Beyond Praise

This past Thursday was a big night on the Island of Manhattan. A black-tie affair was held, attended by leading political and religious figures, and featuring prayers and speeches.

Robert Royal and I were there, at a table hosted by George J. Marlin. We all saw many old friends and made some new ones.

Meanwhile, across town, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were working the crowd at the annual Al Smith Dinner.

We three (and several hundred others) were at the venerable Union League Club to celebrate the Human Life Review’s tenth annual Great Defender of Life Dinner.

This year’s honoree was James Lane Buckley, the former United States senator from New York (1971-76), perhaps the most distinguished jurist ever to serve on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (1985-96), and, of course, the brother of William F. Buckley Jr.

Judge Buckley is about the most soft-spoken, self-effacing man it would ever be your pleasure and honor to meet. Everybody who stood up to make remarks before it was his turn to respond was effusive in praise of him. And he is a man who, rather like his brother, is actually beyond praise.

           Judge James L. Buckley

Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review, acted as master of ceremonies. He introduced Maria McFadden Maffucci, editor of The Human Life Review, a role she took over after the death of her esteemed father, James McFadden, and she explained expertly and succinctly the role The Human Life Review has played, is playing, and will continue to play in what is the greatest civil-rights issue of the age: protection of the unborn.

I remember Maria from her very first days working at HLR. Jack Fowler was, if memory serves, associate publisher of National Review, I was literary editor, and we would often ascend in a very rickety and unreliable elevator to the offices of HLR to say the Angelus at noon.

On the days, every other week, when we had our NR editorial meeting, Joe Sobran would be in town, and he’d pray with us too, and some of Joe’s best stuff appeared in HLR. Whatever foibles Joe had, he was clear-eyed and eloquent in defense of life – a pro-life tiger, in fact.

Thursday’s dinner was one of those occasions on which people introduce people who introduce people, and George Marlin introduced Prof. Michael Uhlmann (of the Claremont Graduate University), a contributor to The Catholic Thing (present at the founding, in fact), who worked for then Senator Buckley during his one-and-only term, and who was a principal author on the senator’s behalf of the Human Life Amendment.

Mike spoke with great humor and affection of the wit and wisdom of Jim Buckley in his introduction, and when the Honorable Mr. Buckley rose to speak – and never has the honorific honorable been used more appositely – with characteristic humility he gave Mike most of the credit for his accomplishments in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

Somehow it had never occurred to me before just how much James L. Buckley resembles his late sister, Priscilla L. Buckley, a dear friend of mine who died at 90 earlier this year: especially in profile and in cadence and diction; not entirely unlike their more famous younger brother, but, I suppose, more singularly Connecticut than that crazy amalgam of languages that forged Bill’s peculiar accent: Spanish and French, his first languages, learning English in earnest only in England after age seven, and with some Connecticut thrown in too.

I’m sure The Human Life Review will give us Jim Buckley’s remarks in a future issue, so I won’t recapitulate here, but I will say that the passion of his remarks was stirring, and a reminder that one may speak about the ongoing slaughter of abortion in such a way as to influence those few still on the fence, and, perhaps, to pull back over some who have fallen on the wrong side. (Mr. Buckley’s latest book, Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State is available at an incredible price at The Catholic Thing store.)

At the cocktail hour before the dinner, I had a chance to chat briefly with Hadley Arkes before he decamped to that other dinner going on across town, and I look forward to hearing his impressions of that spectacle.

But few who came to The Great Defender of Life dinner were not heard at some point in the evening to remark on the peculiarity of the Al Smith guest list, given that it’s the Archbishop of New York’s party.

Now I know from speaking recently to Cardinal Edward Egan (George Marlin and I spent time interviewing him for a book we’re writing) that his rule in presidential election years was: both the Democrat and the Republican, as long as a Catholic candidate wasn’t also pro-abortion  (John Kerry was not invited in 2004). Neither was President Bush, although that was a matter of equity: the Church will not endorse (or seem to endorse) any candidate.

But the sense on Thursday at the dinner we attended was that one of the candidates cracking wise at that other gala ought not to have been given a platform at such a prestigious Catholic gathering.

We’ve commented here about Cardinal Timothy P. Dolan’s inclusion of President Obama at the Al Smith Dinner – in a year when our bishops have warned about the administration’s threats to religious liberty and made them the subject of prayer vigils and special Masses.  Most of our readers seem to be on the same page as most attendees at the Human Life Review affair: we are confused.

Well, maybe George and I can ask Cardinal Dolan about it, if and when we interview him. There must be some good explanation.




Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.