Buckley’s splendid eulogies

by Michael O. Allen on March 5, 2008

I come late to the William F. Buckley eulogy party, a full week as a matter of fact. I was going to skip it entirely but I finally read my Newsweek magazine, which devoted precious newshole to the passing of the conservative icon.There was the long retrospective on his career by Evan Thomas, accompanied by a couple of respectful appreciations by Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, the country’s premier liberal magazine, and Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s exceptional speechwriter who sups now at the trough of several publications, Newsweek and the Washington Post included.Before I go any further, I should get this out of the way: among his many admirable qualities, Mr. Buckley was a very charming man and he gave great parties.Douglas Martin began his obituary in The New York Times this way:

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died on Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82.

No purpose will be served rehashing all the encomiums Buckley’s passing garnered. He was a great guy. A great writer. A great wit. Founded a magazine. He was the father of the conservative movement.Some of his eulogizers lamented what has become of the conservative movement he founded. Current crop of conservatives just don’t have the style, the civilized manner of Buckley. David Brooks, a protégé of Buckley who now occupies valuable real estate on The New York Times op-ed page, lamented the return of the haters and rabble rousers long after Buckley thought he had banished them from his movement.Brooks and others, as quoted by Newsweek, on Buckley:

For more than a half century, William F. Buckley Jr., who died last week at 82, largely inspired and held together the conservative movement that is collapsing today. The Wall Street Journal editorialized: “Several generations of conservatives grew up (in more than one sense) with Bill Buckley. Now they have—well, there is no one like him.” “He changed the personality of conservatism,” Brooks says. “It had been sort of negative, and he made it smart and sophisticated and pushed out all these oddballs and created a movement.” More recently, says Brooks, conservatism has “lost something.” In the conservatism spawned by talk radio and TV, the haters and know-nothings are back, ranting about immigrants and liberals. “It was a lot more philosophical under him,” he says. At those nightly salons, Buckley liked to talk and argue about ideas and literature and the nature of man; politics was rarely mentioned. “The new conservatives are not as intellectually creative as those dealing with communism and socialism,” says Brooks. Buckley tolerated some disreputable ideas, including segregation; but he had the capacity to change.

And vanden Heuvel had this to say early in her appreciation of Buckley:

And while he ceased to argue that Africans will be ready to run their own affairs “when they stop eating each other,” neither he nor his magazine ever fully repudiated the poisonous role it played in stoking white supremacists’ anger against the civil-rights movement.

The same Mr. Buckley called author Gore Vidal a “queer” and threatened to punch him out on his television show, The Firing Line. Charming indeed.

I’m sorry, Mr. Buckley might have had nicer manners but how is this any better than any of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter’s serial assault on common-sense and decency?

William F. Buckley was an unreconstructed racist who comforted segregationists everywhere, including the purveyors of the long discredited policy of apartheid in South Africa. Buckley and the pages of the National Review provided ballast to the Reagan administration as it resisted all entreaties to help topple that evil regime.

That this man was welcomed in respectable society when he was alive was bad enough. That he was, on his death, further celebrated in the pages of respectable mainstream publications is both tragic and shameful.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Todd Drew March 6, 2008 at 8:22 AM

You have made me confront my fear of William F. Buckley. I have steered clear of all that has been written in the last week because I knew they would put some kind of positive spin on what this guy was. Your editorial wrapped it up nicely. I can move on now.

JoeyBoy March 6, 2008 at 1:53 PM

I saw you comment over on the Yankee Justice blog. I need to be more regular about stopping in here. It is always educational and entertaining.

This is no exception.

FINALLY, someone tells some truth about Buckley. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but that guy really sucked.

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