Robert Knight

The next time I saw him it was as part of his team on a Firing Line segment that we taped at Bard College in upstate New York. The topic was: “Resolved: The ACLU Is Full of Baloney.”  Defending the ACLU were Ira Glasser, Nadine Strossen, Barry Lynn and Bard College President Leon Botstein, who responded to two leftwing demonstrators by withdrawing from the rest of the debate to show how a liberal gentleman responds to disruptors (he lets them win).

Mr. Buckley’s team, which argued for the affirmative, consisted of Catholic League President Bill Donohue, University of Texas professor Lino Graglia, and me. Longtime Buckley sparring partner Michael Kinsley moderated, and did a good job other than granting the protesters time to read their ridiculous list of demands. Buckley looked on in great amusement as Kinsley dealt with the two young ladies, who kept standing up and chanting, “Students of color have no voice!”

In his opening salvo, Mr. Buckley spoke for all of us when he summarized the problem with the ACLU:

“With its $35 million budget, its 60 full-time attorneys, 600 yearly lawsuits, its 2,000 legal volunteers, it is everywhere. The school that said that boys couldn’t come in wearing sagging trousers that revealed their underwear faced a lawsuit from the ACLU….Babies can’t be tested for HIV, the Los Angeles high school that denied to a 14-year-old girl the right to decorate her clothes with condom packages ran into the ACLU. Boy Scouts aren’t allowed to bar homosexual scoutmasters, high schools don’t have the right to test athletes for illegal drug use, we must repeal the ban against women in military combat. It reels the mind.…The ostensible aims of the ACLU are admirable. It is a national pity that it has now become, to use Sunday-suited language, a bunch of baloney. Now, my friend Ira Glasser will don his alchemical gloves and do his best. Here is ireful Ira. Watch out for him. Thank you.”

Matter of fact. No malice. On the money. Grounded in example. With warmth and devastating logic. Even at liberal Bard College, Bill Buckley probably made some converts.

He’ll be missed more than he could have known.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.