William F. Buckley, the father of modern American conservatism, passed away today. The New York Times' obituary is here. While Buckley is best known for his founding of the National Review and his prolific writings that managed to unify American conservatism into a core set of ideas, what is also of great interest to us at this site is his 1965 candidacy for the mayorality of New York. The Times has a remembrance of that race here.
In the '65 race, Buckley entered the contest as the voice of what he believed to be authentic conservatism and also disenchantment. Running against liberal Republican (and eventual winner) John Lindsay and Democrat Abe Beam, Buckley tapped into the frustrations of many New Yorkers (white, ethnic, outer boroughs) with the urban decline of the city. As the failures of the war on poverty and 60's liberalism were being realized in the urban context, Buckley gave voice to those who felt left behind by this social experiment. I've always felt that Buckley's candidacy must be viewed as an important stopping off point for many urban, white ethnic Democrats who eventually ended up being "Reagan Democrats." Starting with Goldwater, through Buckley, George Wallace, and finally Reagan, you can trace this realignment of a large segment of the American electorate. While Buckley never won office, he provided the ideas and the forum for the movement.
In the next few days, John and I will attempt to unearth some data from that '65 race to highlight what was going on, though not fully appreciated, at the time.