William F. Buckley (1925—2008)


I can tell you the precise the moment I became aware of the existence of William F. Buckley, Jr. I was a kid in the late sixties watching the Ed Sullivan Show and Frank Gorshen (who was an impressionist before he was The Riddler) did an outlandish impression of him—head thrown back, lips pursed, tongue flickering, and pen as prop and surrogate cigarette.

I had never heard of William Buckley but the audience clearly had. They roared.

Now that I think about it, how remarkable that an intellectual conservative with a dry interview show on PBS should become such a national icon that comedians “did him.”

It is not hyperbolic to say that Bill Buckley changed the course of this nation. He almost single-handedly created an intellectually respectable way to be anti-communist and anti-collectivist without having to join the ranks of the conspiratorial and paranoid John Birchers.

He was scary smart, a great novelist, but also self-deprecating.

Once, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, I heard Buckley recall a mid-70s organized debate about the controversial Panama Canal Treaty (remember that?) with Buckley and George Will teamed up on the pro side, and former governor Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan on the con side.

WFB said something along the lines of, “Will and I trounced them so soundly, Reagan was never heard from again.”

I started reading National Review in my latter college years and it was huge in helping me crystallize a conservative (classical liberal) grid.

Thinker. Spy Novelist. Sailor. Celebrity. World Changer. From here, it looked like a life well lived. Very well lived indeed.

WSJ’s obit here.

National Review’s Symposium here.