(X-posted to pas au-delà .)
Probably it would be better to say nothing, but as man is currently being lionized beyond belief...my family has a telling story about the real William F. Buckley. So I'll tell it briefly in a minute. Given the shameless right-wing bias of the obituaries in our SCUM these days, let's start with a few timely comments from this thread which will always bear re-emphasizing (my father–as it happens–made them more than twenty years ago)...the first from professional blog-commenter John Emerson:
Besides being wrong and right wing, Buckley made a lot of extremely unpleasant statements, especially about race. His civility was limited to those whom he deigned to recognize as peers and who were willing to play his game, and did not extend, e.g., to queers like Gore Vidal. Or most other people.
I've always thought of him as someone who provided a veneer of class for tacky people with unpleasant attitudes. A bit like Hugh Hefner as a marketer of a cultural trend to people who needed training wheels. His intellectual accomplishments seem to have been at the level of a generic second rank English or History professor who has a knack for popular writing. Nothing very interesting, though better than Jonah Goldberg. His affectation of aristocratic mannerisms was parodic. Without his inheritance and his claque, he wouldn't have been anything.
That should cover the motherfucker.
Buckley's real oeuvre was the upper-class sneer.
That's what his fans loved: the cultured put-down of their enemies, the belittlement, bolstered by social class signifiers, of better-thought and more humane opinions. My father, the paleo-Goldwater conservative and a man with no markers of social class, loved to watch Buckley stick it to someone liberal, and twist the knife.
I've read maybe 300 comments on his death and no one else seems to have pointed this out.
In spite of Buckley and all his lesser spawn, some elements of worth persist, with difficulty, here on Earth.
-Posted by joel hanes
Joel, I was just commenting on something related over at Making Light: What I see again and again in movements that start off with suave people and end up with vulgarians is that the suave ones insist there must have been some way to keep spewing their hate and bile in classy ways. No. That's not repentence, that's trying to save face, and it's part of the problem.
-Posted by Bruce Baugh
As I posted here a few months back when Buckley came up and in agreement with what others have brought up in regard to his role as an enabler/defender of the Limbaughs of this world, I think Lars-Erik Nelson summed up Buckley best:
Bill Buckley exist[ed] to wrap up peoples' base, greedy, low-life, mean and nasty views into high-faluting language so that they don't have to go around thinking they are just mean, stupid and nasty, but instead have a philosophy like Buckley's.
-Posted by JP Stormcrow
Back in 1980 F. Buckley was invited to speak at Vassar College. My father happened to have a sense of history and was disturbed by this, and so became responsible for reminding Vassar in a letter to the slipshod school paper that Mr. Buckley, in his glory days as McCarthy lapdog had diligently tried to smear and ruin a number of good and honest faculty, and therefore ought to be remembered as an enemy of the college. At the very least the student body should think twice about inviting him on campus.
Buckley responded typically, that is to say colorfully offensive, evasive, and ad hominem, and he and my father editorialized back and forth for a while. By this time the New York Times had picked up the exchange and was running it.
My father was an old-school liberal and he stuck to the issues, while not neglecting to point out that Buckley's response to the historical record was exactly what one should have expected from a person of such dubious character, should any proof still be lacking, etc. Buckley's act, for his part, culminated in a desperate spitting at my father (by this time a distinguished professor of 35 years) and his students and the college, labeling them all "a bunch of ferocious illiterates."
But much to his wounded pride, Buckley was eventually forced to bow to mounting student and faculty pressure and withdraw as commencement speaker. My father's students made t-shirts stating, "Vassar, Class of 1980: Class of Ferocious Illiterates," which they proudly wore for graduation.
Two decades later I found one such t-shirt they'd given my dad and during my time at Vassar also wore it proudly, including when Buckley's son Christopher came to tell some tasteless and benign jokes to a small audience followed mainly by uncomfortable silence (and from what I later heard, an incredibly arrogant and hollow answer session). I do remember him saying, "I always wanted to speak at Vassar," at which point I simply walked out.
Anyway the New York Times has no search-able archives worth a shit (and I'm not about to pay). There's a good chance all those editorials are still kicking around somewhere, but frankly I'm not all that inclined to look.
After all times like this are hard on any family.
Still it would be neglectful not to speak up to anyone who tries to lionize the man, now. There is an old cassette recording of my father fumigating at home in the kitchen, stating bluntly, "the guy's a loser." Which I sort of treasure. No doubt Buckley would have called that kind of precious, but I always thought that it was fitting.
Maybe those old editorials are still around somewhere, and when I find them I may post them, if there's any interest, as they make for very interesting reading...