William Buckley's Conservative Legacy Author and conservative innovator William F. Buckley died Wednesday morning at 82. Alex Chadwick talks with New York Times columnist David Brooks about the death of his friend.
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William Buckley's Conservative Legacy

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William Buckley's Conservative Legacy

William Buckley's Conservative Legacy

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. From NPR News, I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

One of the great intellectual and political figures of the last half century has died. William F. Buckley was 82. His son Christopher told the New York Times that his father was found at his writing desk at his Stanford, Connecticut home. William F. Buckley founded the conservative magazine the National Review in 1955.

In an interview on NPR's TALK OF THE NATION earlier, he explained what motivated him to start that magazine.

Mr. WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY (National Review): It was during the high days of President Eisenhower and there was a kind of placidity attaching to Eisenhower which not only in our judgment affected the mood, the sort of silent '50s mood, but also affected policy. There were a lot of people who wanted something to read that was well-informed and staunchly and unapologetically anti-communist and the anti-socialist. Well, the National Review did that.

CHADWICK: David Brooks is a New York Times columnist. He was hired by William F. Buckley for The National Review back in the mid-1980s. David, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And that day when you went to work for National Review - was it 1984? It must've been William F. Buckley's just crowning time. There was Ronald Reagan in the White House and William Buckley really aglow.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (The New York Times): Yeah, when I was a student at the University of Chicago I wrote a parody making fun of him for being a name dropper and things like that. He came to campus and he said to the campus audience, David Brooks, if you're in the audience, I want to give you a job. And I called about three years later and said, is that offer still open?

And what was striking about him was A) he not only created the magazine, he created the conservative movement. He cohered all these people. But what was really the key to him was his capacity for friendship. There were a lot of strange ducks walking around American conservativism in the 1950s, '60s, and maybe even today, and he had the ability to wield them all with his personality, which was a glamorous personality, a smart personality, but most of all, if you were 23-year-old kid showing up to the National Review, he asked you what you thought. He showered his incredible attention on you. And at the same time he had just come back from the White House talking to Ronald Reagan. So he was a larger than life figure, to say the least.

CHADWICK: Well, he was handsome, he was successful, mostly he was witty. He was so smart, he was so clever. Conservatives, as you describe as kind of a disparate rabble in the '50s, here was a guy who put smart people on paper and to whom being smart mattered as much as anything.

Mr. BROOKS: You know, a lot of our readers at National Review, they like the ideas, but mostly they wanted to be like him. They wanted to be like Buckley. They wanted to go to the Stork Club. They wanted to hang around and sometimes have brawls with writers like Gore Vidal, but also to have some deeper connection to ideas.

He was someone who had money, who had looks, who had intelligence, he could've done anything, and yet he hung around people because of his commitment to certain ideas, people who were not glamorous but who he thought believed in the right things.

CHADWICK: Let me just read to you a bit from the Associated Press" obit on him. Columnist, novelist, editor, debater, TV talk show star of "Firing Line," harpsichordist, transoceanic sailor - I mean this guy, on and on it went. And then it says of him, on the platform he was all handsome reptilian languor.

Mr. BROOKS: I might take out the reptilian, but the energy is absolutely the key. He would write a column in 25 minutes, then he'd go off and play the harpsichord, then he'd go off yachting. He was someone who would talk about being unable to sit still. And his mind just worked at an incredible pace and he had to keep it occupied all the time.

And again, what was striking was not only that kept it occupied with books and the professional stuff, but the stuff that people didn't see was how he kept it occupied with his friends. It was the energy he devoted to rallying people around him that really to me is almost more remarkable than the ideas in the public life.

CHADWICK: David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times and friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died at the age of 82. David's also a frequent contributor to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. David, thank you so much.

Mr. BROOKS: A pleasure.

CHADWICK: We're sorry for the loss of your friend.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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