Bill Buckley Was Right: America in the Grip of the Liberal Mania - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Bill Buckley Was Right: America in the Grip of the Liberal Mania

The list grows longer.

The three most recent entries the Rolling Stone rape-at-the-University of Virginia story. Ferguson and the “hands up don’t shoot” business. Indiana and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

From cries of “racist!” to shrieks of “rapist” (to borrow from Kevin Williamson over there at National Review) over and over and over again liberals — liberals in the media and out of it — are repeatedly plunging the country into manic frenzies over stories that eventually turn out to be flat out false or in serious dispute at best.

Why is this? 

On occasion I have cited the late William F. Buckley Jr.’s perceptive observations in his book Up From Liberalism — written all the way back in 1959! — about what Buckley termed the “liberal mania.” As the news out of the Rolling Stone rape debacle settles in — that in fact yet again another left-wing furor was centered on a story now proved to be 100 percent false — it is worth looking again at Buckley’s point.

In the foreword to Buckley’s book, the novelist John Dos Passos wrote of the “lynching spirit” of what he termed “militant liberalism.” What better description could there be of what was done to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity than a “lynching”? More precisely, to borrow from Justice Clarence Thomas at his confirmation hearings, what was done to this fraternity was a “high tech lynching of a bunch of uppity white boys.”

Mr. Buckley would surely not be surprised at the Rolling Stone episode. He described it effectively a full fifty-five years before the story was published, not to mention long before the central participants targeted in the story were even born. Indeed he predicted this kind of story almost a full decade before Rolling Stone — founded in 1967 — existed.

What Buckley knew in 1959 was this:

I shall be assuming that in most respects the liberal ideologists are, like Don Quixote, wholly normal, with fully developed powers of thought, that they see things as they are, and live their lives according to the Word; but that, like Don Quixote, whenever anything touches upon their mania, they become irresponsible. The liberals’ mania is their ideology. Deal lightly with any precept of knighterrantry, and you might find, as so many innocent Spaniards did, the Terror of La Mancha hurtling toward you. Cross a liberal on duty, and he becomes a man of hurtling irrationality.

Catch those words? “Irresponsible”? “Hurtling irrationality”? What better description of what has unfolded with Rolling Stone or Ferguson or the Duke rape case or Indiana could there possibly be? Recalling that Buckley’s book was written in 1959, it is amazing the events that would string out over the next several decades all the way to today that illustrate his point. 

Think of the mania that surrounded various left-wing movements of the 1960s and later. Sometimes they were peaceful — the massive nuclear freeze demonstrations, for example. The occasional “die in” was a peaceful if media-made event. (Rush Limbaugh just referred to the latter yesterday, as it happens. For those who came in late, a die-in would have protesters lie down in the street or in front of the White House or wherever pretending to be victims of a nuclear attack.) Sometimes things were violent — as was the riot that engulfed the anti-Vietnam War protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

But always the defining characteristic was a mania, which Buckley used Webster’s to define: “… Characterized by disorderly speech and thinking, by impulsive movements, and by excessive emotion.” 

The other day over at NewsBusters (where, full disclosure, I also write), columnists Brent Bozell and Tim Graham reported with regard to the story of the O’Connor family who served gays and everybody else in their pizza parlor but answered a hypothetical from an ABC reporter by saying that their religious beliefs would keep them from catering a gay wedding — although they had never been asked to cater any wedding, gay or straight, in the past. What Bozell and Graham reported here is classic liberal mania as Buckley defined it. They reported on the reaction to the story filed by the ABC affiliate: 

The angry Left went berserk. Tweets came like this one: “Who is going to Walkerton, IN to burn down Memories Pizza with me?” 

Christians are now living in fear in this country. 

Owner Kevin O’Connor shut his pizza parlor down until further notice after his family began receiving threatening phone calls and social media postings. Leftists flooded the store’s page with negative reviews trying to destroy his business. Homoerotic photos were posted to embarrass them.

A blogger on the radical Daily Kos boasted: “The hand of justice in the age of social media has never been swifter.”

This is Buckley’s liberal mania in all-too-vivid 21st century action. 

The topics that launch the mania are usually broad if repetitive: race, war and peace, sex, economics, and class are generally the big attractions. But under those rubrics the subjects change, move on, and come back again. Additionally, the leaders in the mania of the moment subtly and not so subtly suggest, as Buckley notes, that when it comes to a serious discussion of the issue at hand, with conservatives the idea that there is really anything to discuss is itself ridiculous. “As Buckley noted of this liberal attitude, “the tacit premise [that there is any need for debate] is ridiculous because there is nothing whatever to debate about.”

A very incomplete list of recent liberal manias? Ferguson and the phony “hands up, don’t shoot” mania. The Rolling Stone rape mania. The college campus rape mania. The political correctness mania. The Indiana Religious Freedom Act mania. The Duke University rape mania. The “Bush Lied” mania. The Trayvon Martin mania. The Clarence Thomas sexual harassment mania. The Robert Bork mania. The Occupy Wall Street mania. In every case, the liberal “tacit premise” that there is or was anything to debate was seen as absurd. 

And make no mistake, these manias can have an effect on public policy. When the lynch mob (as Dos Passos described it in his foreword to Buckley’s book) is in full cry, nominees for the Supreme Court can be defeated (Bork) — or almost defeated (Thomas). Laws can be reported untruthfully and changed (Indiana), a magazine news story can shut down a fraternity and ruin reputations (Rolling Stone). The truth of the events leading to a war can be repeatedly misrepresented (liberal portrayals of Bush lying to go to war in Iraq) and a new president elected as a result. Indeed, in his book, Buckley himself cites the Joe McCarthy era as an example of the liberal mania, acerbically referring to liberal hysteria over McCarthy as what liberals portrayed as “the Reign of Terror.” A depiction that exists to this day — evident in the description of some figure of today engaging in “McCarthyism,” which is to say, a participant in some current “Reign of Terror.” It is by now long accepted conservative wisdom that to disagree with a liberal in the middle of an episode of liberal mania automatically launches the branding of said conservative as a “racist/sexist/homophobe,” etc., etc., etc. 

So. What to do? Buckley’s suggestion was concise. Understand that the liberal mania is intrinsic to liberalism. They are (my words) like peanut butter and jelly. One cannot be a liberal without brandishing the liberal mania as a political weapon. Every “accretion of power by the state” must not only be resisted by conservatives but in resisting conservatives must understand that in pursuing that goal liberals will quickly become the embodiment of “hurtling irrationality.”

Thus making “the liberal mania” an issue unto itself — if only today’s conservatives are willing to stand up and take it on directly.

The good news? Those conservatives exist. They are on talk radio, on Fox, on the Internet at various sites including this one. And some of them are running for president — alphabetically at this point that means Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, with more like Donald Trump edging closer. 

But no mistake. The “liberal mania” that William F. Buckley, Jr. long ago cited as “intrinsic to liberalism” is here to stay. The question? The next time an episode of the liberal mania sweeps the land — in a media outlet, on Capitol Hill, on a university campus or wherever — will more and more conservatives recognize it for exactly what it is? And make a point of standing up, identifying the liberal mania for the “hurtling irrationality” that it is — and fighting it? Those who say, correctly, that when it comes to national security the nation can’t fight Islamic radicalism if the President himself refuses to recognize and name the enemy for exactly what it is — should heed that same wisdom. To fight the liberal mania — it first has to be named correctly and recognized for exactly what it is.

As with so much else, William F. Buckley Jr. was ahead of his time. And he was right.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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