It is commonplace to say that Bill Buckley brought American conservatism into the mainstream. That's not quite how I see it. To me he came along in the middle of the last century and reminded demoralized American conservatism that it existed. That it was real, that it was in fact a majority political entity, and that it was inherently mainstream. This was after the serious drubbing inflicted by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal and the rise of modern liberalism. Modern liberalism at that point was a real something, a palpable movement formed by FDR and continued by others. Opposing it was . . . what exactly? Robert Taft? The ghost of Calvin Coolidge? Buckley said in effect, Well, there's something known as American conservatism, though it does not even call itself that. It's been calling itself "voting Republican" or "not liking the New Deal." But it is a very American approach to life, and it has to do with knowing that the government is not your master, that America is good, that freedom is good and must be defended, and communism is very, very bad.
I thought it beautiful and inspiring that he was open to, eager for, friendships from all sides, that even though he cared passionately about political questions, politics was not all, cannot be all, that people can be liked for their essence, for their humor and good nature and intelligence, for their attitude toward life itself.
Buckley was a one-man refutation of Hollywood's idea of a conservative. He was rising in the 1950s and early '60s, and Hollywood's idea of a conservative was still Mr. Potter, the nasty old man of "It's a Wonderful Life," who would make a world of grubby Pottersvilles if he could, who cared only about money and the joy of bullying idealists. Bill Buckley's persona, as the first famous conservative of the modern media age, said no to all that. Conservatives are brilliant, capacious, full of delight at the world and full of mischief, too. That's what he was. He upended old clichés.This was no small thing, changing this template. Ronald Reagan was the other who changed it, by being a sunny man, a happy one. They were friends, admired each other, had two separate and complementary roles.
Bill Buckley lived a great American life. His heroism was very American--the individualist at work in the world, the defender of great creeds and great beliefs going forth with spirit, style and joy. May we not lose his kind. For now, "Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels take thee to thy rest."
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Remembering Bill Buckley