• Bill Buckley -- Skip The Doc, Read The Books

    April 10, 2024

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    National Review, a magazine founded by Bill Buckley in 1955, has given a thumbs down to National Public Radio’s recent documentary, ‘The Incomparable Mr. Buckley’, and no wonder. The documentary barely scratches the surface of the man who wrote in the inaugural first edition of National Review, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

    Buckley was quick witted and aphoristic in his entertaining confrontations with a leftist media determined, for ideological reasons, to misunderstand him: “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University (Meet the Press, 1965)”

    Buckley was determined to slough off artificial impositions placed upon him by a power thirsty national government: “I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free. (Up from Liberalism, 1959).”

    He was more than a man for all seasons. The seasons jostled in him like the strains of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which Buckley played on a harpsichord at Yale University before a large and admiring audience. A Bach admirer described the master’s Goldberg Variations this way: “The Goldberg Variations, originally composed for the harpsichord, center around this most sublime keyboard aria, lightly sprinkled with grace notes and embellishments, but at its core simple and achingly beautiful.”

    Buckley never shied from Baroque musical works or wonderfully titillating Baroque wordplay. The 20th century was Buckley’s playground and, though the century was confusing and bloody, there was much in it for masterful satirists to probe.

    Buckley was a serious Catholic, a serious husband and a serious controversialist who habitually drew into his own private corner people who were seriously opposed to both conservatism, as Buckley understood it, and libertarianism. A late Buckley collection of his wittings – “Happy Days Were Here Again” – is subtitled “Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist.”

    The New York Times tells us, “The PBS documentary ‘The Incomparable Mr. Buckley’ implicitly and explicitly asks: What would William F. Buckley think of today’s Republican Party?”

    Both the PBS documentary and the New York Times review of the documentary are pretty much what one would expect of PBS and the New York Times. Asked what the Times might have done had Buckley won his contest for Mayor of New York City against John Lindsay, Buckley quipped that some foresighted Times editorialist might have hung a net under the editorial window of the paper to catch the falling bodies. And PBS carried Buckley’s “Firing Line” interview show for 33 years.

    Buckley is uncoverable in a brief political documentary because there is so much of him -- all of it very Bachian.

    The best source on Buckley is Buckley, and Happy Days Were Here Again is infinitely more readable than a tired, politically disingenuous, documentary that brings nothing new to the man or the viewer. The Times had better pray – if the practical atheist writers and editors at the Times writers know how to pray – that no articulate conservative or libertarian writer in the country, most of whom have fallen out of Buckley’s brain, are preparing a documentary on the Times’ review of PBS’s less than generous or grateful documentary.

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    Don Pesci

    Don Pesci is a political columnist of long standing, about 40 years, who has written for various state newspapers, among them The Journal Inquirer, the Waterbury Republican American, the New London Day, the Litchfield County Times, the Torrington Register Citizen and other Register Citizen papers. He maintains a blog, among the oldest of its kind in Connecticut, which serves as a repository and archive, for his columns; there are approximately 3,000 entrees in Connecticut Commentary: Red Notes From A Blue State, virtually all of them political columns stretching back to 2004. He also appears once a week Wednesdays on 1080 WTIC Newstalk radio with Will Marotti.

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