Wednesday, February 27, 2008

God and Man now wail

I received the news that William F. Buckley was dead. I recalled the description of Woodrow Wilson when he was handed a note describing the death of Theodore Roosevelt, “First, a look of shock, then a small sympathetic nod, followed by a satisfied smile.” Buckley has been the scourge of liberals for half a century, a haughty, born to the purple elitist who once backed down on his position that blacks should not vote in the south by adding, “well, neither should the ignorant whites.” Bill Buckley and his former model and heiress wife spent a good deal of time sailing to the Canary Islands and skiing in Switzerland. Like George Herbert Walker Bush, he was born on third and thought that he’d hit a triple. He took everything that riches and prestige could buy him at Yale , including membership in the Skull and Bones Society, then he graduated and published a book (that he had to give $10,000 to the publisher to get  done) called God and Man at Yale, in which he attacked that venerable old institution as a cell of collectivist atheists. William Buckley was everything that I am not, and everything I detest most, packaged into a smirking , smarmy, cigarette inhaling body. Yet I loved the guy. I shall miss him and pronounce the world poorer for his passing.

 

My first memory of Buckley was as an oft quoted spokesman for Barry Goldwater in 1964. A year after that debacle, he decided to run for Mayor of New York City. A metropolis fresh off a World’s Fair, a race riot, and three straight last place finished by the Mets. The Yankees were down, the Giants were down, as were the Knicks and anyone else with New York on their jerseys. The swinging Sinatra town of the 50s had been replaced by a city in which over a million members of the middle class had left, abandoning it to a few very rich and many very poor. Mayor Wagner, sensing that New York’s run was over, at least for awhile, stepped down and the Democratic Banner was carried by the diminutive Abe Beam of Brooklyn, an  “old school” ward healer. The Republicans chose the very glamorous John Lindsey, Liberal Republican representing an East side silk Stocking Manhattan district. A Kennedy handsome do-gooder, beloved by  socialites with a conscience everywhere. These were the final days of Rockefeller Republicanism, the greatest and most sensible brand of Republicanism in the history of the party. My kind of guys.

 

Apoplectic at the thought of Lindsey representing the Republican Party in Gracy Mansion, Buckley called a Press Conference and announced that he was running for mayor. When asked how many votes he expects to get he says “one, my secretary”, when asked what he will do if he wins he says “demand a recount”. So for the next couple of months, Buckley blows around town, debating Beam and Lindsey, in fact, making mince meat out of them. All in the hopes of electing Beam and running the Rockefeller Repubs out of the party. But a funny thing happens. Buckley starts appealing to Democrats, at one point running with about 20% points, a very close third. In a panic, Beam and Buckley meet and Buckley agrees that he will not respond to any criticisms Beam makes. But it’s too late. Lindsey wins.”The best laid plans..”. The thing I recall most about it is that Buckley and Norman Mailer then show up on the Tonight Show (starring Johnny Carson) to discuss the race in a light hearted manner. That’s when I knew, this is a civilized man. He may have some Neanderthal views, but he behaves like a civilized man.

 

Lindsey went on to challenge Richard Nixon for the Presidency and ended up converting to the Democratic party. Beam hung around New York and finally got himself elected Mayor, just in time for the city to go Bankrupt in 1977 (“Congress to New York City, Drop Dead”).Buckley started a TV show called Firing Line, wrote most of his fifty books, and continued editing the National Review until fairly recently. The paper says that his book on Barry Goldwater is due out soon. I have never purchased a Buckley book, and I won’t buy this one, but somewhere along the way I plan to read it. We are all diminished when our enemies pass on. We are doubly diminished when those enemies were  decent human beings. It is a sad day for the literate. Even those of us who don’t spell so well.

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