By PEGGY NOONAN
May We Not Lose His Kind
February 29, 2008; Page W16
He was sui generis, wasn’t he? The complete American original, a national treasure, a man whose energy was a kind of optimism, and whose attitude toward life, even when things seemed to others bleak, was summed up in something he said to a friend: “Despair is a mortal sin.”
I am not sure conservatives feel despair at Bill Buckley’s leaving–he was 82 and had done great work in a lifetime filled with pleasure–but I know they, and many others, are sad, and shaken somehow. On Wednesday, after word came that he had left us, in a television studio where I’d gone to try and speak of some of his greatness, a celebrated liberal academic looked at me stricken, and said he’d just heard the news. “I can’t imagine a world without Bill Buckley in it,” he said. I said, “Oh, that is exactly it.”
|Feb. 21, 1983, Washington D.C. — President Reagan and William F. Buckley Jr. laugh heartily at a reception for the opening of the Washington office of the Naitonal Review.|
It is. What a space he filled.
It is commonplace to say that Bill Buckley brought American conservatism into the mainstream. That’s not quite how I see it. To me he came along in the middle of the last century and reminded demoralized American conservatism that it existed. That it was real, that it was in fact a majority political entity, and that it was inherently mainstream. This was after the serious drubbing inflicted by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal and the rise of modern liberalism. Modern liberalism at that point was a real something, a palpable movement formed by FDR and continued by others. Opposing it was . . . what exactly? Robert Taft? The ghost of Calvin Coolidge? Buckley said in effect, Well, there’s something known as American conservatism, though it does not even call itself that. It’s been calling itself “voting Republican” or “not liking the New Deal.” But it is a very American approach to life, and it has to do with knowing that the government is not your master, that America is good, that freedom is good and must be defended, and communism is very, very bad.