Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr. 1925-2008

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2008--Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner today issued the following statement on the death of National Review founder and author William F. Buckley Jr.:

"Without Bill Buckley there would be no National Review. And without National Review, there would be no conservative movement, no Heritage Foundation, no President Reagan - or an America that's recognizable today.

"It's impossible to overstate the importance of National Review. It offered powerful conservative opinion against communism, big government and liberal culture at a time when no one else had the courage to do so.

"His long-running television show, 'Firing Line' was just as influential - a model for what political talk shows should be today. Unlike many current talk show hosts, Buckley rarely raised his voice. Instead, he had deep, occasionally heated, but civil discussions on topics ranging from Vietnam to abortion to the economy.

"His pointed grilling scared away more than a few politicians. Asked why Attorney General Robert Kennedy rejected several invitations to be on the show, Buckley quipped: 'Why does baloney reject the grinder?'

"Buckley changed the world by being himself: His twinkling eyes. His devilish grin. His sharp sense of humor. His unmatched intellect. A vocabulary that stumped the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary.

"Through his magazine, numerous TV appearances, long-running newspaper column, dozens of books and thousands of lectures, Buckley 'taught' modern conservative thought to me and millions of other Americans who now proudly live this philosophy. I will miss my teacher and my friend."

More on William F. Buckley Jr. from Fox News

...Buckley founded the biweekly magazine National Review in 1955, declaring that he proposed to stand "athwart history, yelling `Stop' at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who urge it." Not only did he help revive conservative ideology, especially unbending anti-Communism and free market economics, his persona was a dynamic break from such dour right-wing predecessors as Sen. Robert Taft.
Although it perpetually lost money, the National Review built its circulation from 16,000 in 1957 to 125,000 in 1964, the year conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was the Republican presidential candidate. The magazine claimed a circulation of 155,000 when Buckley relinquished control in 2004, citing concerns about his mortality, and over the years the National Review attracted numerous young writers, some who remained conservative (George Will, David Brooks), and some who didn't (Joan Didion, Garry Wills).

"I was very fond of him," Didion said Wednesday. "Everyone was, even if they didn't agree with him."

Born Nov. 24, 1925, in New York City, William Frank Buckley Jr. was the sixth of 10 children of a a multimillionaire with oil holdings in seven countries. The son spent his early childhood in France and England, in exclusive Roman Catholic schools.

His prominent family also included his brother James, who became a one-term senator from New York in the 1970s; his socialite wife, Pat, who died in April 2007; and their son, Christopher, a noted author and satirist ("Thank You for Smoking").

A precocious controversialist, William was but 8 years old when he wrote to the king of England, demanding payment of the British war debt.

After graduating with honors from Yale in 1950, Buckley married Patricia Alden Austin Taylor, spent a "hedonistic summer" and then excoriated his alma mater for what he regarded as its anti-religious and collectivist leanings in "God and Man at Yale," published in 1951.

Buckley spent a year as a low-level agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Mexico, work he later dismissed as boring.

With his brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell, Buckley wrote a defense of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, "McCarthy and His Enemies." While condemning some of the senator's anti-communist excesses, the book praised a "movement around which men of good will and stern morality can close ranks."

In 1960, Buckley helped found Young Americans for Freedom, and in 1961, he was among the founders of the Conservative Party in New York. Buckley was the party's candidate for mayor of New York in 1965, waging a campaign that was in part a lark — he proposed an elevated bikeway on Second Avenue — but that also reflected a deep distaste for the liberal Republicanism of Mayor John V. Lindsay. Asked what he would do if he won, Buckley said, "I'd demand a recount."

He wrote the first of his successful spy thrillers, "Saving the Queen," in 1976, introducing Ivy League hero Blackford Oakes. Oakes was permitted a dash of sex — with the Queen of England, no less — and Buckley permitted himself to take positions at odds with conservative orthodoxy. He advocated the decriminalization of marijuana, supported the treaty ceding control of the Panama Canal and came to oppose the Iraq war.

Buckley also took on the archconservative John Birch Society, a growing force in the 1950s and 1960s. "Buckley's articles cost the Birchers their respectability with conservatives," Richard Nixon once said. "I couldn't have accomplished that. Liberals couldn't have, either."

Although he boasted he would never debate a Communist "because there isn't much to say to someone who believes the moon is made of green cheese," Buckley got on well with political foes. His friends included such liberals as John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who despised Buckley's "wrathful conservatism," but came to admire him for his "wit, his passion for the harpsichord, his human decency, even for his compulsion to epater the liberals."

Buckley was also capable of deep and genuine dislikes. In a 1968 television debate, when left-wing novelist and critic Gore Vidal called him a "pro-war-crypto-Nazi," Buckley snarled an anti-gay slur and threatened to "sock you in your ... face and you'll stay plastered." Their feud continued in print, leading to mutual libel suits that were either dismissed (Vidal's) or settled out of court (Buckley's).

The National Review defended the Vietnam War, opposed civil rights legislation and once declared that "the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail." Buckley also had little use for the music of the counterculture, once calling the Beatles "so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic."

The National Review could do little to prevent Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964, but as conservatives gained influence so did Buckley and his magazine. The long rise would culminate in 1980 when Buckley's good friend, Ronald Reagan, was elected president. The outsiders were now in, a development Buckley accepted with a touch of rue.

"It's true. I had much more fun criticizing than praising," he told the Washington Post in 1985. "I criticize Reagan from time to time, but it's nothing like Carter or Johnson."

Buckley's memoir about Goldwater, "Flying High," was coming out this spring, and his son said he was working on a book about Reagan.

Buckley so loved a good argument — especially when he won — that he compiled a book of bickering in "Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription," published in 2007 and featuring correspondence with the famous (Nixon, Reagan) and the merely annoyed.

"Mr. Buckley," one non-fan wrote in 1967, "you are the mouthpiece of that evil rabble that depends on fraud, perjury, dirty tricks, anything at all that suits their purposes. I would trust a snake before I would trust you or anybody you support."

Responded Buckley: "What would you do if I supported the snake?"

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