Christopher Buckley and Richard Brookhiser tell us how they regard William F. Buckley Jr.
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When he was 23, Bill Buckley made him a secret offer he couldn’t refuse. He would be Bill’s successor as editor in chief; in the meantime, he’d become senior editor and eventually managing editor. Eight years later, Buckley withdrew the offer, coldly, in a letter left on Rick’s desk in an envelope marked “confidential,” while Buckley himself was out of the country. He praised Rick’s writing but said he lacked “executive flair.” Nothing in this memoir suggests Buckley’s assessment was unfair. The mistake was extending the offer to Rick in the first place, whether to keep him from going on to Yale Law School, where he’d been accepted, or to treat him as a surrogate for Christopher, who clearly was not disposed ever to succeed his father at the helm of National Review.
If any good came from this devastating blow it was Rick’s being reminded of the decency and goodness of his own father, who, in case he wanted to pursue them now, offered to pay for his law school studies. “[H]e was a better man than the idol I had put in his place,” Rick notes. Throughout the rest of his book, though friendly enough toward Buckley (Rick is never that outwardly friendly to begin with, as he’d be the first to admit, calling himself “consumed with snobbery” and a “know-it-all”), he persists in taking snipes at him, or at bringing him down a peg if he can, and taking great satisfaction when in later years Bill did ask him for editorial help only he could provide.
He provides memorable portraits of various NR writers, not all of them (D. Keith Mano) my cup of tea, or figures he properly appreciates (John Simon), though surely he is on target recalling the wondrous Joe Sobran:
He loved the great actors, and was an excellent mimic. He could begin some soliloquy—“Now is the winter of our discontent”—as Olivier; I would call out Gielgud, Burton, and he would change voices like gears.
Less defensible are the friendly words he has for figures who on Buckley’s death criticized or even savaged him in print. He is kind toward Bob Tyrrell and our magazine, though he does give a hint as to why he stopped writing for us in the mid-1990s: he found the jokey shots taken at the newly elected Clintons at our 25th anniversary dinner unbecoming and had absolutely no use for any of the subsequent political wars, finding the 1990s “high pitched and frantic.” He does spare a best friend, however, praising him as someone who made his mark in those years publishing “hard-hitting” books. What he doesn’t tell you is that they were anti-Clinton books. It could also be, regarding The American Spectator, that the National Review-firster in Rick didn’t like the higher profile we acquired at the time. I don’t take it personally. You should see how dismissive he is of the Weekly Standard—even though by book’s end his expression of support for the Iraq War could have been dictated by Bill Kristol.
Years ago, at a dinner honoring Buckley not long after he’d stepped down as NR editor, Rick offered a toast to Bill. Buckley liked it so much he asked for a copy. But Rick hadn’t spoken from prepared text, and never did follow up, in part because there still were “wounds…too fresh to be bandaged over.” He now reproduces those words at the close of his book, too late for Buckley to read them. Call it another Pyrrhic victory for a surviving son.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?