Monday, February 14, 2011

Jim Buckley Luncheon: “Freedom At Risk—Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State.”

First, a necessary admission: Bill Buckley, Jim Buckley’s brother, was a good friend of long standing. Bill had a genius for friendship, as anyone who knows him – including his political enemies -- will readily attest.

For about ten years, letters passed between us. I sent him columns occasionally, and he returned this insufficient gesture by sending me books: collections of his columns, longer pieces he had written for one or another of his semi-autobiographical books such as “Miles Gone By” and “Nearer My God To Thee,” novels and reminiscences he had written, an unending stream of literary delicacies. It seems an odd arrangement, I wrote him once: I send you a letter; you send me a book. I was sure he was being shortchanged in the transaction.

I don’t think I ever met Bill’s brother Jim, the sainted senator from New York, as Bill playfully called him, but Chris Powell, the Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, has a lively recollection of Jim in a campaign mode.

“I got to know him a little during his 1980 Senate campaign and really liked him a lot. (Apart from that, the campaign was so well- catered!) He wouldn't remember me but if you go, [to watch Jim launch his new book, “Freedom At Risk—Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State”] -- please convey my regards.

“I remember teasing him at his announcement of candidacy at the Buckley home in Sharon. He remarked that even though he had served in the Senate from New York, he always had considered himself as being from Connecticut. I asked him if that was what he had said when he was running in New York.

“Back then Channel 3 had a news helicopter and Don Noel was the station's political reporter, having moved there from the Hartford Times soon after the paper closed. The copter, "Sky 3," was on the Buckley homestead's lawn when I arrived for the announcement party. Buckley began reading his announcement speech at 11 a.m. or noon but just as he started, Noel had to leave in Sky 3 for another candidate's announcement over in Groton or thereabouts and as the copter revved up, it was so loud that it drowned out Buckley and he had to stop reading until the copter flew far enough off. I have always considered this the perfect metaphor for television news -- the TV news reporter couldn't stay to actually cover the story but still managed to disrupt it.”
In the matter of catered campaigns, I once told Mr. Powell -- after he had reproached me for attending a brunch at the prestigious Hartford Club (only once), a bit too la-ti-da for Mr. Powell’s tastes – that everyone knew well enough I would travel half way around the state for a good lunch.

Mr. Powell’s immediate response was, “Only half way?”

Mr. Powell admired the Buckleys, apart from the splendid catered service, probably for the same reason I did. Bill, who approved of good manners, used to say that the difficulty with bad manners was that they sometime led to murder. Spirited quarrels and debates there were, and often, in the Buckley clan, but no recorded murders among its mannered members. Politics in the U.S. lost half it sense and most of its manners after Bill checked out.

Jim Buckley’s career in policies touches all three branches of government: He was a U.S. Senator from New York, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and President of the State Department’s Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

On one of his exit interview after having left the U.S. Senate, Chris Dodd was asked whether he regretted any of his votes during his three decades of service in the congress. Unhesitatingly, Mr. Dodd responded that he wished he could take back his vote against Mr. Buckley’s judicial nomination, a regret in which Bill, were he alive and still disturbing the liberal universe, certainly would have descried a lament – better late than never – concerning Mr. Dodd’s unremitting anti-federalist career in the Beltway.

Jim Buckley’s book concerns itself with the attenuation of liberty and its consequences:

“There are no doubt many causes of the paralysis I see creeping over Washington, but I feel by far the most significant of these has been the virtual abandonment of the principle of federalism. Accordingly, I believe the surest road to true reform is to rediscover and reapply that principle, and, in that way, to reduce the scope of federal responsibilities to manageable size.”
Federalism is that uniquely American arrangement in which liberty is compartmentalized first in the states and then in an increasingly audacious federal government. From its constitutional beginnings a jealously guarded liberty was said to be, here in the young United States, a part of the nature of man, a gift of God to men. Because liberty was of God and not of men, some inborn rights and immunities were thought to be imprescriptable: What God has impressed in the very nature of man, neither king nor legislature could by art of law proscribe. That is the basic message of America’s federalist epoch. The best way to guard such God given liberties, the federalists of 1776 thought, was to restrain a federal government with adamantine constitutional prohibitions and to leave undisturbed, as much as possible, the principle of subsidiarity, according to which the federal government should neither do nor undo what could better be done by the states. The federalist principle is plainly stated in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution in the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

No defense of ordered liberty could fail to mention the gradual erosion of the 10th Amendment, and in this respect Mr. Buckley’s book does not disappoint. The Supreme Court, Mr. Buckley writes, “has proven an unreliable guardian of constitutional virtue. Over the years, the Court’s decisions expanding the reach of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause have effectively repealed the Tenth Amendment.” The constitutional proscription having been effectively overthrown, the rise of a “fourth, extra-constitutional branch of government in which unelected officials write rules that reach into every corner of American life,” was inevitable.

James Burnham, in the first struggling days of National Review, the magazine founded by Bill, used to write persuasively about the managerial revolution, but the overthrow of the 10th Amendment has produced what Julien Benda called a treason of the intellectuals, la trahison des clercs. The intellectuals are nothing if not zealous: ““Some agencies have fallen into the hands of zealots who pursue ideological goals that bear little relationship to the clear intent of the legislation they are supposed to be implementing.” And the bureaucrats prefer to wage their assaults through indirection: “Rather than fight an issue on its merits, an agency will wage a war of procedural attrition that will force an opponent to reach deeper and deeper into his pockets, until his resources are exhausted.”

There are remedies that may stem the assault on liberties. Mr. Buckley feels that parties subjected to such abusive and anti-constitutional tactics should be allowed to sue the federal government, and any party successful in an administrative action should be reimbursed for costs.

On February 23rd, Mr. Buckley will appear at a luncheon sponsored by the indispensable Yankee Institute to be held at the Stamford Plaza Hotel at 11:00. Friends of liberty who wish to attend may do so by making a reservation at -- http://www.yankeeinstitute.org/2011/01/lunch-with-james-l-buckley/

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