ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A uniquely recognizable voice of the conservative movement has gone silent. William F. Buckley parlayed his anger at the secularization of American society into a magazine that became a rallying point for conservatives. He died this morning from complications of emphysema and heart disease. He was 82.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports now on Buckley's life and impact.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: William F. Buckley Jr. ran for mayor of New York City at the age of 39. Asked by reporters the first thing he would do if elected, and he said, demand a recount.
Mr. RICH LOWRY (Editor, National Review): When he burst onto the scene in the mid-1950s, the image of a conservative was someone who didn't care about ideas, kind of a cigar-chomping industrialist that only cared about his own profits.
FOLKENFLIK: Rich Lowry was Buckley's handpicked successor as editor of the National Review. He says Buckley offered dispirited conservatives a new champion.
Mr. LOWRY: An Ivy League-educated, silver-tongued, witty, and erudite guy who could take on all comers, and he had just an incalculable influence.
FOLKENFLIK: Buckley explained the magazine's initial appeal during an interview on NPR's TALK OF THE NATION.
(Soundbite of TALK OF THE NATION interview)
Mr. WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR. (Author; Commentator; Founder and Editor, National Review): In the late '50s, when National Review was born, there were a lot of people who wanted something to read that was well-informed and staunchly and unapologetically anti-communist and anti-socialist - and National Review did that.
FOLKENFLIK: Buckley also argued for social values rooted in Christian traditions and against regulation of business and the economy. His debates with counterparts on the left devolved into the long-running show "Firing Line." On this show from 1969, his guest was the leftist linguist and political thinker, Noam Chomsky.
(Soundbite of TV show "Firing Line")
Mr. W. BUCKLEY: Any chain of action that might involve us in a Third World War and something that might involve the entire world in Holocaust…
Mr. NOAM CHOMSKY (Linguist; Political Activist; Author) No, I don't believe that.
Mr. W. BUCKLEY: Well, I know you don't believe it, but...
Mr. CHOMSKY: In fact I think that...
Mr. W. BUCKLEY: ...it might be refreshing to listen to this point of view.
FOLKENFLIK: That point of view emerged not only in the pages of his magazine, he also wrote more than 40 books and 5,600 newspaper columns. In this commentary for the NPR series This I Believe, Buckley talked about his own faith - in his own case, a deep Catholicism, and one man's rebuttal to skepticism about the existence of God.
(Soundbite of This I Believe commentary)
Mr. W. BUCKLEY: The imperishable answer was, I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop.
That rhetorical bullet has everything - wit and profundity.
FOLKENFLIK: Above all, his son, the author Christopher Buckley recalls, Bill Buckley was seeking to make it respectable to be a conservative.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY (Son of William F. Buckley Jr.; Author): He drove the kooks out of the movement. He separated it from the anti-Semites, the isolationists, the John Birchers. He conducted, if you will, a kind of purging of the movement.
FOLKENFLIK: Buckley helped established the Young Americans for Freedom, who formed the core of Barry Goldwater's unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1964. But the movement found a new standard-bearer in Ronald Reagan, who won the White House 16 years later. None of this was lost on Bill Buckley or on his son, Christopher.
Mr. C. BUCKLEY: I have heard it said, many occasions, that if it hadn't been for Bill Buckley, there wouldn't have been a Barry Goldwater, and if there hadn't been a Barry Goldwater, there wouldn't be a Ronald Reagan.
FOLKENFLIK: He later regretted some of his positions such as his unyielding opposition in the mid-1960s to landmark voting rights bills. But Buckley took pride in seeing his influence spread as the modern conservative movement took hold.
As his health declined and as he mourned the death of his wife, Pat, Buckley's life became much tougher. Like his father, Christopher Buckley turned to Shakespeare for inspiration today.
Mr. C. BUCKLEY: I sent out an e-mail this morning to, you know, his friends, and I just found myself unable to resist quoting the line from Hamlet, "Take him for all he was worth, Horatio. He was a man and I shall not look upon his like again."
FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, 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.