Thursday, February 28, 2008

On the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr.

(X-posted to Long Sunday)

Probably it would be better to say nothing. He was certainly a man not worth the dignity of such attention, but given the right-wing bias of the obituaries in our SecureCorporateUSianMedia (SCUM) these days, a few astute comments from the Crooked Timber thread on William F. Buckley bear re-emphasizing, the first from the ever-eloquent John Emerson:
Besides being wrong and right wing, Buckley made a lot of extremely unpleasant statements, especially about race. His civility was limited to those whom he deigned to recognize as peers and who were willing to play his game, and did not extend, e.g., to queers like Gore Vidal. Or most other people.

I’ve always thought of him as someone who provided a veneer of class for tacky people with unpleasant attitudes. A bit like Hugh Hefner as a marketer of a cultural trend to people who needed training wheels. His intellectual accomplishments seem to have been at the level of a generic second rank English or History professor who has a knack for popular writing. Nothing very interesting, though better than Jonah Goldberg. His affectation of aristocratic mannerisms was parodic. Without his inheritance and his claque, he wouldn’t have been anything.

That should cover the motherfucker.

Buckley’s real oeuvre was the upper-class sneer.

That’s what his fans loved: the cultured put-down of their enemies, the belittlement, bolstered by social class signifiers, of better-thought and more humane opinions. My father, the paleo-Goldwater conservative and a man with no markers of social class, loved to watch Buckley stick it to someone liberal, and twist the knife.

I’ve read maybe 300 comments on his death and no one else seems to have pointed this out.

In spite of Buckley and all his lesser spawn, some elements of worth persist, with difficulty, here on Earth.
-Posted by joel hanes · February 28th, 2008 at 5:39 am

Joel, I was just commenting on something related over at Making Light: What I see again and again in movements that start off with suave people and end up with vulgarians is that the suave ones insist there must have been some way to keep spewing their hate and bile in classy ways. No. That’s not repentence, that’s trying to save face, and it’s part of the problem.
-Posted by Bruce Baugh · February 28th, 2008 at 5:53 am

As I posted here a few months back when Buckley came up and in agreement with what others have brought up in regard to his role as an enabler/defender of the Limbaughs of this world, I think Lars-Erik Nelson summed up Buckley best:
Bill Buckley exist[ed] to wrap up peoples’ base, greedy, low-life, mean and nasty views into high-faluting language so that they don’t have to go around thinking they are just mean, stupid and nasty, but instead have a philosophy like Buckley’s.
-Posted by JP Stormcrow · February 28th, 2008 at 1:43 pm

On a more personal note: back in 1980 my father, incidentally, was responsible for reminding Vassar in a letter to the school newspaper that Buckley, in his glory days as McCarthy lapdog, had diligently tried to smear a number of good faculty, and therefore was an enemy of the college. The NY Times picked it up, Buckley responded typically, that is to say colorfully offensive, evasive, off-topic and ad hominem, and he and my father editorialized back and forth for a while. My father stuck to the issues, while not neglecting to point out how Buckley's response to the truth was exactly what one should have expected from a man with such character, should any proof still be lacking. Buckley's act culminated in desperate spitting at my father (at that point a distinguished professor of 35 years) and his students and the college, calling them all "a bunch of ferocious illiterates."

Much to his wounded pride, Buckley was eventually forced to withdraw as commencement speaker, and my father's students (now better-informed about the lingering of the McCarthy era) made t-shirts stating, "Vassar, Class of 1980: Class of Ferocious Illiterates," which they wore for graduation. Two decades later I found the t-shirt they'd given my dad and wore it proudly, including when Buckley's son Christopher came to tell some mostly tasteless jokes to a small audience followed mainly by uncomfortable silence, my junior year. I remember him saying, "I always wanted to speak at Vassar," at which point I simply smiled, shook my head and walked out.

Anyway the New York Times has no archives worth a fuck (and I'm not about to pay). Maybe all those editorials are still kicking around somewhere but frankly I'm not that inclined to look. Times like this are hard on any family. Still, it would be neglectful not to speak up to anyone who tries to lionize the man, now.

There is still a cassette recording of my father fumigating at home in the kitchen, stating factually in his old-school way, "...the guy's a loser." No doubt Buckley would have called that kind of precious, but I always thought that it was fitting.

Maybe those old editorials are still around somewhere, and when I find them I may post them, if there's any interest, as they make for interesting reading...

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