Friday, February 29, 2008

The worthy opponent: Deceased Artiste William F. Buckley Jr.

America has gotten much, much dumber over the years, especially since the "Reagan revolution" (hock ptooey) hit us in 1980. The interesting thing to consider, though, is that the original standard bearers for conservatism were indeed wildly smart individuals like the now-late William F. Buckley. A mass of ticks and pretension in his public appearance, Buckley was an intellectual of the first order whose beliefs I oppose entirely, but who was worthy of debate, unlike his Neocon successors, for whom the term knuckle-dragger is a compliment (to wit, the President Chimp anecdote about how he attended a Buckley National Review soiree when he was young, and got liquor on the carpet — tee hee hee, shut up!). I have strong memories of a televised debate on PBS in the late '70s about the Panama Canal (a major issue when the Repubs were refreshingly not in power during the Swinging Seventies), wherein Ronald Reagan was soundly trounced by Buckley. Reagan may have been a friendly old evil bastard, but Buckley was his superior in all things conservative.

I eulogized the last literary wildman Norman Mailer a few weeks ago on this blog and should note that Norm was properly respectful of Bill B. — in fact, it's interesting to note that at his most volatile (right after Armies of the Night), he appeared on Firing Line and never once got cross with his host. Buckley was certainly an equal of Mailer's as far as intelligence was concerned. But genius? Buckley was not a genius, and in fact — in case, anyone thinks I'm getting misty-eyed about the old gent. I'd like to remember him with two items (both referenced in a Buckley thread on

First this quote:
“The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”
—William F. Buckley, National Review, August 24, 1957

And then this gorgeous bit of smart-guy TV. Herein, the clip I had heard so much about, but finally saw thanks to YouTube: Buckley getting tongue-tied in a debate with Gore Vidal during the '68 convention, and coming out with a homophobic slur and a challenge to fisticuffs. Vidal, definitely the last genius standing these days, has always had the ability to really PISS PEOPLE OFF. Buckley was indeed an intellectual giant, but man, just hit him with the word "Nazi" and the veneer came down....

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