The Governor Listeth
Through most of the Sixties, there had been something in the air about Mr. William Buckley that had the tone of tinkling bells, of games played in a courtyard, of mime shows and chivalric songs. We never quite believed in him; knew that his performances, so artfully arranged for our enjoyment, were, in fact, rather a mockery of that society he represented—the world of vested interest, inherited privilege, and noblesse oblige. It was for us that he cultivated the languorous nasal drawl and stammer of the parody British peer, the Italianate flashing eye, the stylized syntax, the bad-pope smile. And we were grateful for such an ornamental villain who, while gracing the far right end of the panel, the other lectern in a debate, by his very manner proclaimed the anachronism of the ideas he espoused. While the other non-specialists of the right most often appeared to be either fools or fanatics, Mr. Buckley knew how to play the game, understanding always that theater was the politics of the Sixties.
We were not always so light-hearted about him nor he about us. During an earlier period, in Joe McCarthy’s time (known in Mr. Buckley’s lexicon as the anti-McCarthy era), Mr. Buckley; acting as an agent of the dark lord himself, seemed along with Roy Cohn and David Schine to be part of a new guard of young acolytes of repression. But those were the days when political lines were clearly drawn and we were more sober about our associations and less inclined to sup with the devil.
It was also in the Fifties that William Buckley and several siblings set out to be the scourge of Keynesian economists and godless collectivists that Mr. William Buckley, Sr., had trained his children to be inculcating them all with his religious and political principles, and making sure they would march to no other drum.
At times it has occurred to me that a parent who wished to be assured of compatible progeny would have been well advised to eschew child psychologists and to seek out instead the elder Kennedy or the senior Buckley. Were there ever two men so successful in getting the children they wanted rather than those they deserved? As the young Buckleys worried the prevailing culture, the Kennedys, reared to lead, moved into positions of power. It probably would have been as much of a surprise to Mr. Buckley, Sr., as it was to us in New York to find that, after all that family-swimming upstream, his son James has captured Robert Kennedy’s Senate seat for the Conservative Party. A minority victory, true—but one that rode a tide.
And Mr. William Buckley has been riding a tide himself. Much in demand on lecture platforms around the country, he presides over a national television debate show, writes a column which appears in over 300 newspapers, and publishes books and articles…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.