William F. Buckley , Jr.
My father, the late William F. Buckley, Jr. had a bit of history with the now-late Gore Vidal. In what actually might be the quintessential unscripted TV exchange, Vidal called him a “crypto-nazi.” WFB returned the compliment by calling him a “queer.” This amidst the tear gas and noise of the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. Harold Hayes, the legendary editor of Esquire asked both gentlemen to write about the episode. Their articles are included in the anthology, Smiling through the Apocalypse, and are well worth reading.
Politicians who hold or aspire to high office have learned the hard way (e.g Trent Lott speaking at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party) that when you speak to a select group of loyalists in these viral times, you are also addressing a national audience, including people who would like nothing better than to latch onto some gaffe or fringe conviction.
Marking the death of William F. Buckley, Jr. yesterday, TNR asked James K. Galbraith to share his thoughts on the influential conservative journalist and intellectual. Galbraith--whose father, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, was a close personal friend of Buckley's--is a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin. What Bill Buckley once said of my father was equally true of him: He was “syntactically pure.” Love of language and of the writer’s craft bound them together, the left pea to the right.
Although he remains the most eminent conservative in the United States, his face and voice recognized by millions, William F. Buckley, Jr. has all but retired from public life. At the apex of his influence, when Richard Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, Buckley received flattering notes on presidential letterhead and importuning phone calls from Cabinet members worried about their standing in the conservative movement.
Right Reason By William F. Buckley, Jr. edited by Richard Brookisher (Doubleday, 454 pp., $19.95) On the cover of this latest collection of William Buckley's newspaper columns is the photograph (presumably he had a say in selecting it) of a man ill at ease with himself, looking out on the world as if from a battlement, fearing that some blow must fall from an unexpected quarter. The head is held taut, hunched back on his shoulders, as if it had once been severed, sewn back on, and can be moved now only stiffly, as in fact he moves it on television.
Barry Goldwater is for it, so is George McGovern. William F. Buckley, Jr. supports it, so does John Kenneth Galbraith. Robert Taft, Jr. likes the idea, so does Allard K. Lowenstein. So, too, in principle, does Richard M. Nixon, as he reiterated in his draft message last week. They all favor an all-volutneer army. Now, backed by the unanimous support of a Presidential Commission headed by former Defense Secretary Thomas S. Gates, the end-the-draft advocates have succeeded in directing the nation’s gaze towards the beguiling goal of what, it is claimed, would be a painless military.