It was with a degree of sadness that I learned today of the passing of William F. Buckley jr. The Conservative and political icon was a force in American political thought for over 50 years. Rising from relative obscurity, to founding the National Review, to his Firing Line TV show, to his mentoring of various politicians from Goldwater to Reagan, he made more than a mere impression on the landscape of America.
Buckley became the philosopher king of the Conservative movement. He took what was a moribund movement, fractured, disjointed, and almost irrelevant, and made it a big tent whole that rose to prominence in American politics. He, more than anyone, made Conservatism acceptable in the liberal post-war world.
Buckley was unique in the world of American politics. He was a deep thinker, but had a biting acerbic wit. A wit and a style that won him many more friends than enemies (Gore Vidal not with standing), even among his political, ideological, and philosophical oppponents. His debating on TV, on Firing Line, was pure entertainment. Buckley was a master of words, and of using them to his best advantage. And he only rarely lost his temper (Gore Vidal again), usually maintaining a calm, almost disconcerting calm in the face of verbal barrages. That unwavering calm was more disarming to his opponents than any quick turn of phrase or insightful witicism.
I was one of many who enjoyed watching Firing Line. Buckley attracted a wide variety guests, from pop culture figures, to politicians. He was what Bill Maher thinks Bill Maher is. It didn’t matter what the subject matter was, Bill Buckley always had a comment or three, and never strayed from the facts. Even in jest, he had full command of the subject at hand.
So farewell Mr.Buckley. God speed.