NEW YORK (AP) — William F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who showered huge and scornful words on liberalism as he observed, abetted and cheered on the right's post-World War II rise from the fringes to the White House, died Wednesday. He was 82.
His assistant Linda Bridges said Buckley was found dead by his cook at his home in Stamford, Conn. The cause of death was unknown, but he had been ill with emphysema, she said.
Editor, columnist, novelist, debater, TV talk show star of "Firing Line," harpsichordist, transoceanic sailor and even a good-natured loser in a New York mayor's race, Buckley worked at a daunting pace, taking as little as 20 minutes to write a column for his magazine, the National Review.
Yet on the platform, he was all handsome, reptilian languor, flexing his imposing vocabulary ever so slowly, accenting each point with an arched brow or rolling tongue and savoring an opponent's discomfort with wide-eyed glee.
"I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition," he wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1986. "I asked myself the other day, `Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone."
William F. Buckley Jr., Hotel Vancouver, Vancouver. 1980s. photo Alex Waterhouse-Hayward.
The progressive blogosphere's Rick Perlstein writes a beautiful obituary.
Blog for Our FutureThe model here is Steve.
Why William F. Buckley Was My Role Model
By Rick Perlstein
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.
I first met Bill in 1997. When I contacted his assistant to ask for an interview for a book I was writing about Barry Goldwater, Buckley was immediately accommodating, though I had very little public reputation at the time. He was, simply, generous with people who cared to learn about conservatism. I sat with him for a good half hour in National Review's offices on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, and he answered every damned question I asked, in searching detail, and then answered a few I hadn't even asked. He also opened his papers to me at Yale University without hesitation. Would that all conservatives honored these ideals of intellectual transparency.
When my Goldwater book came out, he was generous in his praise of it—again, acknowledging all the while that we were ideological adversaries.
Buckley was an out and out Conservative. He was for conservative ideals. In his time, he was for bombing China, segregation, against the Freedom March on Washington, against African self-government. He was Conservative. Gilliard was Progressive. Gillard's ideas are and were as offensive to a solid third of the country as Buckley's ideas were and are to our third of the country.
No matter how strongly anyone believes their beliefs to be "the truth," any hope for true change, for genuine reconciliation between red and blue America, does not start with attacking the memory of a man who has just died.
With the exception of the Freepers and a few genuinely disgusting people, friends and enemies alike came together to acknowledge Steve Gilliard as a liberal lion. Let people be as unstinting in their praise of William Buckley as people were in their praise of Steven Gilliard. Death is no respecter of politics; she comes for all of us, one death per life.
I didn't agree with William F. Buckley's politics, but I admired his spirit. He was a genuine conservative, a person unafraid to disagree with you politically, without needing to attack you personally, threaten your family, or resort to name-calling or insults.
He was, an old-fashioned gentleman.
Rest well, William F. Buckley Jr.