Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008): A Giant Passes On

Since I heard about the passing of William F. Buckley late this morning, I have really not been able to get much accomplished. It is like latent ADD has suddenly taken over my life.

Everything is a bit more grey, a bit more humorless today; I can't speak for my coworkers, but for me anyway the sense of loss was palpable from the second I heard about it. Then I got home from work and I wanted to start writing something, but first I kept reading all of the other obits, starting here. But I couldn't find one that fully grasped or expressed what I was feeling.

William F. Buckley, Jr.'s death is not tragic simply because he carried the banner of "Conservative Principles"; his influence was much more profound than that. The things he fought for were things that had been taken for granted for decades--things like the importance of our Constitution and the visionaries and blood which birthed it, things like Libertarianism and the principles of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, the importance of keeping America strong, the importance of keeping Big Government out of our lives, and of keeping our culture and humanity decent--besides his ideological causes, Buckley also carried high the banner of dignity, intellectual discourse (as opposed to ad hominem attacks), kindness, boldness, hard work, and generosity.

There is no way Ronald Reagan becomes the greatest President of this century had not William F. Buckley paved the way. It just simply would not have happened.

Had it not been for WFB, there is a great chance that Berlin Wall is still standing and the Soviet Union is still holding the lives of millions of Eastern Europeans prisoners. The Stasi would probably still be listening to the conversations of East Germans. And America? Can you say: "Europe"?

But Buckley did come along. And the rest is history.

When I was an adolescent/teenager, I used to watch Firing Line with my Dad and watch my father take enormous pleasure in seeing Buckley logically ripping to shreds the argument of an opponent who had more times than not been speaking for over than a minute--usually it only took Buckley a kindly-spoken--but deadly--sentence or two. Short and sweet. His words were lethal weapons, because they so starkly exposed the vapidity of the elite Left. Every word was measured and thought out, like poetry. But they came out so effortlessly, and with that cultured Eastern accent that implied aristocracy. Dad would say something like "did you see that?" And so I learned to take pleasure in these "debates". It soon became apparent that the whole tension in Firing Line became not if, but when will the coup d' grace be delivered? And Buckley never disappointed.

He was the human definition of "eloquence", but he always used his keen intellect and superior command of the English language to attack the ideas--but never the person espousing them (well almost never...).
Listen to Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal discuss, not Vietnam -- though that's ostensibly what its about -- but power in society.

This is rare footage indeed.

About 12 or so years ago, I went over to McFarland Auditorium at SMU to watch William F. Buckley, Jr. debate George McGovern on liberalism vs. conservatism. He not only wiped the floor with McGovern, but you could tell that even McGovern enjoyed it. It was so masterful, so completely effortless (or so it seemed, anyway), that I walked out of there feeling like I had just witnessed a scene from a Shakespearean martial arts film.

I've been subscribing to National Review almost since college. The writers have come and gone over the years but there has always been the one constant;' the one heartbeat at the center of all conservative heartbeats of the late 20th century. And now he is gone?

When he stepped down from running National Review, I guess so many momentous things had happened over the years because of him that I didn't really see it as "retirement". He spawned Reagan and a whole slew of Conservative journalists, writers, and radio hosts; he writes a tremendous autobiography, "Miles Gone By"; his columns continue to appear in the magazine from time to time. It wasn't like that much had changed. And the magazine continued to be excellent.

I always read those columns. Every one. And he kept writing until the very end. You could almost surmise that he would have wanted it that way.

But still I wasn't ready for this. I felt horrible for him when his wife Pat passed--I thought at the time of those stories you see all the time; the ones where one long time spouse dies and the other follows soon thereafter. And I didn't want it to be so here. But--in a way--it was almost poetic that it did turn out that way. Poetic, yes; but that doesn't ease the shock.

I hope Christopher and the rest of the family is holding up. I am sure their faith will get them through this, simply because it must. I lost my Dad while I was in college. Car wreck. So now, the fact that it was my Dad who introduced me to WFB resonates like a harmonic guitar chord. The bell tolls for thee.

The United States of America is as great as it is today, partly because William F. Buckley spent his entire adult life fighting for her. Fighting for the same vision as that of the Renaissance men who first graced its shores in the Age of Enlightenment.

Bill Buckley is this century's Renaissance Man. We will miss him, dearly.

UPDATE: A great comprehensive summary of WFB's life, from Rick Moran. Very thorough, although it still didn't get to the emotion for me. It's almost like I want to shed tears but the catalyst still hasn't made it happen yet. But keep your eyes on NRO. His pride and joy, and it is chock full of tremendous writers. I've seen some great tributes over there already, but I get the feeling that the best is yet to come. I did get a little misty while listening to Rush's first hour though.

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