Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On the Passing of William F. Buckley

The first time I ever read his column, I think I might have been 11 or 12. My class had taken a trip to the main branch of the local library to do some kind of research paper using periodicals as our main sources. Well, instead of settling in to do research on the 1950s, I looked through all of the various magazines to find information on President Reagan and the latest happenings in Washington DC. I went through the racks and found National Review sitting there, apparently unopened by human hands once it was received. Most of the information went over my head at the time, but I remember that Tom Selleck had advertised it as a good addition to a regular newspaper and better than the main weeklies like Time and Newsweek. (I also tuned in to Magnum P.I. on a regular basis, but the reasons for that were the Ferrari, the helicopter, the guns, and the comedy. The women showed up on my radar screen later.) I had a feeling there was something worth reading when both he and President Reagan extolled the virtues of the magazine. I read through his columns, then the whole magazine, and then read it again. The joke has always been that you read a William Buckley column with a dictionary at your side. That was no joke for me, and it got to the point where I needed a better dictionary. So off I would go to the periodicals section on a regular basis to read National Review. I always hoped to be able to use language as he did: using obscure words to fit perfectly the idea you were describing because no ordinary words were perfect. I also reveled in the idea that Catholics could be something other than socialist-leaning liberals, and it was thanks to his work that I had an intellectual reinforcement of my beliefs in things both mundane and spiritual.

I read a few of the left-leaning political commentary magazines my freshman year of college, but none of them ever came up to the same standards as National Review. When I was in the Air Force, I was the only guy who tuned in to public tv to watch Firing Line. In fact, the first thing I bought when I returned to Illinois from my time in the service was one of those page-a-day calendars. It happened to be Mr. Buckley's "365 Words You'd Like To Know." I think the only one of those words I've used on a regular basis has been "mandarinate." When I went back to college, I was too busy to read NR as often, but the Internet provided where the library could not. National Review's website has become one of my major stops in news and political commentary. I found there many more amazing writers, such as Jonah Goldberg, Jay Nordlinger, the late Cathy Seipp, Deroy Murdock and found a regular place to find Thomas Sowell's columns. That Mr. Buckley could find such a varied cast of writers and wrangle them all into his magazine showed the variety of thoughts that made up modern conservative culture.

I certainly do miss Notes and Asides, his column on using proper words in the proper contexts. The columns both laudatory and censurious of political figures are now something to leave as examples of How It's Done in discussing the issues of the day. Godspeed to you, Mr. Buckley. You will be missed.

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