Guest Column: A Letter to (the late) William F. Buckley seeking clarification

Thomas E. Simmons

A tenured professor at the University of South Dakota School of Law, Thomas Simmons concentrates on trusts, estate administration, and the estate tax. Prior to joining the legal academy, he was a partner with the law firm of Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP

Dear Mr. Buckley:

Is my best friend a RHINO if she obeys traffic laws?

It’s sometimes difficult for me to discern the correct conservative stance. Republicans value law and order and national security. These values keep us safe. With safety and security comes freedom. We value personal liberties. Freedom is an end in itself. So is human life, which is why we are pro-life.

I know that in 1959 (in Up from Liberalism), you wrote, “I will not cede more power to the state.” I understand this to be an absolute. Any state encroachment on personal liberty should be resisted. There’s no such thing as reasonable firearms regulation. Freedom comes first. That’s why you also said, “I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors.”

I’ve read your more recent tracts too. I know that you defended Regan from conservatives who called him a sell-out. “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.” That’s what you said. But when you were younger, you were purer about things and those are the books of yours that I prefer. Reagan was no Goldwater; you’ve got to admit that.

Still, I understand that we do tolerate governmental intrusions into our lives to punish those who intentionally harm others or their property. Kidnappers, murderers, vandals, and abortionists should be criminally prosecuted. But accidental or incidental harms are just the cost of doing business. That’s why the war on drugs was just another page from the liberal play book. Sure, some people are harmed by drug dealers, but not intentionally. Drug dealers are just trying to make a few bucks.

Today, liberals want to resist reopening the economy in the interests of safety – sure, that sounds like a conservative value – but it’s really just a pretext for disempowering small business owners (who typically vote Republican). Liberals say they want to be cautious in their approach to COVID-19 – which also sounds like what a conservative would say, but they don’t mean it. Or is it that those crafty liberals have co-opted some of our conservative values? And if they have, should we be unsafe and reckless?

I don’t’ know, but I do know that progressives calling for a balanced approach – reopening with restrictions like masks, plexiglass, curbside shopping, social distancing – are false prophets. Although wearing a mask might dignify the rights of others by respecting their personal freedoms and mitigate risks from a potentially deadly virus (i.e., preserve lives), it’s also an inconvenience and therefore unacceptable on any terms. I’m not intentionally infecting others by not washing my hands, right?

What I can’t wrap my head around is whether my friend who obeys traffic laws is a RHINO. By doing so, doesn’t she cede power to the state to regulate the way people drive? By keeping her speedometer right at 80mph on I-90, doesn’t she demonstrate that she’s not only a passive bystander to the fascism of the deep state, but also a willing participant? I mean, she might as well be wearing a mask!

I’ve tried convincing her, but so far, no luck. Can you help?

Yours in safety,
Thomas E. Simmons
Vermillion, SD

All of the views and opinions Professor Simmons expresses here on are his as an individual and do not reflect the views of the Board of Regents, the University of South Dakota, its School of Law, their employees, faculty or administrators. The foregoing editorial represents only his views as a private citizen.

18 Replies to “Guest Column: A Letter to (the late) William F. Buckley seeking clarification”

  1. Anonymous

    Thomas E. Simmons picks a fight with a guy who’s been dead for years, misrepresents the dead guy’s positions, and still loses the argument.

    Are other USD professors this smug and intellectually weak?

    RINO is a slang acronym for “Republican in name only.” “Rhino” is short for rhinoceros.

  2. John Dale

    It’s “RINO”, which stands for Republican In Name Only, which the author could be by simply submitting a voter registration form.

  3. Nonymouse

    It also happens to be Reagan, not Regan. Did you turn off the auto edit feature when you wrote this piece?

  4. Anonymous

    Wtf is all this? There’s also a typo on “don’t”.

    And we all know that Kristi Norm doesn’t obey traffic laws.

    1. anonymous

      I have a bucket of stones for those who have never exceeded any speed limit, never rolled through a stop sign, never crossed a yellow line, and never have driven without a seat belt.

      1. Anonymous

        Keoland (S.D.) News reported Friday that Kristi Noem has had 20 speeding tickets, three stop sign violations, two seat belt violations and a citation for driving with no driver’s license. She has also been issued six court notices for failure to appear and two arrest warrants.

        In her most recent incident earlier this year, Noem was pulled over for going 94 miles-per-hour on a highway.

  5. Jess Wondering

    Is this the first shot in a new effort to convince our bright young minds seeking an education in the law that they should be preparing to go out-of-state?

  6. Kelly L

    Is wearing a mask compulsory by law or would it be the subject of the property owner ?

  7. Anonymous

    I’m now dumber than when I woke up after reading this. Simmons couldn’t lift Buckley’s jockstrap.

    1. Noem Voter

      And was Professor Simmons addressing National Review founder William F. Buckley, JUNIOR or his father, Texas-born lawyer William F. Buckley?

  8. Troy

    Not funny so it isn’t sarcasm. It might be a weak attempt at irony by trying to turn words and concepts on its head to make fun of a particular group or thought. But, it is weak because it is grounded in some logic fallacies.

    1) Taking Buckley out of context
    2) Mind projection
    3) Creating a false dilemma
    4) Cherry picking
    5) Many red herrings

    The guy thinks he is clever. In reality he is a moron who has an inflated sense of self.

    1. Anonymous

      Regarding your last two sentences: I think most law school professors do and are. Abolish tenure.

  9. Anonymous

    Prof, thanks for the opinion piece. Now stick with Trusts and Wills classes, and stay away from Constitutional Law.

  10. enquirer

    straw argument at best. elected officials oversee road usage, as they see the regulation of broadcast frequencies, and other limited resources – – as a referee. each driver has rules to follow to protect everyone’s use of the limited resource. as long as no special measures give a driver with politics ‘A’ more road access than a driver with politics ‘B’, there is no violation of the precepts of limited government. likewise, if the government promises you all the roads, but gives you none of the roads, then that government is engaged in a corrupt takeover of roads on behalf of an entitled crony class, leaving the rest of us in the dirt.