Requiem for a right-wing icon

Never mind that the Republican right is in chaos, William F. Buckley is up for sainthood -- and John McCain is in on the act.

Published February 28, 2008 7:38PM (EST)

Given that William F. Buckley, who died Wednesday, was founder of the seminal conservative magazine the National Review, one would expect to find an outpouring of sentiment for him on the publication's Web site. Outpouring may be an understatement. Beneath a slide show lionizing Buckley in close-up and in profile, National Review Online currently features a compilation of no fewer than 22 postings delivering him into sainthood:

"It is our fervent prayer that we continue to do WFB's life's work justice." (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

"He was, perhaps above all, a good and faithful servant of the Lord." (Pete Wehner)

"A treatise could probably be written about the role those eyes played in the making of modern America." (Ramesh Ponnuru)

"Utterly unpretentious, absorbed in whatever you had to say, he had the kind of manners that are so good that they cease being manners and become a warming aura." (Charles Murray)

"He taught us how to live -- and to die." (Michael Knox Beran)

There may be some metaphorical value in that last statement for the movement Buckley helped spawn. With the conservative wing of the Republican Party in chaos, and with John McCain now standing atop the campaign rubble of hard-liners Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, there seems to be twilight falling on the political extremism of the George W. Bush era. (As Glenn Greenwald observed Wednesday, even Buckley realized that Bush and Cheney, with their global war on terrorism and invasion of Iraq, were driving America into a seriously deep ditch.) Ever mindful of his right flank as he campaigns toward the GOP nomination, McCain himself contributed to the collective gusher: "Bill was a great American who helped change the course of history. When conservatism was a lonely cause, he bravely raised the standard of liberty and led the charge to renew the principles and values that are the foundation of our great country," McCain offered late Wednesday. "Bill was an American giant who shall be missed." With the axis of Bush, Cheney and Rove soon headed farther into the wilderness, the movement may indeed really begin to miss its former standard-bearer.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz. National Review Republican Party