My memory of William F. Buckley - doesn't everyone have one?
When I was 16-years-old I met William F. Buckley Jr. in Philadelphia along with about 5 other girls from my class at Archbishop John Carroll for Girls.
My impression of him - he was incredibly arrrogant, a lousy public speaker and quite brilliant.
Calling him arrogant speaks for itself. Why I called him a lousy public speaker - a good speaker directs their words to the audience in front of them. He directed his words to Harvard graduates when it was an audience full of Catholic High School students. While I (mostly) understood him (I was reading on a college senior level by then) I was angered that he seemed to go out of his way to use words that were obscure even to folks with excellent vocabularies.
I also thought he might be different in person...he wasn't. The five or six of us who ended up speaking with him afterwards got the same treatment...he just seemed like he needed to emphasize his superiority at all times.
Anyway, that was my impression at the time. It was back in 1978 and for years it colored how I looked at him and his writings.
As I get older, I now view his shortcomings with High School students as possibly the same reason why Einstein was a rotten teacher. He was unable to address anyone who was not at his present level of knowledge and understanding. I noticed that age also seemed to be effecting Buckley in the same way; he seemed less likely to couch his words in the obscure. He seemed more able to write for a larger audience - intelligent but not necessarily top-shelf intellectuals. His writing also seemed to "reach across the aisle" more and I found myself actually agreeing with him on occasion.
When he started criticizing the war in Iraq, he redeemed himself quite a bit in my eyes.
Mai Lai Again?
by William F. Buckley
"Is the American public refusing to believe the story of what allegedly happened at Haditha? On the grounds that Americans simply could not be guilty of such acts? Surely what happened reflected not base instincts, but chaos and anarchy?
In a brilliant essay in National Review, Christopher Levenick of the American Enterprise Institute reviews "My Battle of Algiers," by Ted Morgan, recalling the bestiality of that wretched war. And yet French soldiers who committed torture routinely went on to successful careers. "Indeed," writes Levenick, "it is not uncommon to learn that such men are capable of living out the rest of their lives without any sense of guilt for their actions. It remains a basic truth of human nature that a uniform is all that many men need to dissociate themselves from the evil they commit."
The reactions of the Kool-Aid-drinking Bushies were swift and nasty - rejecting Buckley as a "traitor" to conservatives even as Buckley systematically demonstrated the opposite - that Bush had been the actual traitor.
Buckley finds himself parting ways with President Bush, whom he praises as a decisive leader but admonishes for having strayed from true conservative principles in his foreign policy.
In particular, Buckley views the three-and-a-half-year Iraq War as a failure.
"If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign," Buckley says.
In a National Review piece titled "The Waning of the GOP," Buckley addresses and explains the current status of the Republican Party and his foreboding of its future:
General Petraeus is a wonderfully commanding figure. But if the enemy is in the nature of a disease, he cannot win against it. Students of politics ask then the derivative question: How can the Republican party, headed by a president determined on a war he can’t see an end to, attract the support of a majority of the voters? General Petraeus, in his Pentagon briefing on April 26, reported persuasively that there has been progress, but cautioned, “I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and again I note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.”
The general makes it a point to steer away from the political implications of the struggle, but this cannot be done in the wider arena. There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.
Wall Street Journal writer John Fund pens a tribute to Buckley in a piece for Huffington Post:
"He was that rarest of revolutionaries -- someone who unfailingly set about to change the world, largely succeeded and yet retained a zest for the non-political, a gentleness of spirit and a boyish charm into his 80s. He set a standard we all should emulate for having friendships across the political divide."
At the end of the Bush blot in American history and beginning of a new chapter in this country, I can only hope that we can find more revolutionaries who "reach across the political divide" in this sea of partisan pundits.