Bill Buckley is gone.
William F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who showered huge and scornful words on liberalism as he observed, abetted and cheered on the right's post-World War II rise from the fringes to the White House, died Wednesday. He was 82.
Editor, columnist, novelist, debater, TV talk show star of "Firing Line," harpsichordist, trans-oceanic sailor and even a good-natured loser in a New York mayor's race, Buckley worked at a daunting pace, taking as little as 20 minutes to write a column for his magazine, the National Review.
Yet on the platform he was all handsome, reptilian languor, flexing his imposing vocabulary ever so slowly, accenting each point with an arched brow or rolling tongue and savoring an opponent's discomfort with wide-eyed glee.
"I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition," he wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1986. "I asked myself the other day, `Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone."
Buckley was the kind of conservative I ache for now, one whose opinions were clearly born of much thought and intellect, rather than slander and the off-topic snarks and half arguments so preferred by conservatives these days. He even went so far as to have left-leaning Michael Kinsley moderate his Firing Line debates. Try to imagine Fox giving a real liberal control of, say, The O'Reilly Factor.
But more than anything else, I'll remember Buckley for his amazingly fast mind, and the one-liners he could uncork on queue:
On why he retired from Firing Line: "You've got to end sometime and I'd just as soon not die onstage"
On what his first act would be if he won his run for mayor of New York City: "I'd demand an immediate recount!"
On the American Revolution: he wrote to the king of England, demanding payment of the British war debt, at age 8.
On why he wouldn't debate communists: "there isn't much to say to someone who believes the moon is made of green cheese
On being told a reader would trust a snake before him: "What would you do if I supported the snake?"
Responding to Jesse Jackson's argument that legalizing marijuana would send the wrong message: "We must dispense with this notion that allowing a thing implies we think it is a wise thing to do. We might be allowed to vote for Jesse Jackson for President, but that is not necessarily a wise thing to do."
When called on the carpet during a PBS debate for voting "guilty of manslaughter" a hypothetical vigilante Buckley had been cheering on: "Well sometimes my instincts are reprehensible".
When being asked to repeat a question loaded with $50 words in a debate on bilingual education: "Would you understand it better if I asked in Spanish?"
We shall not look upon his like again.