The founder of the modern conservative movement, the man who Ronald Reagan referred to as “the most influential journalist and intellectual of our era,” died today. William F. Buckley Jr. was 82 years old. The man who was regarded by many as “the greatest conservative in the world” founded the influential National Review magazine in 1955, hosted the famous debate show Firing Line for 33 years, and authored over 50 books. In the words of George Will, “before there was Ronald Reagan there was Barry Goldwater, before there was Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was William F. Buckley.” Today, John McCain remembered Buckley by saying, “When conservatism was a lonely cause, he bravely raised the standard of liberty and led the charge to renew the principles and values that are the foundation of our great country.” Joe Lieberman, a friend of Buckley’s for over 40 years, honored his memory by speaking about him at length on the Senate floor.
I first heard Buckley’s name as a freshman at William and Mary in the spring of 2001. I was sitting in the “Power and Informal Politics” freshman seminar taught by Professor James Bill, an expert on the Middle East. Bill was describing his appearance on Buckley’s Firing Line show where he debated the pros and cons of going to war with Iraq in 1991. He asked the class if any of us had ever heard of Buckley. I’m embarrassed to say that none of the fifteen students in the room, including myself, had. I soon found out who he was. That summer following my freshman year, I wrote a letter to Buckley. Not expecting a response, I was shocked when I received his reply in October 2001. A month after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the father of conservatism makes time to read what I’ve written and writes back. Amazing.
Reagan once said of Buckley: “You didn't just part the Red Sea. You rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism. And then, as if that were not enough, you gave the world something different, something, in its weariness, it desperately needed — the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”