Bill Buckley, a giant of America’s political landscape, is dead. Rick Perlstein pays tribute:
William F. Buckley was my friend.
I’m hard on conservatives. I get harder on them just about every day. I call them “con men.” I do so without apology. And I cannot deny that William F. Buckley said and did many things over the course of his career that were disgusting as well. I’ve written about some of them. But this is not the time to go into all that. My friend just passed away at the age of 82. He was a good and decent man. He knew exactly what my politics were about—he knew I was an implacable ideological adversary—yet he offered his friendship to me nonetheless. He did the honor of respecting his ideological adversaries, without covering up the adversarial nature of the relationship in false bonhommie. A remarkable quality, all too rare in an era of the false fetishization of “post-partisanship” and Broderism and go-along-to-get-along. He was friends with those he fought. He fought with friends. These are the highest civic ideals to which an American patriot can aspire.
AllahPundit, meanwhile, feels the best way to mark Buckley’s passing is to show a video of him calling Gore Vidal a queer.
Different strokes, different folks.
Update: As numerous folks have pointed out in the comments, Bill Buckley was not a saint. My point here was not to lionize him, but rather to acknowledge his significance in the recent history of American discourse.
Gavin adds: I dunno; Buckley might not have been a force for good in the world, but his was a conservatism of principles — one far more substantial and measured than the one of stances and shibboleths that today’s young conservatives learn to swallow whole and regurgitate. Buckley came out against the War in Iraq awhile ago, for instance, even as the young goblins at the National Review were wrecking his legacy, spending down its credibility in trying to rationalize every new flagrancy, every new heart-dropping catastrophe as a ‘victory’ for Bush and for people-like-themselves.
On a similar tip, one of Ace’s identical Popeye-nephews posted the same video of Buckley and Gore Vidal.
This is hardly his most important moment, but I love the fact that he told Gore Vidal he’d punch him in his fucking prissy face.
That seems to be how they conceive of him: as a hyuk-hyuk dog-whistle conservative who once brashly said the word ‘queer’ on national TV — as something like a genteel Rush Limbaugh (or a less-dickified Ann Coulter) of the 1960s and ’70s. But Buckley usually had far more class than that, in more than one sense of the word. The guy at Ace continues:
Not nearly an adequate tribute, but I do love this so.
Because an adequate tribute would require, like, reading actual books and understanding the intellectual history of conservatism, and stuff. They don’t value that; they already know what they’re supposed to believe, to cheer for, and (mostly) to revile. They know what side they’re on, and all else is tactics.
If you ask me, all their virtues together wouldn’t make a Buckley. That’s my two cents on’t.
Clif adds: We should probably not praise Buckley too fulsomely before remembering some of the charming things he said in National Review back in the late 50s. Like this editorial from August 24, 1957, titled “Why the South Must Prevail.”
The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes — the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists
The wingnut bloggers never cease to point out that, some 13 years before Buckley’s editorial, Sen. Robert Byrd was in the Klan. There is, however, one significant difference. Byrd renounced his Klan membership; Buckley never renounced the racist crap he wrote.
UPDATE: I see some of Buckley’s racist legacy was being kicked around in the comments, which I hadn’t read before I posted this. Still, I think it’s worth having this particularly odious quote from the old crypto-Nazi upfront and forward where it won’t be missed.
Leonard adds: I’ve said my piece about Buckley elsewhere, but I did want to add a couple of things:
First, it’s a howling irony that some right-wingers are using that Vidal clip as a memorial to Buckley, as if it were a proud moment in his life or something. In fact, it was a moment of complete embarrassment: the network yanked him off the air and it made him into a national joke for weeks. Buckley, a spineless patrician of the first water, was the least threatening human being on the planet; even Vidal is openly smirking at his pathetic threat, in which we can see the birth of the ridiculous phony tough-guy bluster of today’s conservative bloggers. The genesis of the whole argument between them was Buckley’s defense of the reprehensible brutality of the Chicago police, which pretty much turned off the entire country. And best of all, in an early chickenhawk moment, the clip ends with Buckley displaying calculated outrage that Vidal would call him a crypto-Nazi; why, after all, he, Buckley, fought in the war! (As a non-combatant in the US Army. Just like Gore Vidal.) The whole episode his nothing but a non-stop humiliation of Buckley, and the idea that some people would use it as a his-finest-hour memorial is stupefying.
Additionally, you don’t have to cast all the way back to the dark ’50s to find the old bastard saying intolerant things. Aside from his lifelong belief that it was perfectly acceptable to sacrifice thousands of American lives and kill millions of non-Americans if they showed the slightest sign of sympathy for, or even proximity to, any of the tenets of communism, he was arguing as recently as the 1980s that we should forcibly tattoo people with AIDS as a “warning” to the general public. He was also behind the YAF back when it really was a hippie-bashing bunch of crypto-fascist street brawlers, and he did plenty both directly and through advocacy to overthrow democratically elected regimes all over the world.
There’s no question that compared to his intellectual heirs, Buckley was a giant. There’s no doubt that the National Review, a respectable publication when he founded it, is now a shameful joke. But the fact that he seems decent by comparison is just a sign of how far the discourse has been allowed to degrade. Sure, he was sincere and consistent after his way, but I hope we haven’t fallen far enough that we think phoniness is the only crime; Buckley was sincere, but he was sincere in pursuit of some pretty ugly goals, and we can memorialize him to the extent that we don’t forget that.