THE CHANGELING: Q&A With Christopher Buckley


Christopher Taylor Buckley  is an American political satirist and accomplished novelist. His books include God Is My Broker, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, The White House Mess, No Way to Treat a First Lady, Wet Work, Florence of Arabia, Boomsday, and, most recently, Supreme Courtship. Tom Wolfe calls him “one of the funniest writers in the English language.” Recently, he made headlines when he publicly endorsed Senator Barack Obama for President. In advance of his appearance at the Philadelphia Free Library on November 5th, we spoke with the son of conservative movement standard-bearer William F. Buckley about his decision to go public with his Obama endorsement, why he’s anti-Palin, the wingnut blowback that prompted him to tender his resignation from National Review, the magazine his father founded, and how all of this augurs the end of conservatism as we once knew it…

PHAWKER: Before we get started, I must tell you something about your father. When I was a boy, my grandfather, an ardent Conservative, tried his best to groom me into a young Republican. He would always give me his copy of the National Review when he was done with it, all marked up with various passages underlined for emphasis. And I read them cover to cover. But, as a lifelong progressive liberal, I am sorry to say it never took. However, your father’s buckleys_1.jpgwritings DID make me expand my vocabulary exponentially, just so I could understand what he was on about. So, thanks for that.


PHAWKER: Do you think that the kind of conservatism your father championed — rational, intellectually rigorous and curious, willing to dialogue with conflicting viewpoints — died with him?

CHRISTOPHER BUCKELY:  I prefer to think not, but on the other hand it is certainly not in rampant evidence these days. But to quote my father, ‘I don’t believe in permanent victories or permanent defeats.’ Arthur Schlesinger viewed American politics as cyclical and spoke of 30-year cycles. I think we are at the end of one, and the beginning of a new one. Clearly this election has revealed some serious faultlines on the right, and hopefully there will be some soul-searching. As my father would say, conservatism could use a little ‘re-pristinization.’

PHAWKER: Is that even a word.

CHRISTOPHER BUCKELY: [chuckles] If my father used it, it’s a word.

PHAWKER: Do you think your endorsement of Obama absolves what is arguably the one stain on your father’s legacy: His early opposition to the Civil Rights movement.

CHRISTOPHER BUCKELY: Not at all. I don’t think I have it in me to absolve my father of anything. He repented of that by the end of the 60s, and even wrote an article for LOOK magazine in 1970 called WHY AMERICA NEEDS A BLACK PRESIDENT.

thankyouforsmoking_1.jpgPHAWKER: What was the tipping point in your decision to endorse Obama?


PHAWKER: Do you still consider yourself a Republican?

CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY: To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I did not leave the Republican party, the Republican party left me.

PHAWKER: Your next book is a memoir about losing your mom and dad, which is slated for publication in the spring. You still call your dad ‘Pup.’ Is it healthy for a grown-ass man to call his dad ‘Pup’?

CHRISTOPHER BUCKELY: I have been calling him that since I was two. Would you prefer that I call him ‘Mr. Buckley’?

PHAWKER: Touche.


THE SHAGGS: It’s Halloween!


ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: The Shaggs Three sisters from rural New Hampshire, the Shaggs were just this side of collapse when they strapped their instruments. The Wiggin family was, by all accounts, a study in Pepperidge Farm country gothic. Daddy Austin Wiggin Jr. worked in the cotton mill and applied every coffee-canful of cash he could earn toward his dream: that his three eldest daughters–Betty, Helen and Dot–would one day become international pop stars. Just one problem: Despite years of music lessons, none of the Wiggin girls could shaggsf_2.jpgplay or sing in a way that you would call “good.” But to Austin, and succeeding generations of astute listeners, it was beeyootiful music when his daughters picked up their guitars and beat on the drums, together in the same room, if not always the same song. Named after the girls’ thick, horsetail-length hairstyle, the Shaggs were born in 1967, taking miscues from the Monkees and Herman’s Hermits songs they heard on the radio. They pretty much had to make it up as they went along, as their father would not allow them to attend rock concerts and insisted on home-schooling to allow more time to work on their music. Recorded in 1969, Philosophy of the World is as much an intriguing anthropological find as it is a timeless, albeit unintentional, statement of outsider art–Frank Zappa hailed it as his third favorite recording of all time. Everyone should hear it once. — JONATHAN VALANIA

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