Everyone has their heroes. One of mine, since the tender age of about 18, has been William F. Buckley. I'm thinking about him because of this lovely profile in the NYT. Without Buckley, I seriously doubt there would ever have been a Goldwater presidential run or a Reagan presidency. It is a cliche', a true one, but still a cliche', to say that Buckley gave the conservative movement style and wit. Some claim him as the founding modern conservative intellectual, but one would need to make a bit of room for Russell Kirk (who showed us the historical pedigree of conservatism) and Whitaker Chambers (who never accepted the conservative label), too.
In an article about the Rush Limbaugh/ESPN/Donovan McNabb fiasco, I wrote the following about Buckley:
While a graduate student at the University of Georgia in the early nineties, I had the privilege of attending a speech given by William F. Buckley. The elder statesman of the movement amazed the large crowd with both his wit and his wardrobe. To this day, I remember his navy sportcoat, yellow shirt, khaki pants, and RED belt. You’ve got to be good to pull that look off, but Buckley was equal to the task.
At the end of his presentation, he allowed questions. The first supplicant approached the microphone and hopefully inquired, "Mr. Buckley, what do you think about Rush Limbaugh?" This was during the time when Rush was still something of a rising star. His rhetoric was bombastic, hard-edged, and wickedly funny. Members of the audience shifted forward in their seats expectantly as Buckley answered by telling the following story.
There were two Spaniards sitting in a bar. One asked the other, "What do you think about General Franco?" Instead of answering, the man gestured for his friend to follow him outside. Once on the sidewalk, he motioned for the friend to follow him to his car. They got in the car and drove to a forest. Deep in the woods, he parked the car and beckoned the friend to hike with him down to a lake. At the edge of the lake, he pointed to a boat which they boarded. He grabbed the oars and rowed to the center of the lake. Finally, he sat still, looked his friend in the eyes and paused for a moment. "I like him." Buckley told the story so brilliantly and created so much suspense, the denouement brought the house down amid gales of laughter and happy applause.
Not as many will take notice when Buckley finishes his time among us as did when Ronald Reagan passed on, but I'm quite sure there will be some of us who may feel the loss even more deeply when it comes.
Buckley was/is incomparable. The NYT story carries the suggestion that Buckley became so much larger than life because he stood alone without much competition. I think he'd shine in any crowd.