March 2, 2008
This may be a little late in coming, but it took me a few days to understand that William F. Buckley really is gone. Then I realized that everybody else had more to say about that fact than I did, and probably could say it better.
I come at this from the other side. I was not a sycophant for Buckley, not that he would have wanted me as such. But I did live in New York City in the 1960's, among the unabashed Liberals of the day, to whom he was an erudite gadfly who tended to use obscure five-syllable words when short, familiar ones would have worked as well, to lead the reader/listener to conclusions that were invariably wrong. He was amusing, larger-than-life, and definitely someone you'd like to meet at a party, but his political stance was as indefensible as it was incomprehensible.
Over the years, like any self-respecting, self-conscious and guilt-ridden Liberal, I have had to reexamine my political viewpoint time and again. It wasn't difficult to break with the Democrats, who seemed so corrupt as to do the expedient thing always, without regard to principle. On the other hand, the Republicans seemed to be in the same boat, never offering a clear alternative. By now, the job of government seems to be in the hands of the advertising agencies and other opportunists to whom getting a candidate elected is not just a step in the democratic process, it is the only goal. The parties have sold out, giving lip service to the old dogma, but not bearing it out in practice.
William F. Buckley was always steadfast. I read a column of his several years ago which explained to me for the first time the moment in which the Democrats became Liberal, laying out the philosophy of Woodrow Wilson which assumed government was there to make people's personal lives better. This, to him, was the beginning of the corruption of politics. It was a well-thought-out premise and it caused me to think. I see Liberals taking advantage of Government programs all the time, and it bothers me greatly. On the other hand, I see Conservatives who seem to honor money and war over all things; this bothers me even more. Thanks to Buckley, I think about Woodrow Wilson and FDR and even John F. Kennedy, and regret what they have wrought, however right their intentions may have been.
Buckley himself eventually rose above the fray and became the Grand Old Man of the Conservative cause. His impishness and brilliance never left him, and with his patrician demeanor he inspired generations of pundits-to-be. This may be his legacy, but I doubt it would have been the one he wanted. Those of us who were present during his apogee would never have imagined in those days how lucky we were to have seen and heard him in prime.