Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Goodbye, WFB

Today is a very sad day. William F. Buckley, Jr. has passed.

I am a right-thinking man, in innumerable ways, because I was exposed to Buckley's work when I was in high school. My aunt was working for a doctor who subscribed to Buckley's National Review magazine at the time, and every so often an NR would fall into my hands when my aunt gave me the months-old sports magazines that'd accumulated in the doctor's office. I started reading those National Review mags, and I started saying to myself, "This makes a whole hell of a lot of sense."

When I entered college, I began reading every Buckley book in my school's library. I also started watching Buckley's Firing Line program on PBS. By the time I'd reached the tender age of 19, I was a certified Fan O' William F. Buckley, Jr.

In 1992, several college chums and I trekked to Vanderbilt University to see and hear William F. Buckley, Jr. in the flesh. Buckley had just published a book about national service, entitled Gratitutue: Reflections On What We Owe to Our Country, and he'd traveled to Nashville to discuss the themes he'd advanced in said book ...

After speaking - sans notes - for over an hour, Buckley asked for questions. A hairhead hipster doofus approached the mike and, in a most condescending tone, said something to this effect: "Sir, you have told us what we need to do to serve our country. What have you done to serve your country?" Buckley's lips curled to form his inimitable grin, and he said, "I'm speaking to you, aren't I?" Applause erupted, and no one - but no one - was clapping his or her hands harder or louder than I.

That said, if anyone deserved to be called a True Renaissance Man, 'twas William F. Buckley.

A former CIA agent, he could converse in several languages. He founded the journal of record for American conservative thought and opinion. He wrote dozens of books -- fiction and non-fiction -- and penned hundreds (thousands?) of op-eds. He was an expert boatsman who made several trans-Atlantic voyages on his sailboat. He and his sainted wife welcomed artists, diplomats, and politicians, of every ideological stripe, to galas held in their homes in New York City and Connecticut.

Take any 4 or 5-year period from Buckley's public career, and he did more/produced more than most folks do in a lifetime. Impressive, to say the least.

Finally, I cannot close this little tribute without discussing what I think was William F. Buckley, Jr.'s finest moment in a lifetime of fine moments.

In 1968, ABC News hired Buckley and author Gore Vidal to provide commentary during the Democratic National Convention. As the convention wore on, the exchanges between Buckley and Vidal became increasingly testy. Unable to win on points, Vidal resorted to the name-calling game, which led to his calling Buckley a "pro-crypto-Nazi." Buckley didn't take to kindly to being called a Nazi; so in retort, if you will, he uncorked a statement for the political ages: "Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in you goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered."

I long for the day when a public figure will respond to a snarky query from a left-wing know-it-all (Jon Stewart comes to mind) by saying, for the record, "Ask me that again and I'll sock you in the goddamn face." One day, someone will not only say it ... they'll follow through on their threat as well. When it happens, William F. Buckley, Jr. will smile from the heavens.

Rest In Peace, WFB.

More on Buckley's death here and here and here.

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