News of a “liberal” price cut on the late William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Manhattan flat in today’s New York Times provides reason enough to remember the iconic author/editor’s brilliance. Who was cooler? Who had more compelling presence on the global stage? And, who, perhaps most memorably, was unafraid to take on others whose views he felt were wrong. Exhibit A: Gore Vidal. Buckley’s take-down– “stop calling me a Crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the God-damned face—and you’ll stay plastered”—remind of us another, perhaps more Salingeresque, era in public political discourse.
At St. Patrick’s the faithful responded to Kissinger’s emotion-choked eulogy with sustained applause. “Bill Buckley inspired a political movement that changed American politics,” the former secretary of state intoned. “He founded the National Review that, for over a generation, has shaped American political discussion; he hosted an influential talk show [Firing Line] for 30 years; he wrote an elegant column. Every year, he authored a beautifully written novel; in what passed for his spare time, he produced several nonfiction works and delivered over 50 lectures annually. He was a passionate skier, an accomplished harpsichordist, and a daring sailor. He wrote as Mozart composed, by inspiration; he never needed a second draft … this noble, gentle, and valiant man who was truly touched by the grace of God.”
Though Buckley’s brother the former senator James Buckley and sister the retired National Review managing editor Priscilla Buckley read from the Bible, Christopher Buckley was the only other eulogist. After quoting Hamlet—“I shall not look upon his like again”—and calling his father “the world’s coolest mentor,” Christopher concluded, “This afternoon I’ll make one last trip up there [to Stamford] to bury him.… I shall place in his coffin his favorite rosary, the TV remote control—private joke—a jar of peanut butter, and my mother’s ashes.”
Peanut Butter. Buckley loved peanut butter, and apparently commissioned his own private batch. What we miss about him is his unabashed confidence in what was right, and whether one agreed with him or not, one had to admit: he never wavered according to trend, he never wavered from the line of argument he felt was the right one for America. This strain of patriotism is worth something, even now. Try to name a public intellectual with his charm and mind. Just try.