Conservative commentator brings debate to GW

William F. Buckley, a conservative commentator and host of PBS’s “Firing Line” will come to GW Monday to tape a two-hour debate at the Marvin Center Theater.

Buckley, founder and editor-at-large of National Review, will argue African Americans are better served by the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.

“The Republican Party is very much committed to a series of conventions that have lifted these people out of poverty,” Buckley said. “That has to be distinguished from Democratic conventions that go more toward welfare than entrepreneurship.”

Buckley said he understands his debate team – including Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) and Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) – does not represent the views of most African Americans.

“In the case of presidential elections, the GOP gets only 10 percent of black votes,” Buckley said.

He said African Americans have been affiliated with the Democratic Party since 1964, when Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater voted against civil rights initiatives.

But he said African Americans originally supported Republicans, associating the party with Abraham Lincoln, who signed the emancipation proclamation.

However, Buckley said he understands he may not change many minds. “I never thought of myself as particularly persuasive,” Buckley said. “I see myself as being very right.”

Buckley is content with not winning the popular vote in the debate.

“Sometimes people who lose the popular vote win the intellectual argument, and the people who win the popular vote wake up the next morning with a hangover,” he said.

Buckley said he is looking forward to speaking in front of college students Monday.

“I prefer speaking to a college audience than other audiences,” he said. “People of that age are more curious and more involved.”

Buckley hosted a series of “Firing Line” programs at GW several years ago, and said the students formed an active audience. “Any student (who is in the audience) is obviously there because they are interested in the subject or one of the participants,” Buckley said.

Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum will lead the opposition in the debate, with Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and two professors. Michael Kinsley, former host of “Crossfire” will be the moderator.

In addition, Buckley will tape two one-on-one conversations with senators Monday afternoon in the Marvin Center Theater.

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) will discuss the federal government’s role in the tobacco settlement and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will talk about Social Security reform.

The tapings, each a half-hour, will begin at 2 p.m. Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. and students are welcome.

The two-hour debate on the Republican party will begin at 7 p.m. Students are asked to arrive at 6.

Buckley has had an eclectic career – he started a magazine, ran for New York City mayor, performed with several orchestras, received several presidential appointments and even wrote a play, entitled “Stained Glass.”

He has hosted “Firing Line” since 1966, which has been graced with influential guests – including five U.S. presidents, Margaret Thatcher, the Dalai Lama and Groucho Marx.

“We’ve had some formula changes over the years,” Buckley said. “Our goal is maximum exploitation of the time we have.”

Always opinionated, Buckley had much to say about the recent investigation of President Clinton.

“The whole (Monica) Lewinsky problem touches on practically every base,” he said. “It will have a very influential effect.”

Buckley said he believes the Republicans in Congress will not want to impeach Clinton, because they will have a hard time defeating an incumbent Al Gore for president in 2000.

Buckley said he is intrigued by how Clinton’s approval rating has remained constant throughout the allegations.

“It makes you wonder what would offend that percent (that currently approves of Clinton’s job performance),” he said. “What does this mean about toleration?”

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