Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Compare and Contrast

A few years ago, when John Kenneth Galbraith passed away, Bart Barnes wrote up the story for the Washington Post: John Kenneth Galbraith; Popularized Modern Economics. About twenty paragraphs in is the first time you ever read the word “Liberal” (and then only as part of the name of Galbraith’s father’s political party; the Canadian Liberal Party). In fact, that is the only time you see that word as not once did Mr. Barnes deign to so describe one of the most famous liberals of our time.

As it is, now-retired Washington Post obituary writer Bart Barnes is also the name on today’s write up now available on line. Let’s see how long we go before we find out what Mr. Buckley’s political persuasion is:

Conservative William F. Buckley Jr. Dies at 82 -

That didn’t take long, did it?

Too bad; in an othewise decent and informative piece, Mr. Barnes can't seem to escape his fixation on Mr. Buckley's conservatism. It's a common tendency, I guess - fixating on the traits in others that we don't share.

Side Notes I: Most irksome is that I know Mr. Barnes is well aware of Mr. Galbraith’s liberal reputation:

“Over the years, Buckley had "transideological friendships" with such liberals as economist John Kenneth Galbraith and columnist Murray Kempton.”

(That's from today’s piece – note that John Kenneth Galbraith’s “transideological friendships” were not considered that extraordinary or worthy of mention after his passing.)

Side Notes II:In his senior year, Buckley was chairman of the Yale Daily News student newspaper and a member of Skull and Bones, the secret senior society whose membership also includes both Presidents Bush.”

…the membership also includes Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Washington Post writer Dana Milbank. I guess we should describe it as a “transideological” secret senior society.

Side Notes III: “He feuded bitterly with the writer Gore Vidal, and in a live appearance on ABC television at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Vidal called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi."

“Buckley answered: "Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddamn face."

It would have been fair to also note that Mr. Buckley immediately regretted that statement and the noteworthiness of Buckley's statement lies in that it was and remained an obvious aberration. Poisoned Root by Paul Johnson on National Review

I don't mind attending the funeral (of William Buckley) if a lunch is provided, but I must be fed.

Special thanks to Charles Dickens the line.
thanks for reading
Galbraith was indeed a liberal but not primarily a liberal opinion journalist. He founded no "liberal intellectual movement." If anything, the difference goes not to bias on the Post's part, but a recognition that Galbraith's corpus of work and contribution to liberal thought is much, much smaller than was Buckley's to conservatism. Galbraith was not so much a firebrand or master of liberal belles lettres as a liberal policy wonk; one would expect that wonkishness, rather than liberal ideology, would have been his more distinguishing trait.

Also, if you name your show "The Firing Line", and call Gore Vidal a queer and threaten to punch him (even if he was one), the thought that you are cheerful and benevolent to your ideological opponents is worth ink.

If Buckley was not the godfather of modern conservatism, who was? One would not think to ask the same question of the lesser light Galbraith, "transideologically" or otherwise.
Bruce - my point is not that Galbraith was the liberal equivalent of WFB (has/does the Left have one?)but he was certainly a prominent liberal - much of his latter day stature was wrapped up in that cloak (not unsimilar to Paul Krugman today). I simply think it was ridiculous to not even acknowledge JKG's politics when it was such a large part of his identity (even Isaac Smith uses a JKG quote as his sign off) while tying everything back to WFB's politics.
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