People often ask me how I became a syndicated columnist. The answer is once again Bill Buckley. I wrote a column every other week for New York Newsday. When friends suggested I should try to syndicate it, I did the only thing I could think of toward getting a column: I asked Bill. If he had declined to help, I wouldn't have known the next thing to do. Instead, he introduced me to the man who managed his own syndicated column for Universal Press Syndicate, which eventually signed me up. (Ten years as a syndicated columnist! Thanks, Bill.)
There's nothing unusual or remarkable about me. Bill Buckley is responsible for launching innumerable public careers. He and his magazine became an idea factory that launched a thousand new faces, or rather voices. For Bill Buckley understood the importance of ideas, and embodied intellectual courage, at a time when expressing conservative thoughts made you at best a radical "extremist."
And he always understood that ideas weren't abstractions -- they were what men lived by and died for, if necessary. Few celebrities can boast such a record of kindness, concern and courtesy in private as well as public life. To Bill Buckley, ideas matter, because people matter, too.
Leon Wieseltier (literary editor of the New Republic) expressed this complex judgment to The New York Times on Buckley's work: "His thinking and his writing have all the disadvantages of a happy man." Wieseltier calls it the "troubling thing" about Bill Buckley's work. But it has always been Buckley's great distinction: to stand athwart history and yell "Stop!" -- but cheerfully, gleefully even. A happy warrior temperamentally incapable of becoming a prophet of doom.
The Greeks warned us to call no man happy before he is dead. But to this, as to so much else, William F. Buckley can be called the truly exceptional man.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.