A harmful, fascinating, brilliant, well-intended, generally sincere, and -- I'll take the plunge -- admirable guy. An architect of the conservative rise to power that ultimately enabled Gingrich to take Congress and Bush to take the White House, which means he did far more harm than good.
But also an advocate of true, old-fashioned conservatism -- remember back that far, when protecting individual rights against an oppressive government, fiscal responsibility, and putting America first were their main planks? -- whose influential publication, The National Review, actually endorsed Kerry in 2004 because Bush had deviated so far from true conservatism, and who personally expressed doubts about the Iraq War, as even conservatives concede.
One of his signature lines -- which summarized his philosophy, makes sense if one understands that Buckley's conservatism largely evolved in opposition to the Kennedy administration's fervent faith in "experts" in government, and could serve as a koan for a graduate-level poli sci class to discuss for a full semester -- was this:
“I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”
I disagreed with most of what he said -- when I could understand him at all; he delivered the commencement speech at my graduation from the University of California, Davis in 1984 and for an hour all we could hear was mumbles that often seemed self-amused, and I still have absolutely no idea what he talked about. But at least he was a thinking Republican in that long-ago time when that party still considered itself to be based on logic and "reality" -- and if nothing else, we progressives could learn a lot from the way Buckley engineered the rise of conservatism from a discredited philosophy that even Republican Dwight Eisenhower disclaimed and said was limited to a small group of crazy Texans, into a force so powerful that it could bring the most powerful nation on Earth to the brink of ruin.
It'll take someone like him, some genius (in the sense of spirit or energy) like his, his Progressive doppelganger, to save our country from the problems that he, without knowing it when he began, helped create.
So, to a complex man: R.I.P.
Stories here, here, and here, and what the heck, here here here, if anyone's interested, and a good collection of his quotes here.
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