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In Memory of William Buckley

Former Republican Congressman, founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, and national chairman of the American Conservative Union, Mickey Edwards reflects on the death of William F. Buckley.

William F. Buckley, who died recently and thus left a giant hole in the conservative intellectual universe, played a major role (some would say it was the major role) in transforming American conservatism from a fusty, boring, and frequently anti-intellectual movement into a locus of political energy and a wellspring of creative thought. Largely prodded by Buckley’s polysyllabic and joyous jabs at the increasingly dyspeptic Left, conservatism became, for a time, the toe that kicked not in the shins but in the rear, more humiliating than painful.

No one can live forever, so it’s perhaps a minor comfort that Buckley will no longer have to watch as his beloved conservative movement continues its transition from mirthful Buckleyism to raging Coulterism, from playful tweaking to the furious low blow.

My own minor success as a commentator on NPR and a columnist for such papers as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times was in part due to a handwritten note I had received from Buckley when I was still in my early 20s and just joining the political wars. I had sent an article to National Review, full I thought of devastating observations about the liberal threat to the free world. The article was long but Buckley’s reply was brief: too much hyperbole, he said. He could not have enjoyed watching his cause become one in which hyperbole and bombast became the preferred style of discourse.

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