Derbyshire may be gone, but William F. Buckley’s magazine championed divisive racial politics – and still does
By Joan Walsh
Monday, Apr 9, 2012
National Review editor Rich Lowry finally did the right thing and fired John Derbyshire for an unbelievably racist and deeply stupid column (printed elsewhere) about the “advice” he gives his son about avoiding black people. Maybe it represents a ratcheting back of right-wing ugliness about the Trayvon Martin case. But if you want to understand how that tragedy went from being an occasion for bipartisan sorrow to another ugly battle in the culture wars, the National Review is a good place to start.
Although founder William F. Buckley is widely credited with driving John Birch Society extremists out of the conservative movement, he made his own contributions to the ugly coarsening of American politics on the issue of race. He and his magazine defended segregation and white supremacy in the South (though he later apologized), while in the North, he played a leading role in making the issue of rising crime both racial and political – with arguments and tactics still being used in the Trayvon Martin case today.
I just finished “The Cause,” Eric Alterman and Kevin Mattson’s history of modern American liberalism, and I was particularly fascinated by their account of the lasting impact the 1965 New York mayor’s race had not only on the city but on liberalism. Buckley ran against liberal Republican John Lindsay and Democrat Abe Beame, and of course lost. But for a while the elite conservative Buckley became a hero to some working-class New York Democrats, for his ability to channel their anger about the city’s rising crime rate, often in racial terms. He mocked liberals for pointing to racism and poverty to explain crime, arguing that those social forces didn’t “make Negro crime any less criminal.” He declared flatly: ”I believe that young thugs are young thugs, irrespective of race, color or creed.” Before there were Reagan Democrats, there were Buckley Democrats.
Lindsay won the election, but Buckley won the debate about crime. After the newly elected mayor appointed a civilian complaint review board to examine rising reports of police brutality, New York cops fought back with a ballot measure to repeal it. Buckley and conservatives backed the measure, while the liberal establishment fought it ferociously. The measure passed thanks to a once unthinkable alliance of outer-borough Jews and “white ethnics,” mainly Catholics – two pillars of the so-called New Deal coalition that kept Democrats in the White House for 36 years, with a short break for Dwight Eisenhower. National politics has never been the same.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/2012/04/09/racism_and_the_national_review/singleton/