Buckley, Jr. I began watching Buckley in on his long-lived interview show, "Firing Line.
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In the s, however, there were few viewing options, and "Firing Line" was the intellectual's choice, even the intellectual who found herself nearly always at odds with Buckley's conservative political opinions. It was on his show that I first saw the Dalai Lama.
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The Eastern holy man giggled at several of Buckley's queries, a tactic that most of his interviewees were too pompous to adopt. The "Notes and Asides" selected here are a chronology interwoven with Buckley's brief commentaries on what was going on at the time, since most of the NAs are specific to politics, a playing field that shifts rapidly, often leaving erstwhile players trampled in the mud. To be eligible for NA, it appears, a letter or comment had to lack the gravitas that earmarked it as a "letter to the editor" but had to contain some bit of grit that attracted the editor's attention, whether amused or scornful.
Eventually it became Buckley's page, allowing him the freedom to say what he liked, almost but not totally ex officio. One event drew Buckley's scornful reaction like few others, and gives insight into his character: after the fall of the Soviet Union, in , Time magazine graced its cover with a picture of Mikhail Gorbachev, hailed by Time as "Man of the Decade.
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Pauling had been making a living by filing libel suits against people who called him that, the defendants tending to settle because that was cheaper than defending. Not Buckley, who spent vast sums to defeat Pauling in court, putting him out of business and making it safe for conservatives to call fellow travelers "fellow travelers. More skill, if less money, was required settling disputes among the in-house crowd. Nixon was always problematical for the Right, but Buckley thought he was incredibly bright. In , Nixon told Buckley that he had learned two things from his race for governor in California in and from Goldwater's campaign for the presidency: that you can't win an important race with only the Right, and you can't win without it.
Will had written a column for the magazine, "The Snicker Factor," which was not a flattering picture of the vice president Will had used the same analogy Buckley had used five years earlier: that Agnew was Nixon's insurance policy. Some conservatives wanted Buckley to fire Will. Wisely, both at the time and, of course, in retrospect, Buckley refused to fire a fellow iconoclast, and one whose writing possessed, or was developing, Buckley's own grace and style. It is easy to forget, given his many other facets, that Buckley was also a master journalist. He could sit down and write exquisite copy hour after hour, day or night, in his office or on the fly, before breakfast or after a long evening of entertaining guests; and fortnight after fortnight he produced a journal—determining the content, assigning articles, editing copy, managing the Letters section—that was the bible of the conservative movement.
He saw his calling as popularizing the thinking that had been done, not doing the abstract thinking himself. The movement—and America, and the world—is lucky he didn't have a vanity that required a doctrine bearing his name. Buckley was a born teacher he once described his favorite occupation as correcting other people's errors , in a world where the reigning Zeitgeist—central planning in its many guises—was one huge error.
Years later, he volunteered to teach writing for two semesters at his alma mater, Yale. His lessons on the proper use of English are far more entertaining than Fowler's. I am beginning to wonder just how good or bad your high school was The general rule is not to begin a sentence with "and"; the particular rule is that writers with a good ear know when to break the general rule.
Bet that's what Bach said, too. Buckley introduces the exchange with, "What follows is primarily of interest to syntacticians. How many of them are there? Not many. Have your syntactic DNA checked for mutations. Not to be missed.
Though Buckley was not always right, he was always gracious. Eva Moseley corrected him on his insertion of a comma into "Wherefore art thou, Romeo? Moseley: Quite right, and nicely corrected. Running through the whole volume is a series of exchanges with Art Buchwald on which of them was being treated better by the Hertz rental car "frequent user" program. It's a great gag. And then there is the most impish reply, to the man who closed his letter saying that conservatives were still "attempting to force a square peg into a round hole.
Which is not surprising. If you could give me advice for life, what would it be? Cordially, WFB. Alas, it all comes to an end. Maybe it was the end of the conservative movement. There is much grousing these days about its loss of direction. Without Communism and, some say, without pre-Reagan levels of taxation to outrage and galvanize the Right, it wanders, confused, in search of its mission, or a mission.
Or a leader. One view is that the conservative movement is over—that it ended in triumph when Ronald Reagan moved into the White House. Certainly the movement started out as a band of outsiders, who wanted primarily to influence the insiders who held the levers of power.
When Reagan got elected, the conservatives took hold of those levers, which may not have been the original plan because, at least in the beginning, it seemed improbable. On the other hand, perhaps it was inevitable. Once inside the corridors of government, the conservatives became, if not corrupted by power, at least befriended by it, and whatever else happened, the conservative movement came to an end.
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A triumphant end, perhaps, but an end nevertheless. Now the conservatives, with their disparate interests, wander, not yet having found a new banner to march under. Hence the grousing. That's not Buckley's fault. He led them to the promised land. What they do after feasting on milk and honey is their responsibility. That view seems consistent with Buckley's comment about his life a few days before he turned "There's nothing I hoped for that wasn't reasonably achieved.
An alternative view is that only the creative stage of conservatism is over, but the movement goes on—which calls to mind A. Buckley was its prime mover: he helped create it—and he helped create the modern world as well.
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Communism is gone. And so, in many countries, are the high tax rates and other policies that are inimical to enterprise. People say it's not as much fun to be a conservative these days. That's progress, though it may sully the brand, and confuse consumers. It may not be as much fun, but there's still work to be done. Of the nine freest and highest-income countries, the U. And several countries in Eastern Europe have beaten us to a flat tax—countries whose new freedom, and more sensible tax regimes, were midwifed by the conservative movement. Most important—in this year when the first baby-boomer started collecting Social Security—is the need to teach the welfare society to nurture free market entrepreneurship.
Absent happy and productive entrepreneurs, America will be unable to pay the welfare society's bills, which are starting to come due with a vengeance. Solving that problem will be like Now that Bill is gone, who will teach us to make the hole a little larger? Virtually all of his re Lawyers and legislators can only go so far in directing the conduct of war. Then you need a president.
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