I’m baffled by the backhanded complements of, “well, at least he was an intellectual.” Bullshit.
He was good at using fancy words to dazzle simpletons, nothing more. He said all the same, tired old arguments against equality that Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter repeat today, he just kept a thesaurus handy. That doesn’t make him an intellectual. Intellectuals learn from what they read, they don’t just fish for quotes to use as ammunition against decent human beings. He was rehashing the same elitist crap at 82 as he did when he was 30.
Some graves are made to dance on. I think I’ll choreograph a jig, just for him.
People are praising his criticism of Bush’s Iraqi venture as if it presented some resiling from his conservative hawk ways: rubbish. Buckley wasn’t against the war in principle, he was merely offended by the inelegance of the monumental incompetence of the occupation.
The man is no true loss to the public discourse.
Update 03/03/08: I just caught up with this and had to add it. So many of the posts memorialising Buckley from the Conservative Right have chosen one particular moment as if it was one of triumph: the infamous TV commentary show on the 1968 Democratic Convention where Buckley ended up screamed homophobic abuse at Gore Vidal. But they seem to have missed the point about that particular episode spectacularly – Buckley’s attempt to physically dominate Vidal wasn’t heroic or macho or even effective, it was comically pathetic:
DEFINING MOMENT: While teamed up with Gore Vidal to provide live coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Buckley was so outfoxed by his broadcast partner, and so stymied in his attempt to defend the brutalization of protestors by the local police, that he had a meltdown that he later described as having “rocked television”. Gathering his lolling frame into a pugnacious boxer’s stance, Buckley – perhaps the least physically threatening man in America – growled, “Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a pro-, crypto-Nazi, or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” He went on to falsely claim that he fought in the Second World War, and ranted and raved as Vidal, who knew a good thing when he saw it, sat there with a look of vast amusement on his face as if the Barnum and Bailey Circus had just popped out of Buckley’s chest.
Leonard elucidates on his post (above) further at Sadly, No!:
First, it’s a howling irony that some right-wingers are using that Vidal clip as a memorial to Buckley, as if it were a proud moment in his life or something. In fact, it was a moment of complete embarrassment: the network yanked him off the air and it made him into a national joke for weeks. Buckley, a spineless patrician of the first water, was the least threatening human being on the planet; even Vidal is openly smirking at his pathetic threat, in which we can see the birth of the ridiculous phony tough-guy bluster of today’s conservative bloggers. The genesis of the whole argument between them was Buckley’s defense of the reprehensible brutality of the Chicago police, which pretty much turned off the entire country. And best of all, in an early chickenhawk moment, the clip ends with Buckley displaying calculated outrage that Vidal would call him a crypto-Nazi; why, after all, he, Buckley, fought in the war! (As a non-combatant in the US Army. Just like Gore Vidal.) The whole episode his nothing but a non-stop humiliation of Buckley, and the idea that some people would use it as a his-finest-hour memorial is stupefying.
Additionally, you don’t have to cast all the way back to the dark ’50s to find the old bastard saying intolerant things. Aside from his lifelong belief that it was perfectly acceptable to sacrifice thousands of American lives and kill millions of non-Americans if they showed the slightest sign of sympathy for, or even proximity to, any of the tenets of communism, he was arguing as recently as the 1980s that we should forcibly tattoo people with AIDS as a “warning” to the general public. He was also behind the YAF back when it really was a hippie-bashing bunch of crypto-fascist street brawlers, and he did plenty both directly and through advocacy to overthrow democratically elected regimes all over the world.
There’s no question that compared to his intellectual heirs, Buckley was a giant. There’s no doubt that the National Review, a respectable publication when he founded it, is now a shameful joke. But the fact that he seems decent by comparison is just a sign of how far the discourse has been allowed to degrade. Sure, he was sincere and consistent after his way, but I hope we haven’t fallen far enough that we think phoniness is the only crime; Buckley was sincere, but he was sincere in pursuit of some pretty ugly goals, and we can memorialize him to the extent that we don’t forget that.