Fifty years ago, William F. Buckley brought the conservative movement in America back to life by founding the National Review ; last month, Mr. Buckley turned his controlling shares in the magazine over to a group of trustees, having proven that one man and a magazine can make the world wiser and better. Though the National Review has never earned a profit, it earned the admiration of its allies and the grudging respect of its opponents. Indeed, it could be argued that Bill Buckley has done more to foster serious intellectual debate in this nation than any other person in the past half-century. When compared with the neocons who have dulled the wits of an already witless White House, Mr. Buckley’s brand of conservatism has always been suffused with intellectual rigor, common sense, precision and a healthy dose of humor.
To run a magazine for 50 years is no mean feat; it was made possible by Mr. Buckley’s passionate belief in the power of ideas, and his ability to inspire and educate an entire generation of journalists and politicians. In the beginning, he provided controversial scholars with an outlet for ideas when no other publications were open to their work. Though he was only 28 when he started the magazine, he had already served in World War II, worked briefly for the C.I.A., been an editor at The American Mercury and published God and Man at Yale , his irreverent critique of how students at his alma mater and other universities were falling under the sway of overly secularized, left-leaning professors and administrators. The book kicked up a fair bit of controversy and established Mr. Buckley as a writer to whom attention must be paid. In 1965, he ran for Mayor of New York as the candidate of the newly formed Conservative Party. Asked what he would do if he were elected, Mr. Buckley replied: “Demand a recount!” The campaign, like the National Review itself, was ahead of its time: The Conservative Party disdained the Republican Party nominee, the charismatic and charming John Lindsay, and by doing so, showed that it was determined to change local and national politics by the force of argument and ideas. While Mr. Buckley’s campaign was a curiosity in 1965, within five years his brother James Buckley won election to the U.S. Senate on the Conservative Party line alone.
The following year, Mr. Buckley started the syndicated talk show Firing Line , which he hosted for 33 years until it ended in 1999, and on which he alternately indulged and teased guests such as Richard Nixon, Norman Mailer, Henry Kissinger, Groucho Marx, Hugh Hefner, Jack Kerouac and Mary McCarthy. Meanwhile, his syndicated column expanded to now reach over 300 newspapers, and his political beliefs helped lay the groundwork for the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Bill Buckley has, against all odds, created a new breed of politician and political discourse in this country, embodying not only what Barry Goldwater once called “the conscience of a conservative” but also the heart and truly transcendent decency of one.
Joel Klein Earns an A
The Bloomberg administration made it clear from Day 1 that it wants to change the way children are educated in New York’s public schools. By that measure, the administration-thanks to the work of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein-is achieving remarkable results.
After two years in office, Mr. Klein has demonstrated that the schools can, in fact, change for the better, that tough but necessary reform is possible, and that we can do better for New York’s 1.1 million public-school children, more than half of whom are now foreign-born or children of foreign-born parents.
In the school year that concluded last month, Mr. Klein put into place a series of changes that continued the progressive changes made possible when Mayor Michael Bloomberg persuaded Albany to disband the Board of Education and put the schools directly under his control. In place of bureaucrats looking to pad their pensions, parents now have a greater voice in running the schools-every school has a parent coordinator to help in school governance. New curricula in math and language skills were introduced during the 2003-4 school year. Principals will undergo special training at a special academy built with private dollars, and they’d better pay attention, because they will be held accountable as never before. Mr. Klein removed 45 principals this year for poor performance.
And, most of all, the chancellor and Mayor stared down the protests of a handful of parents and instituted tough policies designed to end social promotion. Thousands of third graders who were not reading or writing at acceptable levels will repeat the grade next year.
Mr. Klein was exactly right when he said that “no other city in the country” is reforming education as profoundly as New York. Obviously, problems remain. Discipline in the schools is not what it should be, but there’s reason to believe that will change when security in the schools is beefed up. And the controversy over social promotion demonstrated that too many young people simply aren’t learning. That has to change, too. And the city is still waiting for state funds to improve the school system, as the State Legislature continues to fail to meet the court-appointed deadline.
Mr. Klein’s strong leadership has given parents and students alike reason for hope. New York’s public schools have been in decline for decades. Now, however, things are beginning to look up. Congratulations, Mr. Klein. See you in September.
A Victorious Valedictorian
New York City’s most outspoken high-school valedictorian has demonstrated that some of our public-school administrators need a refresher course in the First Amendment. When 17-year-old Tiffany Schley gave this year’s valedictory address at the High School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn, she used the podium to point out the school’s overcrowded classrooms, bad teachers, ineffective guidance counselors and revolving-door principals. The school’s administrators, as if trained by Kremlin thugs, decided they would punish the young woman for telling the truth. The next day, when Ms. Schley went to the school to pick up her diploma, she was told she wouldn’t be receiving one.
It’s staggering that a bunch of flunky school administrators would think they could get away with denying a student a diploma she had earned, and an indication of just how much work still needs to be done to clear out the small-minded bureaucrats who still lurk within the public-school system. Mayor Bloomberg stepped in to assure Ms. Schley that she will be receiving her diploma, and he eloquently called whoever made the decision a “bonehead.”
Ms. Schley will be attending Smith College on a full scholarship in the fall. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s office is investigating the incident, and presumably will have something to say to the school’s principal, Albert Vazquez, and his staff about their profoundly foolish behavior.