He was in many ways like the gifted founders of the American republic itself. A man of prodigious intellect and Jeffersonian wide talents, he saw in the state always something of a looming threat.
It may be a sign of growing wisdom or just advancing age, but I get a little sad to see the passing of icons -even the ones with whom I have often disagreed. Bill Buckley died today at his home in Connecticut. He was 82.
He was in many ways like the gifted founders of the American republic itself. A man of prodigious intellect and Jeffersonian wide talents, he saw in the state always something of a looming threat. He had little patience for the Great Society vision of more contemporary government. One thinks he would have been happiest if Alexander Hamilton had become president and the size of government remained pretty much constant from that point forward. There are days, when I can see some merit in that myself.
We were of different thoughts on many things, but at least on the issue of individual privacy and the need to keep a solid check on the intrusive powers of government, which are too often prone to be exercised at the whim of petty bureaucrats and small-minded officials, we shared similar views. He was a great believer in the free market, but not so much that he did not find current levels of CEO pay to be rather revolting and injurious to the continued health of modern capitalism. That made Bill Buckley a pretty wise fellow in my book, as did his determination to resist fleeing to that false island of intellectual illustriousness: the practice of law. His debating skills were remarkable, not just for the positions he took and his ability to advance them with unassailable logic, but for the flash of his eyes and a personality that gave them infectious energy. You have to be a pretty good act to cause teenagers and their parents to stop and watch your television show on Sunday afternoons. Millions did. It was always mandatory at our home.
And who can forget that now grainy and distant scene when Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal almost came to blows on ABC during coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention? I think my father found the spectacle of what he called two geniuses acting like morons to be one of the funniest things he had ever seen on television.
As one gets older, one finds uniqueness in the human spirit among the more memorable discoveries in life. Bill Buckley was a gifted author, sailor and musician. His sartorial abilities were somewhat less advanced, however. He often looked like he was auditioning for some kind of new reality show called “How Many Plaids and Checks Can You Wear?” He also had an ability to write novels, which he did on some 12 occasions. He relaxed by playing the harpsichord. How many people who have lived into the 21st century do you think you will ever hear that about?
William F. Buckley, Jr. was an original. There are too few of them at the best of times, which leaves the world more diminished when they are gone. Blackford Oakes will be going under cover for a while. I wonder if we will see his likes, or those of his alter ego, ever again.