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William F. Buckley Jr. | 1925-2008

Writer elevated conservative movement

Associated Press (2004)
William F. Buckley Jr. made conservatism respectable in liberal postwar America. He died Wednesday at age 82.

Associated Press (2004) William F. Buckley Jr. made conservatism respectable in liberal postwar America. He died Wednesday at age 82.

WASHINGTON — William F. Buckley Jr., the intellectual founder of the modern conservative movement, who helped define its doctrines of anticommunism, military strength, social order and a capitalist economy, died Wednesday (Feb. 27, 2008) at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82.

He had diabetes and emphysema, but the precise cause of death has not been determined.

Mr. Buckley was an editor, syndicated columnist, television and radio talk show host, novelist, and a witty and gifted orator and raconteur. In 1955, at the age of 29, five years after graduating from Yale University, he founded the National Review, a magazine whose mission, he declared, would be "to stand athwart history, yelling, 'Stop!' "

President Ronald Reagan called Mr. Buckley "the most influential journalist and intellectual of our era." The National Review, Reagan said, "is to the West Wing of the White House what People magazine is to your dentist's office."

Mr. Buckley's greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal postwar America.

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said in 1999 that Mr. Buckley "legitimized conservatism as an intellectual movement and therefore as a political movement. … For people of my generation, Bill Buckley was pretty much the first intelligent, witty, well-educated conservative one saw on television."

To Mr. Buckley's enormous delight, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Kennedy insider, termed him "the scourge of liberalism."

The National Review also helped define the conservative movement by isolating cranks from Mr. Buckley's chosen mainstream.

"Bill was responsible for rejecting the John Birch Society and the other kooks who passed off anti-Semitism or some such as conservatism," Hugh Kenner, a biographer of Ezra Pound and a frequent contributor to the National Review, told the Washington Post.

In its early years, the National Review attacked any and all U.S. policies it perceived as concessions to communism, condemned what it called "the welfare state" and defended the South's resistance to racial integration. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the National Review was one of only a few to criticize President John F. Kennedy for his deal with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev not to invade Cuba in exchange for removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba.

In his public persona, Mr. Buckley was often described as a "Renaissance man of the right." He had been a covert operative of the CIA. He spoke with a patrician accent and he was urbane, charming and erudite. His wit was trenchant and his sarcasm biting.

Mr. Buckley was a serious student of the English language and was widely known for his large, polysyllabic vocabulary. He loved sailing, skiing and playing the harpsichord. He made four transoceanic sailing voyages and had been to the South Pole.

Mr. Buckley's syndicated column, "On the Right," began in 1962 and appeared in hundreds of newspapers. He was still writing columns until his death. His television program, Firing Line, was carried nationwide on the Public Broadcasting Service. It ran from 1966 to 1999, making it the longest-running show hosted by a single host — beating Johnny Carson by three years.

He wrote at least 55 books, ranging from sailing odysseys to spy novels to celebrations of his own dashing daily life, and edited five more. Last year he published a political novel, The Rake, and a book looking back at the National Review's history. His personal memoirs about Barry Goldwater and Reagan are due later this year.

Many of varied political stripes came to see his life as something of an art form — from racing through city streets on a motorcycle to a quixotic campaign for mayor of New York in 1965 to startling opinions like favoring the decriminalization of marijuana. In a 2006 interview with CBS, he called the Iraq war a failure. He was often described as liberals' favorite conservative.

William Francis Buckley was born on Nov. 24, 1925, in New York, the sixth of 10 children. His father presided over an oil empire with holdings in seven countries and a fortune that at his death in 1958 was estimated at $10-million. When Buckley was 5, he asked to change his middle name to Frank and his parents agreed. At that point, he became William F. Buckley Jr.

In 1991, President George Bush presented Mr. Buckley the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Survivors include a son, writer Christopher Buckley of New York and Washington, and two grandchildren. He is also survived by two brothers and three sisters. His wife, Patricia, died last year.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Writer elevated conservative movement 02/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:01am]
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