William F. Buckley and his wife, Patricia, at Truman Capote's Black and White Ball in 1966. Copyrighted AP photo by David Pickoff. Below, Buckley, photographed during a 2004 interview. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II.
William F. Buckley was a part of my parents' household as long as I can remember. I saw his name on the spines of books; the masthead of The National Review, which mom and dad subscribed to; and I saw him on Firing Line.
They always seemed to celebrate him as a man of accomplishment as much, if not more, than as the father of the modern conservative movement. There was someone to emulate there: Buckley was facile with words, knowledgeable about the arts (he aspired to be a harpsichord player, but never felt his public performances were good), and eager to pursue life. In an exchange of e-mails about Buckley's death Wednesday, my sister wrote, "I do remember people asking me where I, 'got my good vocabulary.' My response was that I didn't think I really had one. But my parents did have a subscription to National Review."
Of course, I grew up and moved away from home, both physically and ideologically. But Buckley remained. I certainly appreciated his writing about writing, and while the field of punditry filled with clowns on the right and the left, Buckley was almost unique in the manner he approached political discourse. I often disagreed with him, but enjoyed hearing what he thought and how he expressed those thoughts. On The Huffington Post, Bill Curry, a two-time Democratic candidate for governor of Connecticut, wrote:
"Buckley loved debate. Unlike today's cowardly conservatives, he debated the best minds he could entice on to a stage. He never used his opponents as props or punch lines for fixed fights. He liked them. Loving his own ideas, not just hating theirs, left room for liking them.
"What a long sad fall from Bill Buckley to Bill O' Reilly."
Or, this week, Bill Cunningham.
On MSNBC's The Morning Joe, today, former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan observed that when Buckley sat down to dinner, he didn't want to talk about politics. He enjoyed discussing music and literature and his many other interests.
The past couple of days, Charlie Rose and others have also talked about Buckley's generosity to young writers, several of whom ended up sitting on opposite ideological fences from him. Wall Street Journal theater scribe Terry Teachout posted a particularly lovely tribute on his About Last Night blog.
A couple of Buckley tomes are now on my must-read list, including his faith memoir, Nearer My God, from his catalog of more than 40 fiction and non-fiction books.
Rose, whose show was the top place I got to know Buckley as an adult, ran an hour-long retrospective on Buckley (video, below) the other night. In one of the clips, Rose asked Buckley if there was anyone with his same sort of position in political discourse today. He modestly said it would have to be a young person espousing something currently unpopular, as conservatism apparently was when Buckley began to champion it. But in the sound-bite era, the public stage is really absent any others as thoughtful about where they stand, eloquent in the way they express it, and well-rounded in their lives beyond he political arena.