- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr., a scion of elegant reason and muscular wit who marshaled public awareness of conservative thought, died yesterday at his home in Connecticut. He was 82 and had suffered the effects of diabetes and emphysema for about a year.

A longtime syndicated columnist, author of 50 books and founder of the National Review, Mr. Buckley was knee-deep in intellectual pursuits to the end of his days. He was discovered dead at his desk by son Christopher in the early morning hours.

“Unquestionably, he was the principal founder of the modern American conservative movement, who had a major influence on the country, the party and the world. He was a wonderfully vivacious, effervescent friend, full of fun, a great sense of humor. He just changed the entire image of American conservatism,” said William Rusher, publisher of National Review for 31 years and Mr. Buckley’s closest business associate.

One of 10 children, Mr. Buckley was born the son of a millionaire in Manhattan, a lad who at age 8 saw fit to write to the king of England, asking that Britain repay its war debts. He grew up abroad, attended tony schools and emerged with a lively and lifelong Roman Catholic faith. He served two years in the U.S. Army, and went on to graduate from Yale University in 1950, only to slam the campus a year later in “God and Man at Yale,” a book that criticized the school’s fading Christian ideal.

David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, called the seminal volume “the first real assault on the liberal secularist domination of American Academe.”

He recalled, “In those days there was, as Lionel Trilling and other liberals almost exuberantly observed, no respectable conservative tradition or movement in the United States. In a few short years, Bill Buckley changed that by bringing together anti-Communists like Whittaker Chambers, iconoclastic libertarians like Frank Meyer and traditionalist followers of Russell Kirk, creating an incubator in which they could argue, mix and bond — creating the movement that would in short order lead to the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.”

Mr. Buckley’s stature on the national stage was larger than life. He was rigorous but still the model of civility during four decades as host of the public affairs television show “Firing Line” and the author of some 5,600 newspaper and magazine columns. The signature cadence of Mr. Buckley’s velvety voice and the precision of his argument had much impact; many luminaries saw him as both the catalyst that gave conservative ideology a brusque entree into history.

“National Review was a lonely voice of conservatism in an overwhelmingly liberal establishment. Buckley began what led to Senator Barry Goldwater and his ‘Conscience of a Conservative’ that led to the seizing of power by conservatives from the moderate establishment within the Republican Party. From that emerged Ronald Reagan,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

“Bill stood up to defend freedom as a positive value of greater moral worth than either the state and the elite, and over time his work had a transformational impact on the quality of American politics,” he added.

President Bush praised Mr. Buckley’s role in the war of ideas with the communist Soviet Union.

“He brought conservative thought into the political mainstream, and helped lay the intellectual foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War and for the conservative movement that continues to this day,” said Mr. Bush. “America has lost one of its finest writers and thinkers.”

But the catalyst also served as a linchpin.

“Buckley changed the world by being himself: his twinkling eyes, his devilish grin, his sharp sense of humor, his unmatched intellect. A vocabulary that stumped the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary,” said Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation.

Historian Lee Edwards asked: “How important was Bill Buckley to the conservative movement? Would there be the Earth without the sun?

Even historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who labeled Mr. Buckley “the scourge of American liberalism,” came to appreciate his “wit, his passion for the harpsichord, his human decency, even … his compulsion to epater the liberals.”

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