William F. Buckley, RIP

I’m devastated at today’s news of the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr. It’s hard to identify a single person who had a larger influence on the development of my political ideas and beliefs, which in turn led to the career in political consulting that has been so meaningful for me.

Am finding it difficult to get much of anything done; mostly just sitting here at my desk with my head in my hands, and tears in my eyes, listening to Rush Limbaugh’s remembrances and reading the many other things being posted at National Review Online and elsewhere. Even the New York Times put Buckley’s obituary front and center at the top of their first online page, and it was extremely respectful. I’m glad it’s a slow day at work, because I must admit I’m having trouble focusing my thoughts.

A few quick remembrances of my own: I first encountered National Review in high school. I think it was passed along to me by my father, who’d been given it by a friend who’d gotten it on an airline flight and knew I was interested in politics. Don’t quote me, but I believe it was 1985 or so, and Jack Kemp was on the cover. I read the whole thing, and was hooked. Picked up National Review whenever I could find it. Then, as I was preparing to go off to college in 1987, the very first check I wrote out of my very first checking account was to take out a “student rate” subscription to National Review. In the 21 years since, even with moving all across the country and sometimes being in terrible grad student/newlywed/new parent poverty, I never let that subscription lapse. I read nearly every issue cover to cover, and Buckley’s column was something I never missed.

As an undergraduate at Northwestern, I ran the campus equivalent of Young Americans for Freedom (a group Buckley was instrumental in getting started). Our faculty advisor, one of the only openly conservative members of the political science department, had attended Yale the year after Buckley graduated — and even lived in the same residence hall that Buckley had lived in. And, somehow or the other, this professor had managed to take Buckley’s old roll top desk with him after leaving Yale. I never got the story of how he came to posses that desk, but it stood proudly in the professor’s apartment and we campus conservatives venerated it like a quasi-sacred relic. I’m not sure if this was true, but word was that Buckley had actually written God and Man at Yale on that desk.

A few years back, a particular point regarding the English language had been bothering me: seemed that everywhere I turned, people were referring to countries as “it” rather than using the traditional “she” or “her.” In my own writing, I always referred to countries using the first person feminine (“Iran moved her armies into Iraq…”), but it seemed precious few others were doing so. I imagined that William F. Buckley, who was such a master of the English language, would be one person who might sympathize with these sentiments. So…I wrote him a letter for his “Notes and Asides” column in National Review, encouraging him to have the magazine bring back the first person feminine for countries. And then, much to my surprise, a few months later, he ran my letter! But, to my great disappointment, his glib reply was in the negative; he said he imagined a man at a club, reading the newspaper announcing that Germany had invaded France — and then that man turning to his companion and asking “Now, why would she do that to her?”

Ah, well. I tried. And that was the closest I came to meeting the great man. Isn’t it remarkable that a person you’ve never met personally can have such a profound and lasting impact on the course of your life? And that you can feel such a grievous sense of loss at his passing? It’s an odd sense of being “orphaned,” and there were only two other times I’ve had this feeling: June 5, 2004 (Ronald Reagan’s death), and April 2, 2005 (the passing of John Paul II).

I suppose I should pull it together and get back to work. The struggle to “stand athwart history, shouting ‘Stop!'” never ends, huh?

Thanks to you all for listening to these random thoughts.

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