help thinking how badly the Democratic Party today needs someone like Bill Buckley--someone with wit, grace, style, and actual core convictions who will remind them that they are supposed to represent something more than conservatism with an Oprahesque tone.  As Buckley said in his announcement, the American system presupposes two adversary parties.  Men like Goldwater and Buckley made sure that the republican Party offered "a choice, not an echo"; where is the Democrat who will do the same for his party, who will undertake a similarly quixotic quest, though it prove his own unmaking?  We're waiting.


Grade: (A+)


William Buckley, Jr. Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: William F. Buckley Jr.
-REVIEW ESSAY: GOD AND MAN AT YALE AT 70: A NEW INTRODUCTION (Michael Knowles, 9/2/21, Modern Age)
    -ESSAY: Sarah Weinman on the Not-So-Unlikely Friendship Between Vladimir Nabokov and William F. Buckley, Jr.>: “What is bad for the Reds is good for me.” (Sarah Weinman, February 22, 2022, Lit Hub)
    -ESSAY: Things Worth Remembering: William F. Buckley on ‘Pushing Old Ladies Around’: In 1988, the conservative speaker used humor to contrast America and the Soviet Union—making a point that wasn’t just funny but true. (Douglas Murray, May 5, 2024, Free Press)
    -ESSAY: A brave defender of the Christian West: William F. Buckley Jr. was the indispensable man of American conservatism in the 20th century (Hunter Baker, 4/19/24, World)
    -ESSAY: The Truth About William F. Buckley and the John Birch Society: The popular notion that the National Review founder expelled the fringe from the conservative movement is wrong. (Matthew Dallek, 3/31/23, Politico)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Bill Buckley as Novelist: The Saga of Blackford Oakes (Richard Coulson, 02/09/10, First Principles)
    -REVIEW: of THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary By Simon Winchester (William F. Buckley Jr, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley (sean Busick, Imaginative Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman (Ilana Masad, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Scoundrel(PETER TONGUETTE, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of Scoundrel(Mark Pulliam, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: Of Scoundrel (Diane Kiesel, Washing Independent Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
-FEATURED AUTHOR: William F. Buckley, Jr. (New York Times Archives)
    -National Review
    -Bill Buckley's Word of the Day (National Review)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVE: On the Right by William F. Buckley, Jr.
    -REVIEW: of  Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. By Sam Tanenhaus A Passionate Witness  (William F. Buckley, Jr., First Things)
    -REVIEW: of The Search for God at Harvard By Ari L. Goldman  (William F. Buckley Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HENRY JAMES: COLLECTED TRAVEL WRITINGS Great Britain and America: English Hours, The American Scene, Other Travels. By Henry James. Edited by Richard Howard (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of PORTRAIT OF AN EXPLORER Hiram Bingham, Discoverer of Machu Picchu. By Alfred M. Bingham (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL By John le Carre (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of XPD By Len Deighton (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HOW WE DIE Reflections on Life's Final Chapter. By Sherwin B. Nuland (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of MY OLD MAN AND THE SEA A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn. By David Hays and Daniel Hays (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of YOU'VE HAD YOUR TIME The Second Part of the Confessions. By Anthony Burgess (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE TENTH MAN By Graham Greene (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE TRUTH THAT KILLED By Georgi Markov (William F. Buckley, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The Courage of Friedrich Hayek: William F. Buckley Jr. reflects on Friedrich Hayek's invaluable contributions to the fight against socialism-a fight that was still very much under way when Buckley delivered these remarks a quarter of a century ago (William F. Buckley Jr., Hoover Digest)
    -ESSAY: I AM LAPIDARY BUT NOT ERISTIC WHEN I USE BIG WORDS  (William F. Buckley Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Sep 24, 1964 Wm.F. Buckley, Jr.: STONE ON LBJ (NY Review of Books)
    -EXCERPT: The Redhunter by William F. Buckley, Jr.  Chapter One
    -BOOKNOTES: Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist  Author: William F. Buckley, Jr.  Air Date: October 24, 1993 (CSPAN)
    -BOOKNOTES TRANSCRIPT: William F. Buckley, Jr. Title: Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist Air date: October 24, 1993 (CSPAN)
    -GERGEN DIALOGUE: William F. Buckley, Jr.  NEARER, MY GOD (December 24, 1997, PBS, Newshour)
    -INTERVIEW: A Questionnaire for William F. Buckley  Jr.:  On the subject of The Redhunter, A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy (
    -INTERVIEW: The Right Words An Interview with William F. Buckley Jr. (Religion and Spirituality)
    -INTERVIEW:    A conversation with William F. Buckley Jr. Rooting out his Faith  by Mel West
    -VIDEO: In Depth: William F. Buckley Jr. (BookTV, CSPAN)
    -INTERVIEW: AN AFTERNOON of CONVERSATION with WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR. (Austin Ruse, Excelsis: The Newsletter of Christifideles)
    -INTERVIEW: Part III in a series of conversations on the issues raised by the investigation on President Clinton. Elizabeth Farnsworth is joined by William F. Buckley. (Newshour, PBS)
    -SYMPOSIUM: American Power-For What? A Symposium Elliott Abrams| William F. Buckley, Jr. | Eliot A. Cohen | Francis Fukuyama | Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. | Owen Harries | Jacob Heilbrunn | Robert Kagan | Zalmay Khalilzad | Jeane J. Kirkpatrick | Charles Krauthammer | William Kristol | Michael Ledeen | Edward N. Luttwak | Walter A. McDougall | Joshua Muravchik | Joseph S. Nye, Jr. | David Rieff | Peter W. Rodman | Robert W. Tucker | Paul Wolfowitz (Commentary)
    -SYMPOSIUM: Clinton, the Country, and   the Political Culture    A Symposium (Commentary)
    -AUDIO: "You Said You Wanted A Revolution: 1968 and the Counter-Counterculture"Guests:   William F. Buckley Jr. - Editor-at-large at the National Review &  Christopher Hitchens - Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair
    -PROFILE : Mr. Right : Ideologue, celebrity, and historical figure, William F. Buckley Jr. changed the way we think about everything (Mark Feeney , 8/14/2001 , Boston Globe)
    -PROFILE: People: William F. Buckley Jr.  A friend of one of the country's leading conservatives looks at WFB's career as a writer and editor, his public life and the time he spent as an undercover CIA agent. (Chris Weinkopf, Salon)
    -MYSTERY BOOKS: WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR. (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -DISCUSSION: The William F Buckley LighthouseTM is devoted to all topics related to William F Buckley & Up From Liberalism
    -ESSAY: The End of Neoconservatism (James Nuechterlein, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Apologists Without Remorse:  American Conservatives on South Africa  (Jacob Heilbrunn, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of THE REDHUNTER A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy By William F. Buckley Jr. (GEORGE STADE, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE REDHUNTER A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy. By William F. Buckley Jr. (Charles McCarry, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy, by William F. Buckley Jr (Robert Bryce, Intellectual Capital)
    -REVIEW: of NEARER, MY GOD An Autobiography of Faith By William F. Buckley Jr. (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of  NEARER, MY GOD An Autobiography of Faith. By William F. Buckley Jr. (William R. Everdell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of NEARER MY GOD: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF FAITH, by William F. Buckley  Conservative William F. Buckley reviews his faith    (PETER J. MCCORD, The New Catholic Miscellany)
    -REVIEW : of Nearer, My God an Autobiography , By William F. Buckley (Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of HAPPY DAYS WERE HERE AGAIN Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist. By William F. Buckley Jr. (John Grimond, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVE: "buckley" (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: Feb 19, 1998 Garry Wills: The Vatican Monarchy, NY Review of Books
       Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith by William F. Buckley, Jr.
       The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara by David I. Kertzer
       Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan
       Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II by Jonathan Kwitny
       Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes by Eamon Duffy
       Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from Saint Peter to John Paul II by Richard P. McBrien
       The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism by Michael W. Cuneo
    -REVIEW: of BROTHERS NO MORE By William F. Buckley Jr. (Joe Queenan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of IN SEARCH OF ANTI-SEMITISM By William F. Buckley Jr. (Nathan Glazer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Gratitude Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country By William F. Buckley Jr. (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of GRATITUDE Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country. By William F. Buckley Jr. (Theodore C. Sorensen,  NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ON THE FIRING LINE The Public Life of Our Public Figures. By William F. Buckley Jr. (Randall Rothenberg, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RACING THROUGH PARADISE A Pacific Passage. By William F. Buckley Jr. (Timothy Foote, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Oct 13, 1983 John Gregory Dunne: Happy Days Are Here Again, NY Review of Books
       Overdrive: A Personal Documentary by William F. Buckley, Jr.
    -REVIEW: of OVERDRIVE: A Personal Documentary. By William F. Buckley Jr. (Nora Ephron, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Jul 18, 1974 Peter Singer: Looking Backward, NY review of Books
       Radical Paradoxes: Dilemmas of the American Left, 1945-1970 by Peter Clecak
       Four Reforms: A Guide for the Seventies by William F. Buckley, Jr.
    -REVIEW: Margot Hentoff: Unbuckled, NY Review of Books
       The Governor Listeth by William F. Buckley, Jr.
    -REVIEW: Jan 29, 1970 Murray Kempton: A Narodnik from Lynbrook, NY Review of Books
       Odyssey of a Friend: Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr., 1954-1961 by Whittaker Chambers, edited with Notes by William F. Buckley, Jr., and Foreword by Ralph De Toledano
    -REVIEW: of RIGHT REASON By William F. Buckley Jr. A Collection Selected by Richard Brookhiser (Morton Kondracke, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE STORY OF HENRI TOD By William F. Buckley Jr.  (Michael Malone, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Windfall The End of the Affair By William F. Buckley Jr.  (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR. Patron Saint of the Conservatives. By John B. Judis (Godfrey Hodgson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Unmaking of a Mayor Gadfly in Fun City (JOHN LEO, NY times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of  THE RISE OF THE RIGHT By William A. Rusher (Lewis H. Lapham, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Nov 20, 1969 Murray Kempton: Childe Lindsay, NY Review of Books
       Governing the City: Challenges and Options for New York
       A Political Life: The Education of John V. Lindsay by Nat Hentoff
    -REVIEW: of Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America. Edited by Mary Jo Weaver and R. Scott Appleby (Paul Baumann, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of NOT WITHOUT HONOR The History of American Anticommunism. By Richard Gid Powers (Sean Wilentz, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW:  of TURNING RIGHT IN THE SIXTIES:  The Conservative  Capture of the GOP by Mary C. Brennan. The Conservative 1960s:  From the perspective of the 1990s, it's the big political story of the era (Matthew Dallek, The Atlantic)
     -REVIEW : of The Ungovernable City (The American Prospect, Andrew White)