Saturday, April 5, 2008

W.F.B. -- R.I.P

Bob Englehart / The Hartford Courant

A month has passed since the death of publisher, author, and television host William F. Buckley. I enjoyed the tributes to him in newspaper obituaries and have just finished reading the commemorative issue of National Review, which has remembrances by friends and colleagues. I wish I had met Mr. Buckley, I never had, but I have read enough of his books and essays, and had watched him long enough on his television show Firing Line, that I think I have a sense of who he was, at least as a public figure.

Firing Line
was one of television's longest running shows, and compared to today's McLaughlin Group/Mad Money type shows, was like watching paint dry. Except for the conversation, which was often, though not always, thought-provokoing. There Buckley would sit, head-back, slouching in his chair, legs crossed, looking sort of downward towards his guest, asking questions that probably only he, Buckley, truly understood. The set looked as though he had decided to do the show 5 minutes before starting. Over the years guests included: Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Billy Graham, Jesse Jackson, Clare Boothe Luce, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Tom Wolf. Not a bad line-up. Buckley rarely lost a debate he wanted to win but always showed a deference to his guest when it came to the last word.

Bill Buckley believed in something, but his beliefs never overcame his civility towards his philosophic opponents. As a matter of fact, he was known for his intelligence, his wit and for his charity towards those who oppose his strongly held beliefs. A lot of commentators today could learn from his disposition that a person doesn't own the truth like he does his watch; and that an opponent is made, in imageo dei, regardless of his misguided notions. (I use a little Latin here because it was something Buckley would do when questioning a guest, I think just to throw them off).

The National Review, a journal of opinion, was his most widely-known accomplishment. I subscribed for a dozen or so years and thought that the Notes and Asides section was the most enjoyable and clever reading in print. It is still published today, but at one time, it had the feel of a compilation of a bunch of Buckley's friends who argued with each other in print.

Few men will accomplish as much as WFB, fewer with the kind of Christian charity that accompanied those accomplishments. William F. Buckley, Requiescat in Pace.

No comments: