There were a few other Bill Buckley points that I got out of my recent consideration of his obituaries that struck me as revealing or otherwise interesting:
In the video, going around, of the various Charlie Rose interviews of BB, all put together on one video: in the last one –done, I believe, two years ago on his 80th birthday– Buckley said something that especially caught my attention.
I don’t have his exact words, but here is my confident approximation:
Charlie Rose asked him something akin to “If you had to do it all over again, would you do it; would you change anything?”.
Bill Buckley answered Charlie specifically in terms of the pioneering role he played in founding modern conservatism back in the 1950’s, in words to the effect that that would not be possible; that that was then, and this is now.
“For somebody to do today, what I did for conservatism back in the fifties, he would have to be advocating socialism.”
It’s pronouncments like that that in my mind seem to raise Bill Buckley –for all his faults and deficiencies– above the level of back-and-forth partisan debate to a level of insight and even wisdom. In the Nineteen Fifties the pendulum swung –thanks to Bill Buckley more than anybody else– towards “modern conservatism”.
But here we have, fifty years later, the so-called Father of Modern Conservatism positing a swing back, of that same pendulum towards…a Future Socialism?
(Just as “Socialism” and its uncritical adherents seemed to go too far –went the Buckley implication– now “Modern Conservatism” and its uncritical adherents was in, or was approaching, a similar situation.)
It is BB statements like this that make me sense that an important source –if not the source– of the Buckley philosophy was his Jesuitical Catholicism –or should I say, the better half of it.
I got that same sense from his comments about “the failure of the war in Iraq” and his extraordinary March 2006 statement suggesting that Mr. Bush resign, as any head of state in Europe would have felt obliged to do –to resign.
(One phrase in BB’s rather devastating assessment of Mr. Bush in relation to admitting errors such as the Iraq adventure, was that he “has not the forensic skills”.)
It was BB statements like this that drove the “uncritical adherents of Conservatism” crazy –something I had picked up in more than a few of those obituaries.
The word was out about Bill. At a fairly recent Upper-Eastside society event, one “doyenne” was seen tapping her forehead behind BB’s back, nodding her head knowingly to a colleague and saying the word “Dementia”.
On a much more personal level– I got something of the same sense from BB’s poignant “mea culpa” about smoking: “I would forbid smoking in America.” His wife Pat died –as BB said– as a result of 60 years of smoking. And he himself died from emphysema which –we don’t know for sure yet– seems to be directly related not just to his cigars-smoking, but his cigar smoke inhaling –something he considered, too late, as “stupid” on his part.
He regretted in later life, he said, as he looked back at his earlier writing, that “it was not better.” How many people would have the courage, and the self-honesty, to make that statement?
If a pill was discovered, he said, that allowed him to live another 25 years, he would refuse it.
“I’m tired of life,” he said. He was, he said, utterly prepared to not live on.
The ever-sensitive Charlie Rose hesitated, searching for the …right… word:
“Absolutely!” answered Bill.