Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Speaking ill of the dead Part III: William F. Buckley, Jr.

And another one bites the dust.

Arch-prig, "conservative" (somewhat to the right of Himmler) commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. just bit the proverbial big one at the age of 82. Buckley was born into multi-generational wealth and made millions more attacking poor people and "socialism" - on public television, no less - for their sloth and related failures. His smug, corpulent frame was perched upon overburdened swivel chairs for decades, a heaving caricature of what America thought the landed gentry looked like, and, as it turns out, does. Buckley would spit vile invective at anyone struggling to upset Mammon's apple cart through the ridiculously clenched jaw aping the Boston Brahmin bully, a perpetual smirk on his increasingly puffy face generated by the knowledge that he was born into a position where one could ridicule the plight of the weak and get away with it, always.

Buckley enjoyed yachting and made even more money writing books about it. Why, I imagine he wondered, don't poor folks have the gumption to write their own yachting memoirs and pull themselves up by their wingtip-straps?

As a TV commentator Buckley in some ways pioneered the Bill O'Reilly school of claiming to have debate with intellectual superiors, and "winning" these debates by cutting off responses, refusing to answer questions, insisting on answers to loaded questions. As a "gentleman" he wouldn't yell at guests, although in one memorable event he did threaten to punch Gore Vidal, his intellectual and moral superior, a man born into wealth who noticed the struggle of the weak and has earnestly tried to help them. Yes, Vidal is a "queer"... he's also a World War II vet, a decorated pilot.

If you can stomach it, witness Buckley dodge substantive debate with the far brighter Noam Chomsky by repeatedly changing the subject, and setting up a series of strawman arguments. One can almost see the mouse on the little wheel in his head whispering things about how awful it is to have a filthy Jew on the set.

Buckley served for a year in the CIA, attempting to destabilize Mexico. Very little is known about how. Vidal also claimed that Buckley and relatives vandalized a Protestant church (despite appearances, he was a loyal Catholic and a book could likely be written on the resultant psychologically driven attempts to out-WASP the WASPs) because the pastor's wife sold some property to a Jewish family. These two events sum his life nicely I think.

William F. Buckley, Jr.'s dead and we're not. Enjoy that. The only regret is the amount of time it took to get there.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're a harsh man, Chris. Speaking from personal exposure before acquired knowledge, my only memories of Buckley from my childhood are that of a pompous old man who couldn't sit up straight. Archival footage like what you presented certainly show a different side.

Buckley was an intelligent bastard who mastered what I like to call the "dismantler's argrument" (sorta making up a word there), where debating is more about destroying an opponent's argument than solidifying his own, a tactic that I greatly dislike. I guess you can say that Buckley was important and influential, but given the influence, I don't know if that's anything to be proud of.