Christopher Buckley ’75, co-founder of the Yale Daily News magazine and son of conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, resigned Saturday from his position as a columnist at National Review, the influential magazine his father founded five years after graduating from Yale.
The younger Buckley offered up his post to National Review editor Rich Lowry after Buckley’s Thursday endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama in an online news magazine elicited a wave of outrage from National Review readers.
“By Friday, I was Judas,” said Buckley in a telephone interview with the News on Tuesday night. “I thought the decent thing to do under the circumstances was to offer to resign, and they rather quickly took me up on my offer.”
Buckley’s endorsement — titled “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama” — appeared Thursday on TheDailyBeast.com. In the piece, Buckley described his disapproval of the McCain campaign and the reasons for his surprising switch to Obama.
“Obama has in him … the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader,” Buckley wrote in the endorsement. “He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.”
National Review readers reacted immediately. In a Tuesday afternoon posting on The Daily Beast, Buckley described the flood of negative mail to National Review as a “700-1” landslide against his views.
“They got an avalanche of pissed-off mail,” Buckley said on the phone. “People saying, ‘He’s Judas, a Benedict Arnold, an asshole.’ ”
In a post on National Review’s Web site Tuesday afternoon, editor Rich Lowry denied Buckley’s claim that his column had sparked such a massive reaction.
“We have gotten about 100 e-mails, if that (a tiny amount compared to our usual volume), and threats of cancellations are in the single digits,” Lowry wrote.
Although his father would have adamantly opposed the endorsement, Buckley said, the elder Buckley would have responded rationally, rather than emotionally.
“He would let you say anything you had to say as long as it amounted to an argument,” said Buckley. “Then he would go after you and eviscerate you.”
But the elder Buckley may not have been opposed to an Obama presidency in the first place. In 1970, Buckley wrote an article for LOOK magazine entitled “Why We Need a Black President in 1980.” In it, he argued that a young black man, possibly rising from the ranks of politically active blacks in communities across America, could rise to prominence and challenge America’s “hypocrisy.”
The election of a black man, William Buckley wrote then, would be a “celebration of the ideals of a country which by this act alone would reassert its idealism.”
“It was a reminder of how unpredictable he was,” said his son. “That was one of the things that made WFB so damn interesting. He took unpredictable points of view.”
Buckley’s defection comes as an increasing number of moderate conservative pundits come out against the McCain-Palin ticket. Only three weeks ago, National Review columnist Kathleen Parker sparked a storm of controversy by calling for Republican vice-presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin’s resignation. But the columns’ impacts may ultimately be washed out in the flood of media coverage surrounding trouble on Wall Street, which many pundits say has boosted Obama’s prospects.
“The financial crisis has been almost definitive,” said diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill, a former foreign policy advisor to Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. “I think Obama is out in front and almost certainly will stay there.”
Buckley cited the nomination of Palin as another turning point in the McCain candidacy.“I initially swooned over Sarah Palin,” he said. “And then she started talking.”
Buckley has written the back-page column for the National Review since June of this year and will be sad to bid farewell to the magazine, he said.
“I love the National Review. It’s the magazine my dad created and I will always be fond of it,” Buckley said.
Yet he does not feel regret, he said. “I’m pretty confident I did not betray my father’s ghost,” he said. “I will sleep soundly tonight.”