Still, this observation doesn’t cloud Buckley’s critical faculties — and it’s Bush, not Congress, who pays the price. Bush’s pre-election attempts to lampoon the Democrats for having no Iraq plan rang hollow because Bush didn’t have one, either: as Buckley puts it, “Mr. Bush has no ‘plan’ other than a projection of the same plan that has failed.” What’s more, Bush is blameworthy because he’s never used his veto to check Congress’s profligate spending, didn’t make a serious effort on immigration, and “simply gave up” on Social Security reform. Right now, Buckley concludes, the GOP’s claim to be the party of good government isn’t all that convincing.
All talk, no reflection
And then there’s Jonah Goldberg — who, despite being a National Review colleague of Buckley’s (he’s editor-at-large of National Review Online), is best known as the son of Lucianne, who’s best known for telling Linda Tripp to tape her chats with Monica Lewinsky. Chalk it up to his age (he’s 37) or his Ann Coulter–esque understanding of American politics (he’s the author of the forthcoming Liberal Fascism: the Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton), but Goldberg’s assessment of what happened last week is callow and unreflective. Writing in USA Today, Goldberg takes great comfort in sixth-year-itis: since the average president sees his party lose 34 House and seven Senate seats in year six, he reports happily, the Dems actually underperformed! (Again, no mention of Clinton.)
Goldberg’s central mission, though, is rebutting the argument that the midterms were a defeat for conservatism — a task made significantly easier by the fact that no one is actually making that argument in the first place. His key evidence? Joe Lieberman is pretty conservative; so is Jim Webb, who beat Republican incumbent George Allen in the Virginia Senate race; so is Bob Casey, who beat Republican senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania. Goldberg does feint briefly toward self-criticism, but quickly sprints in the opposite direction. “The GOP got thrown out of office because it got fat and lazy [no examples, sorry] and because Democrats — with the help of a transmission-belt media — convinced a lot of voters they could simply change the channel on the war by voting for ‘change.’ ” Liberal media, cut-and-run — really, there’s nothing new here.
All of which makes one wonder: what will Buckley say to Goldberg the next time they chat? Will he gently upbraid his young colleague for ignoring the Bush administration’s mismanagement of Iraq? Will he note, acidly, that the conservative inclinations of three Democratic legislators says little about the rest of the party? Will he simply shake his head in disgust?
A new path
The question is more than academic. In the coming months, the right is going to have to choose between the searching introspection of Barnes and Buckley and the adolescent triumphalism of Goldberg.
Early results are mixed. R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. — editor of the American Spectator and author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House (Regnery) — insists this was just another sixth-year election; furthermore, Tyrrell promises that overreaching by “Madame Nancy Pelosi and the dirty-mouthed Harry Reid” will inevitably keep the Democratic ascendancy brief.