There has never been anyone quite like WFB. I’ve been slowly savoring his book, “Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription,” made up of notes and asides from the decades at National Review, for the last few weeks. What makes it special is that it is a glimpse into his head, stretched across fifty years of the magazine and ‘Firing line,’ which I was, alas, too young to have seen in its prime. In his lifetime he supported or sparred with some of the greatest political minds of the 20th century.
As a side note, I was something of my parents walking party gag as a 12 year old. They’d trot me out at parties to do my list of awful impressions, shamelessly mimicked from David Frey albums. Nixon, LBJ, Ed Sullivan, Teddy Kennedy - all the standard schtick. But I did WFB, not having the slightest idea who he was, based on David Frey’s version of his voice. I had to look up new words for every party because it got the biggest laugh to hear my goofy kid voice trying to sound like Buckley, warbling out lugubrious, concatonated, salubrious, pernicious perfidy, and caucus.
Buckley was born in Connecticut, but lived as a child in Texas, where his family spoke nothing but Spanish. They moved to France, and they spoke nothing but French. They moved to Britain when he was something like 10, where he finally learned English from the English. Buckley served in WWII, and then attended Yale where he was indeed a member of Skull & Bones.
After Yale, he did a stint in the CIA in Mexico City. In 1955, he started National Review at the age of 30, with the purpose of "“standing athwart history yelling Stop.”
While critics of the Conservative Movement liked to present him as a jackbooted ideologue of the Right, Buckley was no conformist or mouthpiece. he was always his own man. When National Review started, WFB was a lone, sane voice in a sea of liberal media on the Left, and wacked out groups like the John Birch Society on the Right. It was Buckley who led the way in crafting an appeal for Ronald Reagan's presidency from what became commonly referred to as "Reagan Democrats."
And yeah, for the conspiratorial believers out there, he regularly attended the Bohemian Grove, where he was known to give outdoor concerts on the harpsichord.
He criticized the war in Iraq, and he was a strong advocate of decriminalizing drug use and legalizing marijuana. He was known to sail his yacht out past the US territorial limit so he could share a joint with friends. No Republican was just handed an endorsement. He wrote two columns a week for decades, and more than 50 books, along with helming National Review for more than 40 years. At 82, he died at work in his study, fulfilling my hopes for my own obituary, containing the words "sudden," "massive," and "slumped."
Not a bad way to go. He'll be sorely missed in Hodapphaüs.