Remembering William F. Buckley
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Every time William F. Buckley, Jr. came to these studios to be interviewed, his visit was an event. People gathered in the halls to catch his off-hand witticisms and polysyllabic words like gold pieces falling off a coach. He made conservatism seem effervescent.
Mr. Buckley, the founder of National Review, the host of "Firing Line" and the writer of too many graceful essays, histories and novels to list, died this week of complications from emphysema at the age of 82. Emphysema, such an unseemly thing for a man who was so often a breath of fresh air.
He ran for mayor of New York in 1965 and delivered one of the cleverest quips in American political history to the question: What will you do if elected? Demand a recount, said Bill Buckley.
He gave a speech at the time that I've thought about in this election season, when so many citizens have voted in ways that defy the traditional categories of ethnicity and class.
New York politicians, he said, see a New Yorker as an Irishman, an Italian or a Negro, a union member or a white-collar worker, a Catholic or a Jew, and with Buckley-esque flourish went on to list another dozen examples.
They weigh the voting strength of all the categories and formulate a program that least-dissatisfies the least-powerful. If I become mayor of New York, I would treat people as individuals.
He revived a political ideology but was not a predictable ideologue. Mr. Buckley delivered conservative arguments for the decriminalization of marijuana, equal rights for gays and against the War in Iraq.
He was famously devoted to his family and had what's been called a genius for friendship, often with people with whom he vehemently disagreed about politics. He didn't judge someone by their politics any more than their religion or ethnicity.
This week, I found myself going back to an article Bill Buckley wrote in the late 1970s about a sail he made with friends across the Atlantic. Aboard a boat, he said, the resonance of bad humor shatters everything that the entire experience is designed to bring you, like an alarm clock going off in Carnegie Hall.
And when they could see the Rock of Gibraltar as a bump on the horizon, he opened a bottle of champagne to mark an adventure with good friends on choppy seas. It was our last night, he wrote, seated about the dining table, music, dumpy little low-gravity candles scattered about the chart table, shining through red, blue, green and yellow glass, the gas lamp in mid-table.
We decided to brighten up dessert with two huge sparklers. They were explosively effective and startling, and probably there has not been such elation on these waters since the Battle of Trafalgar.
SIMON: Bill Buckley's theme song. This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.