How is it that a Yale-educated Yankee aristocrat whose first language was Spanish earned the votes of half the Irish and Italian Catholics of the NYPD for Mayor in 1965? How is it that this same man, bereft of security, carried the same preachment into a room full of agitated black New Yorkers, and came out knowing, “they gave him their respect, if not their votes”?
How is it that renegade Conservatism was presented to New York City in 1965 and earned 15% of the available votes of that great city, at the very height of Liberalism’s prestige?
These questions, along with some of the greatest questions ever posed, are ably posed, assayed, examined, related and undertaken, but never fully answered, in William F. Buckley, Jr.’s supreme literary work, The Unmaking of a Mayor, now brought out for a 50th anniversary edition by Encounter Books.
It is difficult overestimate the greatness of this book. But it is easy to overestimate its readability; those who undertake to plumb its depths should gird themselves for a rigorous instruction.
The new Foreword by Neal B. Freeman fleshes this discrepancy out, at least a little bit: Buckley lost his right-hand man, the aforementioned Freeman, campaign chief of staff, who declined Buckley’s offer to co-write the book, which we know now as The Unmaking of a Mayor.
This was to be WFB’s fabled Big Book, his contribution to Political Philosophy, should he have managed to induce Freeman to discipline WFB’s old rascal mind; but the book never got the discipline. So we’re left with a Buckley mash-up of monumental significance.
Part of the vital challenge is the detective work necessary to tease out what’s monumental and what’s trivia.
The fact that a reasonable portion of the platform of Buckley for Mayor, circa 1965, was implemented by Rudy Giuliani, circa 1994-2001, and Michael Bloomberg, circa 2001-2013, may suggest where the detective work should begin.
Nor should the story of Reagan’s realignment victory be told without reference to, fifteen years before, the quixotic campaign of Buckley for Mayor. Both men espoused the same principles.
Fifty years ago a great American Conservative made the case, in a hostile environment, for the superiority of his creed to that of the regnant spirit of the age. He did it with physical courage, patriotism, humor, and warmth.
I wish I could have voted Buckley for Mayor.