- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

There was a grand event in New York City last week. One of the most consequential figures of the last half of the 20th century observed his 80th birthday in the glamorous Pierre Hotel with several hundred of the most influential members of the political movement he helped found, the modern conservative movement.

The consequential figure was, of course, William F. Buckley, Jr. Close students of the American scene will thus understand why no organs of major media covered the event. Major media once covered what were called “public intellectuals.” They stopped when conservatives joined and then overwhelmed the ranks of public intellectuals.

What claims the attention of major media today is a phenomenon called Kultursmog. It is the popular culture of the United States, polluted utterly by a weird politics, a politics often called liberal but is actually simply leftish and adolescent. It has no fixed values or ideas other than to disturb the peace, which the legally attuned will recognize as a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions of the civilized world.

Kultursmog is a culture that mixes rock stars with fashion models and the ideas of Al Gore. Occasionally the smog actually includes the Hon. Al Gore, along with those other “rock star” personalities, the Clintons. The Kultursmog is always politically correct, ever sensitive to the Democratic National Committee’s whims, and increasingly anti-intellectual.

It is anti-intellectual because the ideas behind public policy today are almost completely derived from Mr. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Irving Kristol, and other less well-known conservatives and neoconservatives. In fact I think I can argue successfully, if ironically, that Mr. Buckley is personally responsible for the anti-intellectualism that has spread throughout major media over the last 25 years.



There was a time when the late night television shows, the morning chat shows and the personality sections of print journalism would occasionally feature the likes of Mr. Buckley and his most frequent liberal opponents, John Kenneth Galbraith and Gore Vidal. The time is long past. Mr. Buckley finished off his opponents years ago, and no young egghead was up to taking on his wit or erudition.

The wit has been quick and lethal. The other night at the Pierre, episodes of Mr. Buckley from his television show “Firing Line” and from interviews on major media, most memorably “60 Minutes,” demonstrated his debating skills and reminded me no one in the many decades of his career ever got the best of him, at least not for more than a few minutes.

Mr. Buckley in his 80 years founded one of the most important intellectual magazines in American history, National Review. He was there at the founding of New York’s influential Conservative Party, which utterly transformed New York politics, leaving a one-party state with two very competitive parties, the old minority party now on top.

He was a friend and adviser to Barry Goldwater, modern conservatism’s first presidential contender, and Ronald Reagan, the man who brought modern conservatism to Washington where it has pretty much dominated since 1980. Forget not Bill Clinton’s line “The era of big government is over.”

Mr. Buckley also ran for office, lectured and debated weekly, and wrote scores of books and thousands of newspaper columns, all so stylishly that the left came to reject stylish writing. Leftist writers seem to think stylish writing is the mark of the “elitist” conservative. Another mark against Mr. Buckley: He encouraged anti-intellectualism on the left and bad writing.

The Kultursmog may be anti-intellectual, vulgar and politically out of touch, but it remains very influential. To a vast degree, it decides what the chattering class talks about and is aware of. Its most effective influence is omission. It simply omits what it does not want to acknowledge.

When Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan died a couple of years ago, nowhere did the major media report that in the 1960s and early 1970s he was associated with neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol and Jeane Kirkpatrick.

At the Pierre the other night Henry Kissinger, Mike Wallace, Tom Wolfe and scores of other notables paused to celebrate Mr. Buckley. In the Kultursmog, the event never took place and eventually Bill Buckley will never have existed. But Mr. Buckley helped create what has become the politically winning side, and in time the Kultursmog will not exist at all.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.”

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