Leave it to the inimitable late William F. Buckley Jr. to put his finger on the cause years ago — in 1951 — and in doing so himself becoming an earlier version of Mr. Cain and Mr. Gingrich.
In his classic God and Man at Yale, in which the precocious 25-year old recent Yale graduate began unceremoniously shredding the veil of what was evolving into the modern liberal establishment millions of Americans have come to know and not love, Buckley took a manuscript note from his friend the Yale professor Willmoore Kendall and, recognizing its truth, inserted it in his book. It is worth repeating here:
I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.
The real reason Herman Cain is out of this campaign, the real reason Newt Gingrich is being targeted by Pelosi for character assassination — the real reason so many conservatives have been targeted since the days of the Alger Hiss episode — is some variation on the formulation of both Buckley and Chambers all those long decades ago.
As time went on, and the decades unraveled, so too did a particularly distinct pattern. As one conservative after another ascended to some sort of public prominence — so too was their arrival greeted somewhere along the line with precisely the sort of acrimonious treatment that greeted the anti-Communist Nixon, the ex-Communist Chambers and the young conservative writer Buckley. Each was targeted with what is now called “the politics of personal destruction.”
Here’s a list of those targets, roughly in historical order and by no means definitive, beginning with original targets Nixon, Chamberlain and Buckley.
William F. Buckley Jr.
Clement Haynesworth (a failed Nixon Supreme Court nominee)
Edwin Meese III
Douglas Ginsburg (Bork’s replacement as a Reagan Supreme Court nominee –and also failed)
Miguel Estrada (a star conservative lawyer, a Latino, blocked as a Bush appeals court nominee)
George W. Bush
Not everyone on this list, as mentioned with Nixon, could be identified as a member of the modern conservative movement. Bill O’Reilly, for example, does not identify himself as a conservative. But there is one thing that all have unmistakably in common.
In one way or another, all in their own unique and individual fashion and style, every single person on this list has been publicly and vividly identified by the left as on one side of the struggle that Buckley and Chambers accurately fingered so long ago. To rephrase it only slightly:
If the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world, all of these people on this list joined the struggle between individualism and collectivism that is the same struggle reproduced on another level. And they joined that struggle on the side Buckley identified as “Christianity” and “individualism” and Chambers as a choice between “God or Man” — becoming considerably potent opponents of atheism and collectivism.
And as a direct result, each was or is in some fashion greeted by the political blow torch that is quite deliberately reserved for those perceived by the American left — in the media and out of it — as somehow a direct threat to the left’s baseline values, however visible or concealed, of collectivism if not atheism.
Whether the attacks are coming from liberal media organs like the New York Times or NBC or Media Matters, whether it is the threat of a special prosecutor or a congressional investigation or just the latest pronouncement on religion from a Mainline Protestant faith, or education from a union or academic outpost, or the qualifications of a judge from the American Bar Association — the underlying core of each and all is some variation on the Buckley/Chambers formulation.