Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley 1925-2008

I was first saw Buckley in a TV ad plugging National Review magazine. Rather than use the word “conservative” he said the magazine approached the news from a decidedly different perspective, one that might be like my own. What struck me most was how intelligent he seemed. I was in my last year of college and felt that I didn’t really get much of an education. My time inthe library was spent reading about the Marx Brothers and Alfred Hitchcock.

I went to this newsstand on Palafox Street a few doors down from the PLT and they had the magazine. Buckley had stepped down as editor the year before but still owned and wrote for the magazine. The new editor, John O’Sullivan, dedicated the totality of this particular issue to an essay (later a book) by Buckley about anti-Semitism and whether certain public figures or organizations were anti-Semitic. The essay made me think harder and consider ideas at a time when I was really in need of it. It wasn’t a few months before I was subscribing.

Before National Review my conservatism was based on lessons from my father running his business and the problems he ran into placating the government. National Review explained how the Federal Government was still at it and worse than ever. It also taught me language. I had to read it with a dictionary to understand it back then.

Soon I began watching Firing Line. I still have a few episodes on tape. He would interview thoughtful people and talk about ideas. Like the magazine he was frequently funny. I remember he hosted a lady who wrote a book about what women should know about their husband’s money. He ended the show by saying the title “What every woman should know about their husband’s money” and then threw in, “except my wife.”

The first time I saw Peggy Noon was on Firing Line. I had an immediate crush on her. They talked about her book “What I Saw at the Revolution” and Bill asked her to contrast the Reagan and Bush White Houses. I went out and picked up the book that week and I’ve read it several times since. Peggy wrote in the book about how her friend’s mother subscribed to National Review. Her reaction to it mirrored my own.

Another guest was Mortimer Adler, the editor of the Great Books of the Western World. I read a few of his books and bought a set of the Great Books a few years later.

I also started buying and reading Bill’s books. I counted this evening and I have 29 books by Bill Buckley, the most of any author on my shelf. Some are on politics, some are autobiographical and others are novels. My favorites are his books from the 1960s. I particularly like his memoir “The Unmaking of a Mayor.” Another book, “Cruising Speed” documented a single week in his busy life. Rush recommended a Buckley book this afternoon and Amazon is now sold out coincidently. You'll find my review from 2000 if you scroll down that page.

This past weekend I remembered a column collected in REFLECTION FROM A LIBERTARIAN JOURNLIST called "What if they were Nazis?" It was a cold war column about how the liberal media forgives every Marxist dictator now matter how brutal while patting itself on the back for opposing Hitler. I took the book up to the night shelf on Sunday meaning to re-read it, but got caught up in something else.

One of Buckley’s first accomplishments was being named editor of the Yale Daily News, a position that his younger brother Reid held a few years later. Reid now runs a school in South Carolina that teaches public speaking. He offered a bi-yearly course a few years ago meant to teach media professionals to be better communicators. I wrote the school to get the materials and tried to get my company to pay for me to attend. It was just too soon. The show was too new and I didn’t have enough support back then to pull it off.

Surprisingly one day I got a call from Reid personally asking me to attend. He sounded just like Bill without the stutter. He was warm and funny and I couldn’t believe that I was speaking to an actual Buckley. I told him that I was working on the powers that be to send me. He said that they should take into account that he had just recently been to Disney with all of his grandchildren and spent a great deal of money and that should count for something. We laughed together and I told him that I was working on it. He called a month or so later and left me a message. I had to call him back and say that I didn’t have any luck. I should have just paid for it myself, but I thought I could talk them into it in two years once our show was more established. The class was never presented again.

I would often get National Review offers to attend seminars where Bill was speaking, but I could never justify the travel and seminar cost and I now regret being so cheap. I did write Bill a few times though and he did once send me an autographed photo.

I remember reading last year that Buckley had said that he had done everything he could in this life and he was ready to die. I don't think I heard anyone ever say such a thing publicly. He was unique in many ways.

Despite all the moves in my life I have kept my old National Review magazines. They’re everywhere in the house now and too precious to ever let go of. I can thank Bill for teaching me to love learning and showing me the political light. I didn’t know him and yet he meant so much to me. God Bless you, Bill Buckley.


E said...

A wonderful tribute, Tom. He is one of those rare types who truly did impact many people in profound ways.

I noted that 26 of 26 readers found your amazon review helpful, a tribute to your own intellectual abilities and rhetorical gifts.

I hope your wife is more sympathetic to your National Review collection and Great Books set than mine is to my Harvard Business Review collection and Great Books set. My wish is that my kids will read more of the Great Books than I have.

Sir Saunders said...

A truly touching tribute. Rush said similar things and likened Bill to "one of the founding fathers." Keep up the good work Tom, I think that YOU are a National Treasure.

Dude said...

Buckley will scarcely be remembered 200 years from now and he will never appear on a coin, but he certainly was influential during his time.

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