Buckley Rule — According To Bill, Not Karl

William F. Buckley Buckley Rule — According to Bill, not Karl

The Buckley Rule has been much invoked in recent weeks, in this space and elsewhere, and on almost every occasion it has been both misquoted and misapplied. As one who was present at the formulation, I feel obliged to record the “originalist” intention.

It was the winter of 1964 and the unresolved question at NR editorial meetings, week to week, was this: Whom should the magazine support for the Republican presidential nomination? To outsiders, the question would have seemed all but settled. Issue by issue, NR gave every appearance of being all in for Barry Goldwater.

Heck, there were those who thought Bill Buckley’s merry band had invented the Goldwater candidacy. Our publisher, Bill Rusher, was a prime mover in the Draft Goldwater committee, which had propelled Goldwater to an early lead in the delegate count. Senior editor Bill Rickenbacker, a polymath, amused himself by ghosting remarks for Goldwater and then hailing them in the magazine as “brilliantly insightful.” (NR was not in those days a conflict-of-interest-free zone.) I was the Washington correspondent, and my own weekly reporting files were more than occasionally one long leak from the Goldwater campaign. Beyond the editorial staff, WFB’s brother-in-law Brent Bozell had written The Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater’s bestselling book that had consolidated his leadership of our fledgling political movement. Team Goldwater was well represented at the editorial meetings.

And it was not outnumbered — if, that is, you counted James Burnham’s as only a single voice. Facing Rusher, Rick, and me across the conference table was Team Rockefeller. In the first chair sat Jim Burnham, a senior editor and the most potent intellectual force at the magazine. Next to him was Priscilla Buckley — Bill’s older sister, Burnham’s soulmate, and the magazine’s managing editor. And next to her was Arlene Croce, a fine writer who went on, somewhat implausibly, to become the nation’s premier dance critic at The New Yorker.

I will not do justice to Burnham’s argument. Nobody could. His was a superbly analytical mind, powered by a mesmerizing boardroom presence. (It was the common judgment of the staff that if you were ever caught standing over a lifeless body, with smoke still wafting from the gun in your hand, you should bypass the defense bar and call Jim Burnham. He would get you off, the presumption held, with an abject note of apology from the arresting officer.)

Read More at National Review . By Neal B. Freeman.

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