Posts Tagged ‘William F. Buckley Jr.’

Best Of Enemies  (2015)  —  movie review
Today’s review is for the documentary “Best Of Enemies“.  The documentary purports to show the start of today’s version of acrimonious televised pundit’s political analysis by referencing back to a series of ten debates between conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal commentator Gore Vidal which occurred during the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions that summer.  The operative word in this last sentence being “televised”.  There should be no doubt that vitriolic personal animosity has always existed (to some lessor or greater degree) between the defenders of opposing sides in virtually every political debate – especially those which deal with “moral” issues.
First, as usual, full disclosure: as I’ve stated before on this blog, I am a life-long conservative Democrat.  I grew up a BIG fan of Buckley (from TV) and have almost complete ignorance of Vidal.  I have, of course, seen his image and probably seen him on TV, but I have never (to my recollection) read any of his books.  When I saw this documentary was available on Netflix, it immediately went to the top of my “must watch” list because I anticipated a contest between intellectual giants casting Zeus-like bolts at each other in their arguments of liberalism versus conservatism.  And this with the advantage of 50 years of history to underline which side prevailed (or at least was correct).
In the end, while fascinated and wildly entertained, I was sorely disappointed.  There is no “there” there (or should I say “there” here).
Instead, what we are treated with is a documentary demonstrating the art of the personal attack as a means – not of winning a debate – but as a means of diminishing one’s opponent, so as to appear to “win” a debate by means of embarrassment.  If this movie is to be believed, Vidal is the clear winner.  If history is the final judge, the answer is less certain.
Vidal opens with the defining challenge: can a party whose sole standing policy is greed, continue to gather enough support from the masses of the public (who live with the failures of capitalism) to elect Republican politicians in general and a President in specific.  Although, the conservative (Buckley) loses the debate, the answer is ‘yes’.  Not as resounding a “YES” as one might think, but a ‘yes’ none the less.  George Wallace splits the democratic vote in the South (with the Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey) and Richard Nixon goes on to win the Presidency.  And beyond that, for twenty of the next twenty-four years, the Republicans control the White House and the Executive Branch.
From this time reference, one might judge Republican conservatism to have been successful and therefore correct as a political theory or somehow “better” than Democratic liberalism.   Again, as I said earlier, the answer is less certain.  The record of history over the last 120 years is that Conservative Republican policies lead to (“cause” is probably too strong a word) economic failure:  the Great Depression, the Great Recession of the 80’s, the collapse of the Savings and Loans, the collapse of the American middle class and the recent recession and financial collapse (of 2007/08).  The sad truth is that the “party of business” doesn’t know how to run an economy when it is in power.
But I digress.  Final recommendation: strong, but qualified.  This is a documentary about how business executives learned to turn political news into confrontational entertainment.  And, similar to modern political punditry, it entertains without providing the foundation of the ideas upon which the two sides rest.  Just because it’s spicy doesn’t mean it’s filling.
On This Day In:
2015 Positive Acts Of Creation
2014 One Thing Is Clear
2013 Corrections
See Greatness
2012 Gemutlichkeit
2011 Back On The Asphalt
It Is Just Not The Same

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