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The Ballad Of Kindly Bill Buckley

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Responding to Ben Shapiro’s farcical claims that the American conservative movement is great at purging racist kooks from its ranks, Jon Chait valiantly tries to debunk one of the most well-worn lies of American politics:

Shapiro repeats the unkillable legend that National Review publisher William F. Buckley “decided to throw the John Birchers out of the house,” thereby establishing a tradition on the right that has endured. In fact, even according to a friendly account from Buckley’s National Review biographer, Buckley did no such thing. He calculated that the John Birch Society and its huge membership was too important to risk alienating. So, instead, Buckley (gently) criticized the organization’s president, the bonkers Joseph Welch, while trying to stay on good terms with the group and its members. Conservatism has always needed its racists and kooks.

In addition to the fact that he didn’t actually try to expel the Birchers, Buckley spent the 50s and 60s affirmatively supporting Southern apartheid, and when that became completely politically untenable he switched his support to the South African version.

And, of course, plus ca change…

As for the present day, it is, to put it mildly, a strange moment for self-congratulation. The movement is teeming with racist kookery. The largest source of conservative propaganda regularly features quasi-white-nationalist content. The president of the United States is Donald Trump. Trump and his family regularly tout insane rants by the likes of Alex Jones and Gateway Pundit. Nazis and Klansmen see Trump as a kindred spirit and celebrate him. The Republican Senate nominee in Virginia is a neo-Confederate. Trump’s chief economic adviser hosted a white nationalist at his home.

American conservatism is being completely overrun with authoritarian racist kooks. If this is what success at rooting out racists looks like, one only shudders to imagine Shapiro’s definition of failure.

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