National Review Crackup!

Mayhem at a conservative magazine.

If you doubt that John McCain’s impending defeat has the right in full-fledged crackup mode, maybe you haven’t logged onto National Review Online this week.

As recently as Sept. 24, NRO demonstrated that it had a mind of its own by publishing “Palin Problem,” a column in which Kathleen Parker urged Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to give up her vice-presidential nomination on the grounds that she is “out of her league.” Granted, the column doesn’t originate at NRO; it was syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Still, it did NRO credit to run the thing at all.

Now, however, the magazine appears to be embroiled in a family feud of a sort. Its founder’s son, Christopher Buckley, had been writing the magazine’s back-page feature. This week, however, Buckley the Younger endorsed Barack Obama for president. That isn’t particularly shocking. Unlike WFB (as the father was known in National Review), CTB—the “T” is for “Taylor”—has never been a “movement” conservative. He’s a humor writer and littérateurwho tends to lean conservative when he leans at all, which is seldom. Moreover, as CTB points out, even WFB, who was a movement conservative—the movement being WFB’s own creation—crossed the aisle on occasion, supporting Sen. Joe Lieberman (now returning the favor by supporting John McCain for president) and even Rep. Allard Lowenstein, the liberal Democrat best-known for starting the Dump Johnson movement in 1967. Nonetheless, CTB’s endorsement stirred resentment from National Review readers—700 angry e-mails, according to CTB; 100, according to National Review editor Rich Lowry—and CTB felt “the only decent thing to do would be to offer to resign my column there.” This offer “was accepted—rather briskly!—by Rich Lowry,” CTB writes. (CTB published both his endorsement of BHO and the column about his resignation in the Daily Beast, Tina Brown’s new Web aggregator.)

Lowry, or “RL” (he doesn’t have a middle initial I can find quickly on the Web), seems to feel CTB is overdramatizing the situation:

Over the weekend, Chris wrote us a jaunty e-mail with the subject line “A Sincere Offer,” in which he offered to resign his column on NR’s back page and said that if we accepted, there “would be no hard feelings, only warmest regards and understanding.” We took the offer sincerely. Chris had done us the favor of writing the column beginning seven issues ago on a “trial basis” (his words), while our regular back-page columnist, Mark Steyn, was on hiatus. Now, Mark is back to writing again, and—I’m delighted to say—will be on NR’s back-page in the new issue.

Let’s review the bidding. CTB says he offered to resign from NR, and that RL was so eager to accept that CTB felt he’d been “effectively fatwahed”—if not by the magazine itself then by its subscribers and the larger conservative movement, for which CTB has acquired a distaste. (“I didn’t leave the Republican party. It left me.”) WFB, CTB doesn’t need to add, was himself a bit disenchanted with the conservative movement’s direction during his last years.

Meanwhile, RL, on NRO, says there was nothing to resign from because it was a temporary gig and the guy he was subbing for was now back in the saddle. The writer, Steyn, had been otherwise engaged defending himself against hate speech charges in Canada over a Maclean’s article that predicted dire consequences from Muslim immigration throughout Europe. On Oct. 10, Steyn beat the rap (his article was found not to “rise … to the level of hatred and contempt,” which sounds to me like a backhanded insult; click here for the decision) and was therefore once again available to write for NR’s back page.

CTB disputes this. “Last spring, Rich asked me if I would take over the Steyn column because Steyn was ‘giving it up,’ ” CTB e-mailed me. “I said okay. That’s it in a nutshell. The notion that I was temping is simply not accurate.”


If all this makes NR seem a tad dysfunctional, get a load of this posting on NRO by Andy McCarthy, alleging that Barack Obama didn’t write Dreams From My Father. The book, McCarthy writes, was in fact written by the former Weather Underground bomb-thrower Bill Ayers. The logic of this argument, which is accompanied by a remarkable dearth of evidence, is founded on the patently false conceit that Ayers’$2 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, was well-written. Excuse me, but this is a book that begins with the words, “Memory is a motherfucker.” It goes downhill from there.

[Author’s note:CTB’s message arrived after I initially filed this column. I added it after checking my e-mail at 10:45 p.m.]