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October 21st, 2008
08:01 PM ET

The Right’s class war

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/21/class.war.jpg
caption="Supporters at Sarah Palin's 'Road to Victory Rally' in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Saturday." width=292 height=320]
John Heilemann
New York Magazine

For a man who has just been, in his eyes, excommunicated from both a magazine and a movement founded by his father half a century ago, Chris Buckley, son of the sainted William F., is doing a creditable job of keeping his upper lip stiff. “I’m still sort of getting my apostate act down,” Buckley says with a chuckle when I phone him a few days after the unpleasantness unfolded. “I’m reading Apostasy for Dummies.” The apostasy in question is, of course, his endorsement of Barack Obama, which provoked such a torrent of outrage and abuse from the right that Buckley felt it only proper to offer to quit his column at National Review—an offer that was taken up, to his great surprise, “rather briskly,” as he puts it. “I guess it shows, be careful to whom you tender your resignation, because they just might accept it!”

Buckley’s good humor does nothing to conceal his melancholy and bewilderment at this turn of events. “I was really quite amazed by the reaction, and I think it shows just how bloody calcified the political discourse has become, and tribalist, and snarling,” he tells me. “I want to say that it’s a tempest in a teapot, but there seems to be something going on here, and maybe this has accidentally tapped into it.”

If the Buckley affair were an isolated incident, such talk would be easy to dismiss as self-flattery—but it isn’t. With the prospect of defeat for John McCain growing more likely every day, the GOP destined to see its numbers reduced in both the House and Senate, and the Republican brand debased to the point of bankruptcy, the conservative intelligentsia is factionalized and feuding, criminating and recriminating, in a way that few of its members can recall in their political lifetimes. Populists attack Establishmentarians. Neocons assail theocons. And virtually everyone has something harsh to say about the party’s standard-bearer. Election Day may still be two weeks away, but already the idea-merchants of the right have formed a circular firing squad.

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