Conservative Books Just in Time for Summer

Strictly Right: William F. Buckley, Jr., and the Conservative

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If you’re a veteran National Review reader, this history of Bill Buckley and his indispensable magazine will bring back half a century of happy memories. And even if you’re not, this story of the essential founding father of modern American conservatism will entertain, inform and inspire. The conservatism that coalesced around National Review beginning in the 1950s was a loose but (usually) viable coalition of foreign policy hawks and Old Right critics of the New Deal, social conservatives and champions of the “captive nations” behind the Iron Curtain, defenders of “the permanent things” and enthusiasts for the free market. Tales from those days offer lessons and encouragement for today, when the different conservative constituencies seem to be going their separate ways. Among the anecdotes recounted in this entertaining and informative book, here’s one that suggests that objections to conservative criticism of the leftist monopoly of institutions of higher education were no more subtle 56 years ago than they are today. Henry Sloane Coffins’s objection to Buckley’s God and Man at Yale: “Why do you want to turn Yale education over to a bunch of boobs?” Now, no less than then, courage to think outside the platitudes of the liberal establishment — courage even to be classed with the not-so-glamorous folks in America’s heartland — is a virtue absolutely necessary for conservatives. This book reminds us of how much Buckley was able to accomplish because of that courage.

Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t

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The “other half-baked theories” in the subtitle of John Lott’s Freedomnomics are the ideas laid out in the runaway bestseller Freakonomics. That breezy popular economics book rather tastelessly compared realtors to members of the Ku Klux Klan and — in an argument that went beyond bad taste into tacit support for eugenics — argued that legal abortion was responsible for the falling crime rate in the 1990s.

But Lott does more than poke holes (sometimes quite large ones) in the economic analysis in Freakonomics. He takes on the mindset behind it, which is also the ingrained attitude that makes so many voters easy targets for special interests pushing government intervention in the economy. Lott shows that the free market isn’t a free-for-all in which the most unscrupulous players win by bilking the rest of us. Private property and free trade reward not just hard work but honesty, too.

Like Lott’s earlier work defending gun rights as crime prevention, Freedomnomics is packed with facts, statistics and detailed economic analysis. But unlike some of that previously published work, this book (where much of that detail appears in footnotes) is a great read for a general audience.

The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President’s Life After the White House

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This most recent installment of R. Emmett Tyrrell’s monumental oeuvre on the fascinating flawed lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton dishes the dirt on “the Boy President’s historically unprecedented retirement.” More like an aging rock star than an elder statesman, Bill Clinton pals around with fellow celebrities (Bon Jovi and Carly Simon performed at two of the several parties celebrating his 60th birthday) and rakes in vast amounts of cash for speaking appearances ($43 million in his first four years out of the White House — and that was after expenses and living costs).

Tyrrell has been on the Clintons’ case since the beginning of Bill’s presidency — sometimes with history-changing effect. (A reference to an Arkansas-hotel-room encounter between Bill Clinton and Paula Jones in Tyrrell’s American Spectator inspired Jones to sue to clear her name — and Bill Clinton was eventually impeached for obstruction of justice in that lawsuit.) Now that we’re facing the real possibility of another Clinton presidency, Tyrrell’s rollicking stories about the further adventures of our former narcissist-in-chief and his ambitious wife are, once again, more than just entertainment.

And the historical perspective that Tyrell provides is interesting and valuable, as well. As he points out, the contrast between Bill Clinton’s retirement and other ex-presidencies — even in cases where the former office-holders had been involved in scandal during their tenure in office — reflects not just on Clinton, but on our society.