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One of the things that made William F. Buckley’s 1965 campaign for New York City mayor so unusual was his vocal rejection of identity politics-the age old practice of pitting interest groups against each other for political gain.
Buckley famously stated “I will not go to Irish centers and go dancing. I will not go to Jewish centers and eat blintzes, nor will I go to Italian centers and pretend to speak Italian.”
Perhaps Buckley’s strongest argument against identity politics came at an event at Richmond Hills High School in Queens, New York on October 14, 1965. During an extemporaneous speech that evening, Buckley stated:
I think it is true that people have become accustomed to thinking that New York voters are merely blocs to be moved around according to sophisticated polls which are supposed accurately to measure the extent to which all of us are affiliated with some bloc or other. We are supposed to be Catholics or Jews or Protestants or bricklayers or non-bricklayers or typists or whatever… A social theorist [Wyndham Lewis] about ten or fifteen years ago said, “You know, if you classify people enough different ways, you deprive them completely of their individuality.” If somebody is exclusively moved in virtue of his participation in this bloc or in that bloc, creating enough blocs in which each one of us belongs, in the end we are all treated as categories …
There is supposed to be catnip for each one of us — each one of us is supposed to respond rabidly to a particular stimulus. And under the circumstances you have in New York politics …and you get these master strategists and they figure how they can deliver your vote by giving you this much catnip and you this much catnip and the other person that much catnip.
You get these master strategists and they figure how they can deliver your vote by giving you this much catnip and you this much catnip and the other person that much catnip.
… The traditional practices of politics [ask] … how many Jewish people are there? how many Italian people? how many Protestants? — not Protestants, come to think of it; they don’t count …
There is a nobility about Buckley’s “anti-campaign.” He put the individual first and refused to pander, the outcome of the election be damned (and indeed it was.)
For more on Buckley’s “anti-campaign,” listen to my conversation with National Review publisher Jack Fowler below.