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February 29, 2008
Will, Noonan on Buckley
Two excellent tributes to Bill Buckley - one from George Will who was probably the second most influential conservative columnist during Buckley's lifetime and Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter who saw Buckley's work close up.
Before his intervention -- often laconic in manner, always passionate in purpose -- in the plodding political arguments within the flaccid liberal consensus of the post-World War II intelligentsia, conservatism's face was that of another Yale man, Robert Taft, somewhat dour, often sour, three-piece suits, wire-rim glasses. The word "fun" did not spring to mind. Will, who has half-jokingly referred to himself as a Tory in the past is much more of the classical conservative than Buckley. But the enormous respect Will had for his friend comes through loud and clear in this great tribute.
The fun began when Bill picked up his clipboard, and conservatives' spirits, by bringing his distinctive brio and elan to political skirmishing. When young Goldwater decided to give politics a fling, he wrote to his brother: "It ain't for life and it might be fun." He was half right: Politics became his life and it was fun, all the way. Politics was not Bill's life -- he had many competing and compensating enthusiasms -- but it mattered to him, and he mattered to the course of political events.
One clue to Bill's talent for friendship surely is his fondness for this thought of Harold Nicolson's: "Only one person in a thousand is a bore, and he is interesting because he is one person in a thousand."
Peggy Noonan: "What a space he filled:"
I thought it beautiful and inspiring that he was open to, eager for, friendships from all sides, that even though he cared passionately about political questions, politics was not all, cannot be all, that people can be liked for their essence, for their humor and good nature and intelligence, for their attitude toward life itself. He and his wife, Pat, were friends with lefties and righties, from National Review to the Paris Review. It was moving too that his interests were so broad, that he could go from an appreciation of the metaphors of Norman Mailer to essays on classical music to an extended debate with his beloved friend the actor David Niven on the best brands of peanut butters. When I saw him last he was in a conversation with the historian Paul Johnson on the relative merits of the work of the artist Raeburn. I think we will be assessing Buckley's impact for a long time. And probably relying on his writings, using them as a barometer of where conservatism is now and where it's headed.
His broad-gaugedness, his refusal to be limited, seemed to me a reflection in part of a central conservative tenet, as famously expressed by Samuel Johnson. "How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure." When you have it right about laws and kings, and what life is, then your politics become grounded in the facts of life. And once they are grounded, you don't have to hold to them so desperately. You can relax and have fun. Just because you're serious doesn't mean you're grim.