Grown-ups vs. kooks

William F. Buckley’s son, a former McCain speechwriter, is voting for Barack Obama.

For liberals, this election is easy. For conservatives of all stripes, it’s hard.

John McCain is grossly unfit to be President, as demonstrated by the pointless, erratic, ill-managed, dishonest, stupid campaign he is running and his choice of the even-more-grossly-unfit Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Barack Obama has, as even Charles Krauthammer will allow, a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect. He is capable of listening closely to conservative arguments and willing to craft his programs to meet reasonable conservative objections.

But Obama is a flat-out liberal, whose flexibility about tactics does not much modify his unbending commitment to liberal goals: more equality, more personal freedom, respect for human rights and Constitutional principles, an economic system protected from corporate folly and malefaction, a foreign policy that prefers jaw-jaw to war-war and multilateral to unilateral action, and the accomplishment, even at some fiscal expense, of important public purposes such as health care reform, environmental protection, and increased educational opportunity. That creates a bind for those who recognize Obama’s virtues and McCain’s faults but who fear that another successful liberal Presidency might set back conservatism as much as, and for as long as, the New Deal did.

Now McCain and Palin have chosen to up the ante. By making speeches and run ads that suggest that their opponent is not a patriotic American, and then standing silently by, or nodding approvingly, as members of their mobs audiences yell “socialist” and “hooligan” and “traitor” and “terrorist” and “kill him!” they have forced their supporters to choose: Do you want to be a part of that howling mob, or not? Are you nostalgic for the politics of Weimar, or do you prefer elections in which the losers acknowledge the legitimacy of the results? Are you one of the kooks, or one of the grown-ups?

[And yes, class, and its correlate education, enter into this. Palin, like Agnew and Wallace, is the candidate of those proud of their ignorance and suspicious of anyone who knows things they don’t know. Insofar as part of the historical attraction of Republicanism has been its association with the prosperous and the cultured, McCain has in effect decided to sacrifice preppie and wanna-be-preppie votes for yahoo votes. I like David Brooks’s label for this tactic: it’s “social class warfare.”]

Christopher Buckley (son of William F., former McCain speechwriter) has made his choice. As he says, his father devoted an entire lifetime to an effort “to separate the Right from the kooks,” and he now finds the Republican ticket embracing kookiness. With his eyes wide open, William F. Buckley’s son is siding with the grown-ups.

Update Perhaps McCain has decided to step back from the brink. Of course, if McCain truly believes that Obama is “a decent person, a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States,” perhaps he should tell his running-mate and whoever is doing his ads.

Second update William Milliken, the Republican former Governor of Michigan, is also unwilling to be among the kooks, though not quite ready to cross party lines. Having endorsed McCain in the primary over native son Romney, he’s now dis-endorsing him.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: