William F. Buckley was my friend.
I’m hard on conservatives. I get harder on them just about every day. I call them “con men.” I do so without apology. And I cannot deny that William F. Buckley said and did many things over the course of his career that were disgusting as well. I’ve written about some of them. But this is not the time to go into all that. My friend just passed away at the age of 82. He was a good and decent man. He knew exactly what my politics were about–he knew I was an implacable ideological adversary–yet he offered his friendship to me nonetheless. He did the honor of respecting his ideological adversaries, without covering up the adversarial nature of the relationship in false bonhommie. A remarkable quality, all too rare in an era of the false fetishization of “post-partisanship” and Broderism and go-along-to-get-along. He was friends with those he fought. He fought with friends. These are the highest civic ideals to which an American patriot can aspire.
How should we treat our political enemies? It’s a moral conundrum, one that weaves its way into every waking second of life in a place like DC. You know someone’s ideas are wrong-headed, or ignorant, or event shot-through with true ugliness, but you also recognize that your opponents are human beings, capable of acting decently, of being good. I’m working on a piece right now that is, in some senses, about the possibility of there even being a “good faith conservatism.” I’m skeptical, but also aware that the place in which ideology overwhelms basic empathy is a dangerous one.