After cramming at least a dozen lifetimes into his allotted four score and two, William F. Buckley has passed away. I went looking for a great quotation to mark the occassion, and they weren’t hard to find. There are lots, of course, but I think this story best exhibits all the grace, urbanity and sheer adventure of a life lived to its fullest:

When in 1951 I was inducted into the CIA as a deep cover agent, the procedures for disguising my affiliation and my work were unsmilingly comprehensive. It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live. If, a year later, I had been apprehended, dosed with sodium pentothal, and forced to give out the names of everyone I knew in the CIA, I could have come up with exactly one name, that of my immediate boss (E. Howard Hunt, as it happened). In the passage of time one can indulge in idle talk on spook life. In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico? “I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President.” He thought this amusing, and that is all that it was, under the aspect of the heavens.

Indeed. And to you, Mr. Buckley, no longer under that aspect, many, many thanks.


  1. Let’s see—is this the same fellow who opposed our involvement in WW II, defended Joseph McCarthy, thought aids patients should be tattooed and suggested that the “uneducated” should have voting rights?

  2. correction– . . . the uneducated shouldn’t have voting rights?

  3. Rufus McCain says

    Here‘s a more nuanced take on Buckley’s defense of McCarthy.

  4. Rufus McCain says

    From NPR’s All Things Considered:

    Above all, his son Christopher Buckley recalled Wednesday, William Buckley sought to make it respectable to be a conservative.

    “He drove out the kooks of the movement,” Christopher Buckley said. “He separated it from the anti-Semites, the isolationists, the John Birchers. He conducted, if you will, a kind of purging of the movement.”

    Buckley helped establish Young Americans for Freedom — who formed the core of Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1964. But the movement found a new standard-bearer in Goldwater’s ally, Ronald Reagan, who won the White House 16 years later.

    “I have heard it said on many occasions — if there hadn’t been a Bill Buckley, there would have been no Goldwater — and if no Goldwater, then no Reagan,” Christopher Buckley said.

    William Buckley later regretted some of his positions — such as his unyielding opposition in the mid-1960s to landmark voting rights bills. But Buckley took pride in seeing his influence spread as the modern conservative movement took hold.

  5. Quin Finnegan says

    I didn’t know about his opposition to our involvement in WWII, but I’ll note that he was also opposed to our ‘involvement’ in Iraq – an opposition that put him at odds with his own magazine. I’d guess that you agree with him there.

    Thank you, Rufus, for linking to that column, and for using the word ‘nuanced’ as well.

    Regarding voting rights, I think a case can be made that a certain level of education be required to vote – say, the passing of a fairly simple civics exam. We require that drivers know the rules of the road, and I think that analogy works pretty well. I don’t know what Buckley’s requirements would have been, but I doubt it would be a Ph.D – he didn’t have one.

    Regarding the tattooing of AIDS patients … I remember first reading that in the early 80s and being shocked that anyone would have the gall to say that, let alone WFB. The connection to Jewish prisoners in concentration camps is unmistakable, and even if that somehow slipped by him, it’s inexcusable that it did slip by.

    We have all said and even done awful things, and it’s the writer’s lot to have some of those things recorded for all time. Including the day of their passing.

    THAT being said, the comment also needs to be placed in perspective. A more complete version is that he half joked at the end of a column that gay men with AIDS should have “Do Not Enter” tattooed on their asses as a warning to unsuspecting partners.

    Which is patently absurd. For one thing, AIDS is just as much a threat to the ‘bottom’ as it is to the ‘top’ – maybe even more so, given the probability of the virus contained in the (probably greater quantity of) ejaculate of the ‘pitcher’ compared to that of the virus contained in the (probably lesser quantity of) blood, sweat, and Lord knows what else in the ‘catcher’.

    Moreover, a lot of that sex back in the 80s took place in dark alleys, dingy keg rooms in nameless bars, mulberry bushes in Buena Vista park, etc., etc.. A tattoo would have been pretty tough to read in those circumstances. These days a lot of that sex takes place under klieg lights with cameras running, so in a way, Buckley’s warning makes a little more sense.

    Not that I’m advocating it – it’s simply reprehensible to suggest the forced tattooing of anyone.

    In any event, thank you for writing, Anonymous. Buckley welcomed heartfelt arguments and befriended many of his ideological enemies. And I’m just grateful someone is actually reading our blog.

Speak Your Mind