Amid the swamp that is contemporary politics—the vitriol and hate, the hypocrisy and moral compromise, the elitism and arrogance of power—it was moving to read my friend Herb Stupp’s poignant tribute, in the February 27 New York Post, to “one of the most humble public officials anywhere”: former U.S. Senator James L. Buckley.
Unlike Herb, who as state chairman of Youth for Buckley was instrumental in his historic 1970 Senate campaign victory, I do not know Jim Buckley personally. But Herb and others who know him have always confirmed what all of us could easily observe: that James Buckley was that all- too-rare public servant—a man of unyielding principle and unfailing civility.
“In the Senate,” Herb writes, “Jim Buckley was known for his personal cordiality and his steadfast adherence to conservative principles.” Citing his “unimpeachable honesty, gentility and ethical standards,” Herb observes that “No hint of impropriety has ever attached to Buckley’s decades-long service” in all three branches of our national government.
While I am sympathetic to just about all the conservative principles James Buckley has espoused over the years with unsurpassed grace and erudition, his pro-life efforts stand out for me as a particular profile in political courage.
After the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in January 1973, Sen. Buckley moved swiftly to craft and sponsor a human life amendment to protect the unborn. Some of his conservative supporters were less than pleased. Sure, he could and should vote pro-life, they reasoned. But having to face re-election in New York, one of the most liberal states in the nation—with, as he himself noted, the “most permissive” state abortion law prior to Roe—couldn’t he let other senators, from more pro-life states, take the lead on this hot button issue?
But it was clear that to James Buckley, this was a foundational issue; of “paramount importance,” he said, because it attacked not only the unborn—unjust and horrific as that was—but “the most cherished principles of humanity.”
Having taken office just two years before Roe was promulgated, one wonders if perhaps, given his devout Catholicism, Buckley felt that maybe God had placed him in the Senate precisely to lead in this defining struggle of our age. In any event, one sensed that for him, there was really no purpose in being a United States Senator if he could not stand up and lead on a matter as fundamental as the protection of human life.
He would not be deterred by the political risk; for as Herb Stupp writes, he “never let politics get in the way of doing what was right.”
Herb alerts us that on March 9, when James Buckley turns 99, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island will introduce legislation renaming Staten Island stretches of federal beachfront in honor of the man who helped protect them. An ardent environmentalist, Sen. Buckley co-sponsored legislation creating the Gateway National Recreation Area, which protects Atlantic beachfronts in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey.
As I said, I do not know Jim Buckley. But one of my most treasured possessions is a simple framed photograph of us shaking hands, as I finally got to meet him at a Human Life Foundation dinner in 2012, when he was honored with the Great Defender of Life award. Already 90 years old, he was as eloquent as ever in his address, and as warm and gracious personally as I’d always heard.
He has always been my model of what a Catholic public servant should be. I will be contacting my representatives in the U.S. House and Senate, urging them—in the spirit of principled bi-partisanship that Sen. Buckley also exemplified—to support Rep. Malliotakis’ legislation. I hope you will do so as well.
In conferring this much deserved honor upon an exemplary public servant, the current Congress will also comport itself honorably—something that these days occurs all too rarely.
4 thoughts on “Congress Should Honor Senator Buckley”
What a nice story about Mr. Buckley. There used to be a time in our history when public servants knew they were just that, and did what was right for the COUNTRY, and acted on moral and religious principles well established over the ages.Sadly those days appear to be mostly gone, with rare exception.Politicians today are primarily concerned with their own power and re-election, even if they must sacrifice the public good, morality and any concept of God to do so. All while pretending they are honest as the day is long and exhibiting faux outrage when their actions are questioned. Which makes a man like Mr. Buckley all the more laudable. I hope he gets his honor. Sadly, it will not prevent some morally vacuous politician from trying to cancel him, if in a year or two or a hundred from now he was found to have expressed an opinion which is no longer permitted by those who imagine they can dictate every citizen’s thought, word and deed, both today and yesterday.
Indeed, his pro-life stand already makes him toxic in today’s climate, among vacuous public officials incapable of either his scholarly analysis or his moral vision. Thanks so much for your thoughts.
Senator Buckley’s earned him the title Gentleman and a Scholar.
Indeed, Allen. And what we like to refer to as a Catholic gentleman.