August 4, 2010

"[William F.] Buckley was charming because he had to be."

"He got a lot of attention because it was a time when liberalism was at its zenith, and so was its control of the media. Liberals were secure enough to let guys like Buckley on, but only guys like Buckley, whose I’m-a-member-of-the-club aristocratic credentials made him seem safe. And only so long as he was sufficiently nonthreatening."

It doesn't work like that anymore. And by the way, as I remember it — and I watched "Firing Line" in the 60s — Buckley wasn't a charming, refined guy — or not just a charming, refined guy. There was something freakish and weird about him. I remember the exaggerated imitations of him emphasizing elaborate squirming in his seat, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth, the long pauses with abrupt spates of words, the crazy gesturing with a pencil, and the bizarre reaching for big words people had never heard before. Maybe upper class people and Yale graduates were able to perceive him as one of their own, but to average TV viewers, he was a big oddball.

***

Ah, yes! Here it is: Joe Flaherty's impersonation (the second character shown in the SCTV sketch).

56 comments:

Fred4Pres said...

Buckley had a huge influence on my growing up. I remember thinking he was strange (in the way he spoke and sat and his mannerisms, but he was obviously whip smart too.

But he was hardly nice. That is what I liked about him. He argued his position. While my family growing up was hardly Ivy League, you were expected to hold your own at the dinner table if you spoke up. I got that about Buckley. Granted he rarely threatened to punch guests in the face (but Gore Vidal deserved it) but he was definitely no push over in arguments.

Mark O said...

There is no one on television or radio today who comes anywhere near the intellectual heft of Bill Buckley. He was serious, informed and a brilliant interrogator. No yelling. No wild, unsupported opinions based on the talking points of the day.

Compare and contrast.

El Pollo Real said...

Re the video: Hardly as side splitting as Rich Little's version of Richard Nixon (which even I learned to do as middle school entertainment) or even Limbaugh's excellent riff on Clinton (which a missed in the day but find amusing when he uses).

A while ago I went looking for the availability of old Firing Line programs...anybody know if they are on DVD? My wife was intrigued by what Buckley had to say rather than how he said it.

LarsPorsena said...

When I hear the Brandenburg Concertos, I don't think of Bach but Buckley.

knox said...

Is Bainbridge asserting that Buckley's smarter than Hannity??????

Joe said...

"Puff-Fart" was the word I heard to describe Buckley...and it describes him PERFECTLY.

I like Conservatives, am one, to an extent, but Buckley was a "To the Manor-Born Ivy League Upper Class Blow-hard", best lampooned by Iowahawk in his T. Coddington Vorhees VII series (Yes, I know T. Coddington Vorhees VII is the son of VI-Buckley).

And I agree with Goldberg about this lamentation of the "Golden Age of Conservatism." What liberals liked about the "Golden Age" was that Buckley was ALONE and powerless...that's where they want Conservatives to be.

They like Regan and Buckley NOW, that they're dead...they HATED them then and were scathing and contemptuous.

I think Frum, Brooks, and Liberals like Conservatism that is "safe and non-threatening" that is only an intellectual past-time of upper class eggheads, whilst the nation, merrily, follows a Keynesian or Progressive path. They don't like an empowered Conservatism that might govern, might over-turn the status quo. So they pretend to "revere" an older, more civil, more intellectual Conservatism.

Bottom-Line: they like Buckley and Goldwater, because LBJ could mop the floor with them, electorally. They hate Palin and the Tea Party Movement, because they can see a 1964 Election coming their way, only this time THEY'RE going to be Goldwater.

knox said...

That was a joke*

*disclaimer in hopes of preventing Jeremy from jumping into this conversation

traditionalguy said...

Bill Buckley made conservative commentary respectable and increase the vocabulary of many listeners. He was Ivy League to the bone. Never was he mistaken for an Andy Jackson or a Marine Corps type. He was always of, by and for the Lords and the Vassals that an Ivy League education perpetuated here. The conservative Tea Party today are the commoners who pay the taxes and fight the wars...sort of like that commoner called Sarah the ImPaliner.

c3 said...

This is a perverse variation on that old saw:
The only good communist, is a dead communist

In this case it is certain liberals stating that the only good and/or noteworthy conservatives are those who have passed on.

knox said...

Joe,

Excellent points. Although Buckley's air of intellectualism probably appealed to a lot of them.

Joe said...


Is Bainbridge asserting that Buckley's smarter than Hannity??????



The real question is, "Is hannity more INFLUENTIAL than Buckley?"

And the asnwer is "Yes" and that drives people like Bainbridge or HDHouse crazy...for somewhat different reasons, to be sure. But it makes them bat-Sh!te crazy, nonetheless.

GMay said...

The Buckley/Chomsky debate from that show is a real treat.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

And Buckley had a touch of Ann Coulter about him when he was young -- he _did_ horrify people, in his time.

That's just how it was.

GMay said...

Conservatism is a disease. Buckley suffered worse than any known conservative and it's sad that a sick man would be on the air for so long showing everyone such a macabre insight into the archetypal mental derangement that is the right winger's mind.

(In before Ritmo)

(I know it's about a thousand words short, but how'd I do?)

ricpic said...

Buckley was non-threatening to liberals in the sense that he never said of LBJ and his obscene so-called War On Poverty, "I hope he fails," as opposed to Rush vis-a-vis the present obscenity in the White House.

Joe said...

GMay, IMHO...not condescending enough...

AllenS said...

BUCKLEY DIDN'T LIVE THERE!

HE CAN'T VOTE!

SHUT UP!

Posted pre-downtownlad.

Fred4Pres said...

Hannity is more influential than Buckley?

If you go by PBS ratings vs. Hannity's numbers, yeah. But Buckley created the conservative movement. Rush Limbaugh describes Buckley as his spiritual father (you know like Jeremiah Wright was Barack Obama's spiritual father). So all the pundits today owe a debt to Bill Buckley.

MrBuddwing said...

I dimly recall William F. Buckley appearing as a special guest on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" on NBC. At one point, he fielded questions from the cast in what looked like a press conference. Explaining why he'd agreed to appear on "Laugh-In," Buckley joked that the producers had promised to fly him out on an airplane "with two right wings." Ho ho ho.

I was too young at the time to appreciate the political dynamics involved, but looking back, I wonder: Was William F. Buckley on "Laugh-In" because he was William F. Buckley, or because of some perceived novelty of having a - gasp - conservative on TV? (If the latter, it brings to mind that "Fernwood 2Night" bit in which Martin Mull and Fred Willard interviewed a young Jewish man who happened to be passing through town - of course, they treated him like he was a visitor from another planet or something.)

Word verification: koblym

Scott said...

Buckley copped the attitude that he was above the fray. His calm demeanor and measured tones made his words stand out from the hateful, belligerent blustering of his leftish opponents. He was different and refreshing.

He could have ongoing dialogues with people on the left because he keyed in on his opponents' basic humanity, and showed respect for that. This was completely disarming for the leftish, with whom he made many friends.

Buckley was a conservative, but he was also a Catholic of deep yet modest faith. That's what animated him.

Bru said...

Two things.

First, Buckley wasn't always charming and civil. After Gore Vidal called him a crypto-Nazi, Buckely responded by calling Vidal a "queer" and threatening to punch his "god-d__m" face. Now, that response may have been warranted, but it wasn't charming or civil.

Second, the left uses this argument as a weapon to avoid having to discuss actual issues. Indeed, Buckley himself recognized this fact when Limbaugh interviewed Buckley in July 2004:

RUSH: ... Well, but, Bill, you know, as I study things today, you are now treated and received -- and properly so -- with great affection and great respect, and there are some who say that, "Oh, we wish for the old days of Buckley conservatism when it was urbane and erudite and polite." They say that the modern era of conservatism has descended into harshness and other things.

MR. BUCKLEY: Well, that's a weapon. People use that when they want to be anti-Limbaugh. They will say, "Well, Limbaugh belongs in that school of polemical thought which really should be excluded." They do that to Bill O'Reilly and, of course, they've done it to me in the past. I'm not saying that that criticism cannot be leveled. Sometimes it can be leveled, but to level it with the license that they use against you and O'Reilly, speaks to me of a different motivation. They want to argue with you by simply outlawing your voice on the grounds that it is eccentric and extreme. It is, as I say, simply a polemical device.

RUSH: Rather than debating the issues, disqualify and discredit the voice, then, is the technique?

MR. BUCKLEY: I think that's true.

http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_022808/content/01125106.guest.html

Paul said...

I agree with most of what has been said here. I too found Buckley weird, affected, and effete.

However, the invaluable service he performed was to force liberals to acknowledge that a conservative could actually be intelligent, at least in his case. In the post-WW II period that was quite a concession. Liberals were in total control of the media and, as far as they were concerned, there was no longer any intelligent argument against their program, only resistance from slack-jawed yokels.

An old liberal Yale professor I knew rationalized this paradox by telling me that Buckley only pretended to be conservative, reminding me of Buckley's observation: “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”

Buckley came out with some such put-downs, such as, "I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said."

traditionalguy said...

The comparison of Buckley with Ann Colter is apt. The speak and write as iconoclasts of liberal mythology.

Chase said...

"Liberals were secure enough to let guys like Buckley on, but only guys like Buckley, whose I’m-a-member-of-the-club aristocratic credentials made him seem safe. And only so long as he was sufficiently nonthreatening."

What definition of "secure enough" has so many pussy caveats?

The Crack Emcee said...

Before I actually liked him, I used to call him "The Snake" (because of those bizarre eyes and darting tongue - but, even then, I respected the hell out of him as a brilliant mind and a worthy adversary.

And now I'm very, very happy to say, in the end, he won.

roesch-voltaire said...

As a student working my way through a state college, I was not put off by Buckley mannerism, as much as how well he argued against my then leftish ideology.Today conservatism is riff with "hucksterism," as Kinghofffer points out, but when I read that his notion of a conservative is one of: "profound vision granting transcendent significance to public life and hope in private life," I find that appealing and ignored in much of the public debate by those on the right.

Kirstin said...

I wouldn't say freakish or weird, but rich East Coast Yalie, definitely. And Pat Buckley was a tremendous asset to him, even if it's true that they weren't on speaking terms a lot of the time. I liked the way he could smile and demolish arguments effortlessly.

Metamorf said...

I remember Firing Line too, and agree that Buckley was weird -- but in an "eccentric" rather than freakish sense. That's what made him, despite the occasional bite, seem relatively tame and entertaining, a token conservative in the liberal wasteland of the time. As Ann says, things are different now -- now we have the likes of T. Coddington for enteertainment, as Joe already pointed out.

lemondog said...

Sundays were filled with watching the morning 3 network political talking heads formats, PBS Tony don't recall his last name black host who presented different issues both political and non, and finished off at 1:30 or so with Firing Line.

Beyond his ticks and quirky jerks I thought Buckley highly intelligent, however in his debating teams formats he seemed less impressive.

Recall one the last FL programs was with Ann Coulter. I didn't know who the heck she was but recall I found her to be underwhelming and extremely annoying.

Haven't watch network political programming including PBS in 10 years, I thank you Internet for that privilege!!

A while ago I went looking for the availability of old Firing Line programs...anybody know if they are on DVD? My wife was intrigued by what Buckley had to say rather than how he said it.


Hoover Institution Firing Line TV Program Collection

E Buzz said...

Joe Flaherty was/is a freaking genius.

The Battle of the PBS Stars is incredibly funny. SCTV would skewer the lefties quite frequently. That would not be permitted today, but then, it was novel to me that they would show what the USSR was really like, using humor...

I think they were a bunch of closet conservatives. Or perhaps just smart enough to see both sides and intelligently comment...no one does that any longer, too hard.


What fits into Russia?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zm6HzN5YVI

The Crack Emcee said...

roesch-voltaire,

I would suggest you read yesterday's column by James Taranto, as he demolishes that nonsense for exactly what it is - nonsense.

And, oh yea, fuck you.

c3 said...

Watched the Buckely/chomsky discussion/debate. I had never seen it before.

-Buckley demonstrates a sense of humor and thus comes off better IMHO
-Chomsky seems to intellectually dance because of his fixed beliefs. (Are my biases showing?)
-way too much interrupting. What's wrong with listening then summarizing and THEN responding.

As for the overall point

There are no respectable, intellectual conservatives anymore

I just don't buy it and I ignore that argument when it comes up. Frankly, in this clip Chomsky seems to have great disdain for Buckley's statements. so how much have things really changed.

If you're a conservative, you're an idiot, not to mention uncaring, bigoted....

Meade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lemondog said...

PBS Tony don't recall his last name....

Tony Brown's Journal

Hagar said...

I watched part of a show entitled, "Resolved, the ACLU is full of Baloney," and concluded that it was Bill Buckley who was full of baloney while the ACLU is full of nothing at all.

El Pollo Real said...

@lemondog: Thanks so much for that 10:14 AM link!

@GMay: Chomsky was quite the cunning linguist. Mother Russia was enthralled.

Michael said...

Buckley published at least 40 books, was an accomplished sailor, founded and edited an influential magazine, avidly skied on two continents, and numbered among his many friends men of very different political and philosophical viewpoints. He was a man of boundless energy and abiding faith. He was charming because he was.

former law student said...

Buckley was the sensible, moderate, intellectual face of conservatism, a field which when he started was dominated by Welch and his fellow Birchers, Revilo P. Oliver and other white supremacists, and Billy James Hargis and other fundamentalist TV preachers.

rhhardin said...

If you get I Moyer Hunsberger's The Quintessential Dictionary and learn those words, you can read all of Buckley and Thomas Berger without looking anything up.

I recommend making flash cards.

The book is good on its own, owing to the examples.

Bruce Hayden said...

I do remember Buckley from back then fondly. I loved Firing Line, except that I could only take so much of it. Ten minutes here, and five there. And, I loved the way he used words - long and obscure words that we just don't hear anywhere else.

roesch-voltaire said...

Crack, Taranto’s first sentence shows his disingenuous splitting of historical hairs on when Klinghoffer became conservative as though being a former literary editor at the National Review is not enough, nor does Linghoffer’s attack on Darwin and materialism count; what counts is not the content of his argument, but that a liberal newspaper published this middle-aged media figure. Snarky at best. But for other conservatives who hold similar opinions you can read law professor Bainbridge at http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2010/08/its-getting-to-be-embarrassing-to-be-a-conservative.html. Yours in the age of enlightenment.

Joe said...

Voltaire;
Bainbridge is an idiot....he's "embarrassed" because
1) He's not in charge; and
2) the "rubes" are moving into power.

As I say folks like Bainbridge like a small, elite, and powerless little debating society, interested in being erudite and RIGHT, but not necessarily in power...and they certainly didn't sign on to rub elbows with the Tea Party! My G*d man, many of those folks, those that have graduated from college, graduated from Public LAND GRANT UNIVERSITEIS! !!!11111111111ohneoes eleventy11111111

roesch-voltaire said...

Ah the issue then is power and who you rub elbows with-- and somewhere I remember reading, in my land grant college. about how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Joe said...

…in my land grant college. about how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

At my Land Grant University my professor would say that this is:
1) A Truism; and
2) A Non-Sequitur.
And suggest that I explain myself more fully.
Or are you changing the topic to Rep.'s Rangel and Waters?

Borepatch said...

Who can forget Robin William's imitation of Buckley in Aladdin (around 1:20)?

Paul Zrimsek said...

Touched a nerve there, Crack. Sententious blather like "profound vision granting transcendent significance to public life and hope in private life" is so much after Roach's own style that it's no wonder he takes criticism of it personally.

El Pollo Real said...

@Borepatch: direct link

wv Thomps (reminds me of something I promised to do elsewhere)

LarsPorsena said...

"..…in my land grant college. about how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

At my Land Grant University my professor would say that this is:
1) A Truism; and
2) A Non-Sequitur..."

At my land grant university my professor would say that this is a tautology.

What would your land grant university professor say? (and a one, and a two, and a three....everybody)

Joe said...

My favorite Buckley memory is a debate he had about feminism with Camille Paglia as, I think, a last minute replacement for the feminist side. I though Buckley was being way too intellectual which muddled his argument. Paglia got up and skewered both sides so thoroughly, she effectively ended the debate.

And who can forget Michael Kinsley?

former law student said...

I note that our hostess studied at the former Catholepistemiad of Michigania, not the land grant university rival familiarly known as Moo U.

roesch-voltaire said...

Fellow land granters, the quote was from Lord Acton, not from a professor, found in an essay that was commonly assigned in the sixties. And while it may only represent a partial truth, it is a good warning to watch out for those who seem more interested in being in power, then doing what is just. I leave you with one other Acton quote:" If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. Nothing in the paper today, we sigh."

Joe said...


the quote was from Lord Acton, not from a professor, found in an essay that was commonly assigned in the sixties.


No Sh!te Voltaire...Geeeee I'll bet none of us would have EVER figured that out.

They aren't much on reading comprehension, though, at your Land Grant are they?

My point was, simply, yeah and what does this have to do with the SUBJECT OF THE THREAD?

You know, it's a non sequitur....it does not relate, any any discernible way to the thread.

Where did you get the impression it was a quote from a professor or that anyone THOUGHT it was a quote from a professor?

roesch-voltaire said...

Joe, I believe it was you who brought up the issue of the old conservatives as simply elites interested in being right and not interested in power,and I simply added the quote about power to suggest that one should distrust ,to some extent, this drive for power and ideological purity the new right exhibits, and to which the Buckley's of the past, along with some living conservatives- would question.

Joe said...

Wow, Voltaire...when we get ABSOLUTE POWER, you can worry.

A silly and statement.

William said...

I think Buckley, like Schwarzenegger, succeeded in getting people to like him on his own terms. Buckley's hauteur, like Arnie's muscles, were freakish at first, but he eventually won acceptance and respect. Given his lack of adhesive surfaces, his achievements were all the more remarkable. I think Buckley made the world a more welcoming place for all the lockjawed Connecticut millionaires that came after him.

Fort said...

William F. Buckley, Jr., who died February 27 at age eighty-two, was many things: graduate, and scourge, of Yale University; architect of the modern American conservative movement; founder of National Review; author of fifty books and 5,600 syndicated newspaper columns; host of TV's "Firing Line" (1,054 episodes recorded between 1966 and 1999); peerless debater and lecturer; spy and bestselling spy novelist; millionaire yachtsman; harpsichordist and pianist; bon vivant and...Playboy contributor?

Yes, in a union difficult to imagine involving any of today's leading conservatives, a group more prone to moralistic bombast than Buckley--though not, assuredly, any more moral, or resonant--the bard of East 73rd Street wrote for Hugh Hefner's oft-vilified Playboy, on and off, for almost four decades, on topics ranging from "the Negro male" and Nikita Khrushchev to Oprah Winfrey, the Internet, and Y2K.

Buckley's first appearance, in Playboy's February 1963 issue--the magazine was not yet a decade old--came in a verbatim transcript, 9,000 words long, of his famous debate against Norman Mailer...


July 30, 2008
W-Hef-B: Bill Buckley, Playboy, and the Struggle for the Soul of America
By James Rosen