William F. Buckley connected the dots for me back when I was a liberal college student trying to make sense of things.
Punch drunk from the Vietnam War and the excesses of the drug-addled Sixties and Seventies, America had thrown itself on the couch and seemed to be having a nervous breakdown. Like a patient doctor, Bill Buckley gently and relentlessly helped talk the nation back to sanity with his many TV appearances and prolific writing.
He played a key role in paving the way for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, which was startling evidence of America’s return to health.
Like many, I owe him a personal debt for his instrumental role in what the Left would call “raising my consciousness.” I was a conservative as a kid, but fell under the sway of liberal profs and the New Age culture. But Buckley was a key force in pulling me back to reality.
At times, he seemed to be the only sane voice on television, especially on his Firing Line program on PBS, and he had no problem being identified as a “conservative.”
He was so boldly unapologetic about the labeling that I began to identify as a conservative, too. I cheered as he skewered his opponents with good humor and ginormous vocabulary (yes, it’s an official word, now).
When a conservative neighbor learned that I was open to views other than the liberal mush on TV and on college campuses, he gave me a huge stack of National Reviews. It was a light clicking on in a dark room. “Yes!” “Yes!” I’d say to no one in particular while reading Buckley’s essays.
I met the great man at a gathering of conservatives and libertarians in Orange County, California in the late 1980s. I had just been demoted and disciplined at the Los Angeles Times for writing a piece for National Review about California Chief Justice Rose Bird and why she and two liberal justices were going to be defeated in the next election (which they were). Bird was a close friend of my editor, who was somewhat to the left of Trotsky. I doubt she would even have used National Review to paper a birdcage, and she told me as much. None of Buckley’s many books were on her bookshelves amid the Nation and Mother Jones magazines.
Anyway, I shook Mr. Buckley’s hand and told him that he had cost me a job. He was genuinely horrified, and I explained the situation. He kept shaking his head and saying “No!” and “Terrible!” as his handlers swept him off to his next encounter. It was one of the few times I recall seeing him at a loss for words.