It was on this date in 2008 that the conservative movement lost its 20th-century champion, William F. Buckley, Jr. I would like to tell you how one boy, now grown, remembers him.
From 1967-70 my predictable world was flipped over. The wheels came off America’s cultural cart, and it landed in a political and social ditch that changed life for almost everyone. It was the time and place in which I met William F. Buckley, Jr.
Buckley, Me and the TV
Bill and I met through the television screen. I vividly recall my weekend encounters with Buckley in my living room. He was the founder and central figure on Firing Line. My family’s first television was, as I recall, a Magnavox, black and white model. The TV was placed in our living room, surrounded by furniture. It had an antenna we called “rabbit ears” sticking up from the back.
To this day, I can still sense Buckley’s voice and mannerisms, especially his facial contortions. Even as a young teen, he intrigued me, and I was captured in the web of logic only he could spin. Moreover, it was his intellect, cockiness, and ability to argue his points that first hooked me at age 15. William F. Buckley, Jr. was self-assured, he knew that he was right, conservatism was superior to liberalism, and he was on a mission to make the world listen, especially the liberal world.
I feasted on Buckley’s assuredness as he set forth one conservative principle after another, week after week. He helped me understand that political beliefs do matter and we were to argue for what we say we believe. Arguing, to William F. Buckley, Jr., was a science and an art. It was a science because logic is always the foundation of truth. Arguing is also an art because the best debates involve the application of tone, mannerisms, humor, sarcasm and body language. I saw in Buckley the science and art of conservative apologetics.
As a boy, I remember thinking how smart he was, and how I admired him, facial contortions notwithstanding. It was William Buckley whose prose and pragmatism delighted me throughout my teen years. Buckley was the first person to show me there were arguments for right and wrong and that I should be prepared and equipped to make them.
Buckley and the Thrill of Debate
William Buckley was the tutor who caused me first taste the thrill of debate, replete with all of its subtleties. He used arguments born of solid points of logic and intertwined counter-points that left his opponents nearly speechless. It was Buckley who inspired me to sign up for the high school debate team as a sophomore. My first debate started with the declaration, “Resolved, the United States should not enter into unilateral conflicts in Southeast Asia.” How fitting, given the times.
I was naive, impressionable and bewildered in a world made up of hippies, campus riots, Vietnam and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luthe King, Jr. (April 4, 1968) and Robert Kennedy (June 6, 1968). The changes seemed to come faster than our ability to cope or even adjust. The madness of those days was unmistakable. It was obvious, something different was on the horizon.
In the midst of this chaos, I continued to meet privately, almost secretly, with Mr. Buckley each Sunday. Through the miracle of television, I felt like I was in a classroom being tutored by a witty and intelligent man from New York. In fact, I was. Our weekly meetings made an indelible impression on me as I soaked in Buckley’s positions, thoughts and words. He was having an impact on one boy living in a small northern Arizona city. I’m thinking now; there must have been thousands of others.
Ours is a different time. But for those of us who grew up in the sixties, Buckley was the father of modern conservatism, followed by Friedman, Goldwater, Reagan and now, Levin.
Funny, until now, I never thought of discussing the quiet impact Buckley had on me.
Today is February 27, 2018, and the tenth anniversary of the passing of Buckley. I’m grateful he was there at a time when all hell was breaking loose around me. He was my political counterpart to the spiritual input of the Reverand Billy Graham. They were two sides of a similar coin.
I remember William F. Buckley, Jr.
Watch the Sixties with Christopher Hitchens and William F. Buckley
Video: Courtesy of the Hoover Institution.