When I hear the name William F. Buckley, or see it in print I automatically think:”Those eyes!” Darting, piercing, dancing — with that trademark playful widening gesture, as if to say “Oh really!” I never met him, but enjoyed countless hours of his company through Firing Line and his books and columns. (Has any individual in modern history written so much, so well?) Others will recount his indisputable role in the development of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
He was the living refutation of many of the Left’s criticisms of conservatives and the conservative movement. Repudiating the criticism (earned in some cases) that conservatives were racists, Buckley showed the John Birchers and the anti-Semites the door. Conservatives, in the cartoon version of politics, were supposed to be mean and small-minded; he was generous, gracious, and had an eclectic assortment of talents and interests. If the Left bragged that conservatism was outmoded and irrelevant, Buckley demonstrated that the most vibrant intellectual energy resided on the Right.
The example that he set, not only of intellectual rigor but of joyous friendship and respect for his intellectual opponents, is one we should all take to heart. His friendship and decades of invigorating dialogue with John Kenneth Galbraith taught us that our opponents may be our friends and our intellectual life would be poorer without them. He was never cruel and never rude, but always interesting. He left many devoted readers, friends, and inspired conservatives, but no replacement. Even he could not do that.