Buckley was never a Republican Party man so much as he was a conservative, always thinking about fundamental principles. So if Republicans in general, or one Republican candidate in particular, veered off course, it was his role to point that out; to criticize, publicly or privately; to offer guides for the practical application of that philosophy. In other words, what Limbaugh routinely does on his radio show. It's what writers at National Review do from their laptops. It's what thinking conservatives do and debate -- on a blog site, at a think tank or inside a conservative Capitol Hill office.
Conservatives are forever accused of being backward. We are supposedly anti-science because we've opposed human cloning and federal funding of research that destroys human embryos. We're accused of being anti-sex because we encourage personal responsibility, self-respect and fundamentals like marriage. In truth, we can't stop thinking about tomorrow -- what consequences may arise from our decisions today. We're trying to do what Buckley did. As he wrote in his publisher's statement in the first issue of National Review, we're "standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'"
Buckley has inspired three generations of conservatives, now with a string of proven, historic results under our belts. We've got our issues, sure. We've got policy battles, even among ourselves on the Right, but we're alive and kicking. And the words that Buckley wrote in the first issue of National Review are as true today as they were then: "We offer, besides ourselves, a position that has not grown old under the weight of a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of Ph.D.s in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town."
So don't mistake the death of a legend with a rich legacy as the end of conservatism. For those of us who read, listened and learned from William F. Buckley Jr., there is work to do. He did what his talents and beliefs required of him, and so must we. Miles have gone by for conservatism, but there are miles to go yet.
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