In today's Washington Post, liberal columnist and former staff writer E.J. Dionne salutes Bill Buckley on the 50th anniversary of National Review and on Buckley's part in shaping and promoting conservatism as an ascendent political movement over the past 50 years. Amid the begrudging praise, however, Dionne exposes a common strain of thinking in political journalism, that stripped of all its packaging and presentation, political conservatism is a rational philosophy only for the wealthy and privileged.
Of course, as an outspoken and unabashed liberal, Dionne's op-ed should not be faulted for falling short of effusive praise, and indeed, Dionne does take a somewhat back-handed complimentary approach to the success of the conservative movement, coming as he does from the perspective of a liberal disenchanted with how economic liberalism has fallen out of political favor in recent years. Where Dionne goes off the rails, however, is here:
Buckley felt no compunction about challenging liberal elites on their own ground. He fired plenty of shots at liberal dominance of academe, beginning with his first book, "God and Man at Yale." In the process, he pioneered the most effective form of conservative jujitsu: a movement devoted to the interests of the wealthy and powerful casting itself as a collection of populists challenging liberal snobbery.
This is an incredibly simplistic template that many liberal journalists like Dionne have, and one which does a great disservice to their readers as this bias finds its way into the journalist's work product. Rather than consider the public policy merits and demerits of conservative and liberal political prescriptions for economic concerns, a journalist with this mentality will fail to see a three-dimensional picture of a the political spectrum, especially what makes conservatives of all stripes and all financial backgrounds tick.
For example, fitting all of political conservatism into a "protect the rich, soak the little guy" rubric fails to consider a host of policies which Buckley and National Review have supported which are predicated on small government, individual responsibility, and constitutionally sound government, even when they run counter to the self-interest of the rich per se. It fails to explain how the conservative movement has been extremely vocal and outspoken in the Kelo v. New London decision by the Supreme Court. That decision's precedent disadvantages small businesses, houses of worship, and homeowners at the expense of wealthy, politically-connected real estate developers working in conjunction with elected officials to condemn property for commercial development. It fails to explain the support by conservatives of school vouchers for poor families to escape decrepit, violence-prone public schools, something arguably counter to the interests of the rich. It fails to explain the controversial stand Buckley took a few years back against the "War on Drugs" by calling for decriminalization of illicit drugs, a policy which, Buckley argues, counters the conservative small government, personal responsibility message, and which, statistically speaking, disproportionately punishes offenders from the lower-earning economic classes.
While Dionne concludes his op-ed with a toast to Buckley as a worthy oft-victorious opponent---"My main criticism of Buckley is that he was far too effective on behalf of a movement that I think should be driven from power. And if you read that as a compliment, you're right."--- he's likely to continue to be befuddled at why conservatives have made political gains and ideological converts amongst the masses of decidedly less-than-rich average joes who see economic conservatism as sound policy for all Americans.