A Liberal Remembers William F. Buckley, Jr.
William F. Buckley, Jr., the intellectual father of modern American conservatism, died at age 82 at his desk yesterday. His 50 books and seven tons of other writings now residing in the archives at his beloved Yale University don’t even begin to do him justice when it comes to understanding what this polysyllabic, prolific agitator did to and for America.
As a raging liberal I always felt it was my duty to villify or at least vehemently disagree with him. This morning, no matter what I thought of his ideology and his cant while he was alive and in opposition to most things I stand for, I need to say he was an admirable, passionate American and a patriot.
From the viewpoint of a fundraiser (and afterall that’s what The Agitator is all about) he contributed many ‘firsts.’ Through his Young Americans for Freedom which he founded in 1960, Bill Buckley was among the first to use direct mail to build financial support for a cause-oriented, advocacy organization.
My long-time ideological opponent and equally long-time friend Richard Viguerie, one of the fathers/founders of the New Right (may he never be forgiven!) got his start at Young Americans for Freedom and went on to use direct mail advertising and fundraising to advance the financial and political fortunes of the right wing movement. To read Richard’s tribute to Buckley and what he meant to the New Right and Viguerie personally click here.
When he ran on the Conservative Party’s ticket for Mayor of New York City in 1965, Buckley was asked by a reporter, “What is the first thing you would do on becoming President?”, the conservative sage responded instantly, “I’d demand a recount.” [He got 13% of the vote.]
Quick witted, and always ready to use a five syllable word where a one or two syllable word would do, William F. Buckley, Jr. inspired millions of activists and donors and dramatically affected the course of modern American history through his magazine National Review, which he defended in his book Cancel Your Own Goddamn Subscription.
His most famous and first book, God and Man at Yale, established his early reputation as a feisty against-the-grain intellectual. His long-running television program “Firing Line” established his reputation as the “scourge of liberalism” as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. described him.
My friend Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU and a long-time debater on Buckley’s “Firing Line” tv program shared Buckley’s fervent belief in the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, and fondly remembered taking him to a baseball game and seeing the patrician Buckley experience his first encounter with a ballpark hotdog. Others were surprised by the range and quixotic nature of his books including Elvis in the Morning.
Whether you liked or despised what William F. Buckley, Jr. stood for, he was a great addition to the yeast of American democracy.