National Review founder William Buckley died today.
Buckley was a throwback to the era when the MSM/DNC enjoyed a virtual monopoly on information. I first discovered Buckley in the early 1980's. At that time, I was treated to an almost non-stop barrage of twisted news presentations, distorted facts, repeats of Democrat talking points, etc. from the nightly news and the pages of newspapers. Once a week, William Buckley (and a very few others) would have one chance to rebut the entire MSM/DNC in the confined space of an opinion column on the editorial page of some newspapers. Even though it was hardly a fair fight, Buckley's (and others') few inches of weekly space was more than a match for the daily rants of the NYT, AP, WaPo, John Chancellor, Walter Cronkite, etc. Buckley kept the conservative light glowing until the New Media could begin fanning the flames at the end of the 1980's.
Conservatives born after 1975 cannot fully appreciate what it was like to live in the era before the New Media existed. Buckley was one voice that helped make that era bearable.
Ann Coulter posts some anecdotes and quotes here, including Buckley's references to Gore Vidal as a "queer" and a "fag."
Michelle Malkin posts more detail.
Joe Sobran shared his memories in May, 2006, when Buckley's emphysema was announced:
Over the years I came to know another side of Bill. When I had serious troubles, he was a generous friend who did everything he could to help me without being asked. And I wasn’t the only one. I gradually learned of many others he’d quietly rescued from adversity. He’d supported a once-noted libertarian in his destitute old age, when others had forgotten him. He’d helped two pals of mine out of financial difficulties. And on and on. Everyone seemed to have a story of Bill’s solicitude. When you told your own story to a friend, you’d hear one from him. It was as if we were all Bill Buckley’s children.
It went far beyond sharing his money. One of Bill’s best friends was Hugh Kenner, the great critic who died two years ago. Hugh was hard of hearing, and once, after a 1964 dinner with Hugh and Charlie Chaplin, Bill scolded Hugh for being too stubborn to use a hearing aid. Here were the greatest comedian of the age and the greatest student of comedy, and Hugh had missed much of the conversation! Later Hugh’s wife told me how grateful Hugh had been for that scolding. Nobody else would have dared speak to her husband that way. Only a true friend would. If Bill saw you needed a little hard truth, he’d tell you, even if it pained him to say it.
I once spent a long evening with one of Bill’s old friends from Yale, whose name I won’t mention. He told me movingly how Bill stayed with him to comfort him when his little girl died of brain cancer. If Bill was your friend, he’d share your suffering when others just couldn’t bear to. What a great heart — eager to spread joy, and ready to share grief!
In another recent column, Sobran compared the careers of Buckley and Ayn Rand (and even Garet Garrett). While I disagree with much of what Sobran has written in recent years (especially about the war), his comparison in that article is interesting to every student of the history of the conservative and libertarian movements:
When Soviet Communism finally collapsed in 1991,
NATIONAL REVIEW felt that its mission was accomplished.
It didn't notice that the America it had set out to save
from Communism no longer existed. Say what you will about
Ayn Rand, I can't imagine her making such a mistake.
This Sobran column contains more details on Buckleys disputes with other conservatives in later years.
I have read several Buckley books over the years, the following of which I endorse:
Ann Coulter has written that this book "proved that normal people didn't have to wait for the Venona Papers to be declassified to see that the Democratic Party was collaborating with fascists. The book -- and the left's reaction thereto -- demonstrated that liberals could tolerate a communist sympathizer, but never a Joe McCarthy sympathizer."
I read "God and Man at Yale" while in college, before I could run to the New Media as a refuge from campus leftism. This book probably provided generations of pre-New Media students with the reinforcement they needed to withstand the barrage of leftism from their college professors.
Many conservatives await a new Reagan to rescue the Republican party from the moderates that now ignore and do not understand capitalism, history, freedom, the rule of law, etc. Before a new Reagan can emerge, I believe we will need a new Buckley - one who will be willing to maintain conservative principles in the absence of access to power and who can energize a new generation of intellectuals to resist the pressure of the modern leftward movement in all major institutions.
The William Buckley that wrote books and published NR in the wilderness in the years before the election of Ronald Reagan provided empowerment is the example that I fear modern conservatives will have to follow in the coming decades.