"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sen. Talent on the Death of William F. Buckley, Jr.

February 28th, 2008 by Mark Truman · No Comments

By David Freddoso

“Next to Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley was more responsible for the rise of conservatism in this country than anyone else — and that’s a very considered statement,” former Sen. Jim Talent (R., Mo.) told National Review Online on Wednesday. “He taught what conservatism was about. He did it with an élan, a humor, and a boldness that itself was an enormous example. He changed the psychological approach to politics that conservatives had.”

One of Buckley’s most important but least remembered accomplishments was his excommunication of anti-Semitic and racist elements from the conservative movement. “The fact that he did it was crucial,” said Talent, “but also the fact that he recognized the need to do it. That’s something a statesman does, and Buckley was a statesman. Who else would have had the prestige and influence, and the forensic and polemical ability to do that? And the boldness, too — because he was opening himself up to the charge of presumption. But he was William F. Buckley Jr., and that’s why he was able to do it. He exorcised the movement. And the magazine has continued to exercise that function.”

In this and other ways, Talent said, Buckley made conservative thought respectable even among those who disagreed with it. “Because he was a person of so many different tastes and interests, I think he engaged liberals on the human level,” he said. “He really made conservatism more acceptable to liberals.”

Talent recalled an interview Buckley had given to Playboy in 1970, which Talent later read in reprint. “The way he described it, it was like we were the ones running an airport and preparing the landing strip, keeping the lights on for the liberals until they’d finally realize that that’s where they needed to land.”

Along these lines, Talent pointed to Buckley’s 1965 run for mayor of New York City, and the accompanying campaign autobiography, The Unmaking of a Mayor. “Even in 1965, he was anticipating conservatism as an actual governing philosophy.

“Buckley’s death is a tremendous loss to the movement,” said Talent. “But although I feel the sadness of it, I do not feel the bitterness, because I really do believe that he was able to complete the task he set for himself and build the institutions he built.” Read more…

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