Getting it Right is a political history disguised as a love story, both tales told amid the radically shifting political climate of America’s 1960s, as Americans reacted to the growing global power of the Soviet Union and the increasing role of government in their own lives. Woodroe Raynor is an earnest young Mormon whose narrow escape from Russian soldiers invading Hungary cements his contempt for the Soviet Union, who finds similarly zealous spirits in the nascent John Birch Society. Leonora Goldstein is a bright young Jewish girl in the employ of the Objectivists, who adopts Ayn Rand as her mentor. Through the tumultous years of Kennedy and LBJ, the two test their ideas against one enough, struggling to build a relationship on their mutual conservatism despite different values. The real stars of the novel are the historical characters for whom Raynor and Leonora are mere appendages, including General Edwin Walker, Ayn Rand, JFK, and Barry Goldwater. Buckley incorporates a lot of historically-derived quotations into their dialogue, which makes some passages seem overly formal, but such casual pompousness would not be out of character for Ayn Rand. The story can’t help but be personal for the late Buckley, a central figure in the movement, and one whose National Review denounced both the Birchers and Objectivists in his day. Buckley’s highbrow scorn for the paranoid and self-impressed fringe is initially dampened in the novel. Both of its central characters initially find a world of meaning in their respective organizations, rising to high positions within them throughout the Kennedy administration, but by the reign of LBJ both have reconsidered as the founders reveal themselves to be utterly mental. The plot climaxes in the failed Goldwater challenge for the presidency, an election in which Johnson played on the public’s fears that Goldwater’s extremism would lead to global war. The famous “daisy” commercial isn’t mentioned here, but the crackup of both the Birchers and Objectivists takes the wind out of the more moderate conservatives’ sails. It’s a quite a piece of work, an extended debate about political philosophy enmeshed in a lively retelling of the 1960s, a period which contributes action scenes in the form of assassinations and rioting. If the specter of Ayn Rand talking can be endured, most readers of a moderate bent will find this engaging.
- Radicals for Capitalism, on “the Objectivist crackup”.
- The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk
Great review of what sounds like one of Buckley's better books. As one who remembers Goldwater's advice on the “defense of liberty” this book does not seem too “extreme”.
I enjoyed Miles Gone By, Buckley's “literary” autobiography and will add this novel to my reading list.
Buckley has more novels in my library, which I'm sure to look into — beginning with “Miles Gone By”. Here he takes a stance that pauses at Goldwater's famous cry, thinking it too far on the fringe. I heard a great deal about Buckley when he died, but I've only recently begun exploring his work. There are numerous interviews from Firing Line on youtube, which I've started listening to.