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Eric Zorn: “I found his patrician bearing, devastating eloquence and understated, scornful wit thoroughly captivating. His quiet confidence and penetrating intellect were exactly what I aspired to. . . . I always found him curious, fair, funny, occasionally surprising and about as open-minded and truly engaging as pundits get. If he was ever a shouter or a name-caller or a race baiter or a taunter, I missed it.” [Ed. note: !]
Reader cover star Rick Perlstein: “I cannot deny that William F. Buckley said and did many things over the course of his career that were disgusting as well. I’ve written about some of them. But this is not the time to go into all that. My friend just passed away at the age of 82. He was a good and decent man.”
James Wolcott: “As the magazine he founded, National Review, became more and more of a catapult platform for neoconservatism and a playpen for yahoos (gone were the intellectual sophistication and modernist forays by Hugh Kenner, D. Keith Mano, and Guy Davenport), he became a superannuated eminence, revered but irrelevant. His misgivings about the Iraq war fell snowflakes on a bunker mentality that now housed the likes of Michael Ledeen and Victor Davis Hanson.”
Spencer Ackerman: “No William F. Buckley, no National Review; no National Review, no Goldwater movement; no Goldwater movement, no Ronald Reagan… and on and on. Naturally liberals will find much of Buckley’s legacy to be ultimately malign. But what was undeniably valuable was how he forced mid-century liberalism, so self-satisfied, to rethink many of its basic premises, grapple with inconvenient truths and harsh assessments, and emerge (in my opinion) stronger.”
Gavin M.: “Buckley might not have been a force for good in the world, but his was a conservatism of principles — one far more substantial and measured than the one of stances and shibboleths that today’s young conservatives learn to swallow whole and regurgitate.”
I’ll confess to being largely ignorant of the man’s writings, but the most interesting thing I read about him today was this: In 1986, Buckley wrote, “everyone detected with AIDS should be tatooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.” Tristero, at Hullabaloo, adds “I understand that, after hearing that a friend of his, the odious Roy Cohn, had contracted AIDS, he changed his mind.”
It’s resonant that Buckley would earnestly revise a nauseating belief on the basis of a personal tragedy suffered by a truly horrible friend. It seems to encapsulate Rick Perlstein’s belief that Buckley was a humane man that believed a number of very inhumane things, but was not immune to revising his beliefs towards the light. A lot of people seem blinded by his personality and mannerisms, which Wolcott deftly describes and I have to admit I find kind of icky in the most classist possible way, but the takeaway lesson comes from Perlstein, as it so often does.