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'It Wasn't Ozzie and Harriet' - Chris Buckley Unmasks Famous Parents

5 years ago
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Several months ago, I reported on some troubling rumors regarding the forthcoming Christopher Buckley book , "Mum and Pup and Me".

The concern, of course, was that the younger Buckley was planning on writing a less than flattering portrayal of his famous conservative parents, Pat and William F. Buckley.

When this was confirmed to me by two credible sources -- one a conservative insider and the other a publishing executive -- I knew there was, at least, an element of truth to the story.

It turns out, the rumors appear to be true. Today's New York Times Magazine features a cover story adapted from Buckley's new book, which is to be published next month. And -- much as I had feared -- it appears the younger Buckley has written anything but a hagiography of the Buckleys.

For example, in reading the adaptation, one learns that National Review founder William F. Buckley didn't visit his son for three weeks while he was sick in the hospital, and that he disappeared during his son's graduation ceremony because he got "bored." One also learns that Mrs. Buckley was a serial liar (the younger Buckley substitutes the terms 'whoppers', 'mendacity' and 'prevarication').

To be sure, Christopher Buckley's portrayal is not entirely negative. He has painted a picture of a complicated family (It might have been titled, The Buckleys: "It's Complicated!"), and it should be noted that he talks glowingly about his parents devotion to one another -- and of his father's generosity. Still, one wonders why he would choose to air so much the dirty laundry? Were this book written by a liberal (who was not a Buckley), it would be written-off as a desperate and malicious revisionist attack on a couple no longer around to defend themselves.

Of course, the reason this is such a touchy subject is because it would be hard to overestimate the importance that the erudite Bill Buckley played in the rise of modern-day conservatism. As conservative icon Morton Blackwell has written of Buckley,

He was, by far, the most attractive and thrilling conservative intellect for decades, and more than equal in debate to any liberal intellectual, as we learned on many occasions. Conservative students of my generation, confronted with an overwhelming liberal (and often unbearably smug) faculty, were greatly reassured by the knowledge that Buckley could smash the arguments of anyone on the liberal side.

At a time when conservatives are searching for new heroes, conservatives must also defend the reputations of great men like Buckley -- and his equally glamorous and conservative friend -- Ronald Reagan. Bill Buckley, after all, made it possible to be both a swashbuckling intellectual -- and a conservative -- at the same time.

For this reason, conservatives are rightly protective of his image and reputation.
And while I have no reason to doubt that most of what the younger Buckley writes is true -- I still can't help but wonder why he would want to these unflattering personal details public ...

After all, most loving sons, for better or worse, would naturally produce an expurgated account of their parents' lives. Yet this scion of conservatism seems to have placed book sales and journalistic accuracy over filial loyalty. This may make for good journalism, but it does not evoke admiration for the author.

Of course, magazines usually choose to excerpt the most controversial (read interesting) parts of a book -- so it is entirely possible the vast majority of this book will be positive -- and that the criticisms are merely a way to gin up interest. Even assuming that is the case, most would find the revelations a bit distasteful, considering the circumstances. (I'm still waiting for my advance copy).

Christopher Buckley, whose endorsement of Barack Obama last year was titled "Sorry Dad, I'm Voting for Obama", also goes out of his way to discuss how he does not share his fathers religious convictions (the older Buckley was a devout practicing Catholic).

Could it be that the younger Buckley -- who is no spring chicken, himself -- has always resented living under the huge shadow of his famous parents?

Update: One conservative active in politics and policy in DC sent along the following:
Thanks for writing about the Christopher Buckley attack on his parents. My only concern is that you went too easy on CB. I read the whole excerpt, and the thing could not have been more vicious than if it was written by Saul Alinsky or Rahm Emanuel - calculated to do the maximum damage to his parents and to the conservative beliefs his father advocated for, and to flatter and appeal to liberals. Among other things, Christopher Buckley apparently now writes for an audience exclusively composed of NYT readers.

Note also how self-flattering the portrait is. Oh, he tried to be nice to his parents, but they made it so hard!
I don't see how a savvy conservative can read the excerpt and arrive at a conclusion other than: Christopher Buckley has gone over to the other side. Conservatives (and Republicans) should heed this warning: Christopher Buckley is a liberal. Don't be fooled by the occasional protestations of "fiscal conservatism" we can expect to hear from him - plenty of those in DC advocate regularly for higher taxes and bigger, more intrusive government.

I'd also like to suggest to aspiring journalists looking for a break: given the pitch-perfect assault in the excerpt, it wouldn't surprise me if Christopher Buckley did embellish the truth, in order to support his narrative.

For example, is his account of the Christimas "ruined" by William F. Buckley accurate in the details? On the three week hospital absence, did WFB really wait three weeks to come back, or does that include the week-long travel time? Was the matter in Africa life-or-death? How aware was he of the severity of CB's condition? What *was* the severity of CB's condition?

A journalist who ferreted out the truth here would not only perform a genuine service to liberals and conservatives, but also make a name for him or herself.

Of course, Christopher Buckley can be expected to complain that he and his parents should be left alone in their grief and loss. Notwithstanding that he's just written *a book* slandering them.

Christopher Buckley can also be expected to defend himself by saying that you can't judge the whole book from the excerpt. Please. He knew what was going into that excerpt, not to mention his decision to put it in the book at all.

William F. Buckley touched many lives during his run. Many of us consider ourselves his surrogate children. Perhaps Christopher Buckley has complex psychological issues about these "surrogate siblings" that have led him to issue this assault on his father's character. Who knows. The fact is, WFB needs us to speak up for him, since he cannot.
Filed Under: Republicans, Scandal, Media

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