William F. Buckley, Jr. and Firing Line: Posturing over Pragmatic Politics

In Up From Liberalism, published in 1959, William Buckley addressed racial issues in a way which can only be described as decidedly racist today and probably even for the late 1950’s. He asks a question: “Is Southern opposition to integrated schooling based exclusively on the desire to suppress the Negro?” The Supreme Court case of Brown v Board of Education, essentially ending segregated public schools was five year earlier in 1954. Here, Buckley shows support for Southern white opposition to integration. And, it only gets worse. Buckley contends that liberals pushed for an end to segregated public schools. “[Their] influence is being used to encourage a ruthless resolution in the teeth of Southern opposition.” Finally, he addresses in a rather ruthless way the suppression of African-Americans in the South:

[T]here are circumstances when the minority can lay claim to preeminent authority, without bringing down upon its head the moral opprobrium of just men. In the South, the white community is entitled to put forward a claim to prevail politically, because, for the time being anyway, the leaders of American civilization are white. 1

In 1986, when AIDS was clearly becoming a major concern, Buckley, writing in the New York Times, wrote:

Everyone detected with AIDS should be tatooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals. 2

In looking at what Buckley wrote in 1959 regarding the South, he had to be aware that violence to prevent improvement in the status of African-Americans was part of Southern history. One study that addressed civil rights in the 1950’s and earlier stated, regarding Birmingham, Alabama, “So many black homes and churches had been bombed over the years that many Southern blacks had taken to calling the city ‘Bombingham.'” 3 Did he see this type of statement, this type of thinking, as justifying violent actions taken by Southern whites as legitimate, as “entitled?” This reads like an incredibly callous statement. Somewhere in his 1959 book, he could have demonstrated some understanding of the situation for African-Americans in the South, and what to do about it. Basically, Buckley seems to assume that in some rather vague way if change came it just happened, as though one day waking up to see a better world.

Buckley and Jesse Jackson debate

In 1986, suggesting that segregating AIDS sufferers into those branded with a modern version of The Scarlet Letter (a reference he makes in his article) had to reek of a lack of compassion. Somewhere in his New York Times essay, he could have devoted a few words to more than just punitive action, focusing on AIDS research, encouraging Federal money to consider it a priority, he might have made himself seem enlightened and compassionate. The reason for bringing these two pieces of Buckley’s writing up, before getting to his long-running TV show Firing Line, is to provide some perspective on how to remember his show and its legacy. At the end of a fine book on Firing Line and its impact, author Heather Hendershot writes:

[O]n the very last episode [Buckley] asked liberal Mark Green, with a flourish of impertinence that was suitable to the occasion, “Tell us…what impression you carry off about your one appearances on Firing Line. Did you learn anything.” Green had. We all had. 4

In June 2018, PBS began an updated version of Firing Line with Margaret Hoover as the host. Buckley’s Firing Line ran for 33 years from 1966 to 1999 with 1,505 shows. In 1969 the show won an Emmy Award. It originally began on WOR-TV in New York and then switched to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1971. Hoover stated the reason for this new Firing Line: “There is something in the zeitgeist … a thirst for prolonged, substantive, reasonable, sustained conversation that unfolds and that’s informed, is engaging, educational, entertaining, all in one.” 5

Television journalist Margaret Hoover interviews her first guest Republican Gov. John Katich on the new version of Firing Line

Firing Line was a show that certainly is in sharp contrast with cable TV news today. Watching Rachel Maddow repeat something and then again and again, turning TV news into her version of theater, or Tucker Carlson looking disgusted into the camera at a question he asked where he gets the answer he wants to display a look that should be patented, can easily wear down anyone watching.

In 1998, Ann Coulter appeared on Firing Line to discuss her book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton.  6 In watching this episode, Coulter comes across in a way where even a fervent support of Bill Clinton could take time to listen to a serious argument made to impeach Clinton. How far down Coulter has fallen, or intentionally gone, where she is that a point that putting up a mental barrier against anything she now has to say or write is completely acceptable since it can easily be considered as outlandish and is often silly.

What Firing Line did for the very small segment of the public that took the time to watch the show, was to make conservative thinking respectable and credible. But, bear in mind the statements made by Buckley on how he saw White rights in the South and his approach to addressing AIDS, are difficult to find on any Firing Line episode. Some of the dirty undercurrents of conservative thinking were simply ignored: This was a serious weakness of the show. Frequently over the three decades of Firing Line, Buckley took the unusual step of turning the tables on himself and having several guests ask questions of him. This would have been the appropriate times to address how he had changed regarding his thinking.

In fact, on the issue of segregation a January 1968 episode titled “The Wallace Crusade,” had Buckley challenge former Alabama governor George Wallace on issues, including his statements on segregation where Wallace sees no problem in Alabama but he sees the problem as worse in New York. That episode showed that Buckley had gone through a transformation regarding Civil Rights issues. Buckley’s primary emphasis in this episode, however, was to speculation on the impact that Wallace might have on the upcoming 1968 Presidential election. Wallace was considering a run as a third party candidate, which he did. Buckley wondered whether he could pull enough votes away presumably from the Republican candidate (Richard Nixon becomes the candidate) to give the election to the Democrats (Hubert Humphrey will be the Democratic candidate). Buckley constantly challenges Wallace regarding his position on segregation and uses the opportunity to distinguish Wallace from “prominent” conservatives. 7 An opportunity to go through his own change in thinking would help to provide insight into how he had changed his views on segregation.

Certainly, Fox News goes out of its way to find statements made by anyone they want to easily brand as “left” that make a normal voter, someone in that moderate liberal to moderate conservative category, cringe. Representative Maxine Waters (D, CA), for example, manages frequently to easily say something that is hard to shallow. Waters at a rally encouraging supporters to harass members of the Trump Administration, stating: “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” 8 To listen to this sounds like nonsense and Fox News hopes to be part of the political landscape by doing its part to paint Democrats and anyone associated with them in terrible ways.

Firing Line did its part in presenting an image of conservative without the warts. Political ideology is more than just principles, or ethics, it can provide cover to gloss over serious problems. It can provide justification and rationalization to believe that serious issues can be swept under the rug. Pragmatism, where ideological driven thinking should be held in check can end up being a liability.

Liberalism has its warts too. When public programs are pushed as needed, rarely will the limitations of what might or can be achieved ever actually addressed, well except by critics who take a “see I told you so” approach. Money by itself will not achieve everything and there is a need to question how wisely, at times, it is being spent.

The focus here on William Buckley, Jr., his bigger-than-life image and Firing Line is to point out that together, the man and the show, contributed to a situation we have today where politics is often seen as either/or, not a coming together to work out of solutions to serious issues. It is incorrect to attribute the oftentimes silliness of TV-land’s liberal versus conservative non-debate where participants talk past each other more than directly talk to each solely to Buckley and Firing Line, but he did not help the situation. Many of the exchanges on Firing Line, debate does not seem like the correct word to use, were informative and enlightened, but a coming together where an audience might see walls crumbling just a little to understand how an appreciation of ideological opponents might actually lead to ideas borrowed from each other to suggest or create effective programs was not there.

Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live parody on Firing Line

Politics matters. To many it is word of disgust, yet it is the way we learn to live with each other. Politics is needed to provide some hope that difficult issues will not be avoided but attempts will be made to solve problems. We cannot just pick up our feelings and leave the field, believing that interactions with anyone we might consider opposed to our view, or values, can be easily ignored. Politics involves compromise, give-and-take, a search for reasonable and practical solutions. One book by two good reporters defined politics as, “[reflecting] the reality of the human condition: high ideals compromised by what is achievable.” 9 Passion for one’s values and beliefs can always run high, but so do they on the other side. Thinking of politics as a search for some types of solutions to resolve some issues, at least helps to get passionate believers to transcend their insulate feelings and make an attempt at thinking about the common good.

There is a theatrical side to politics, showmanship that goes with appealing to supporters, while vilifying the opposition. But, at the same time, a “burn the bridge behind you” approach to thinking is of use to no one. In Up From Liberalism, Buckley criticized Eleanor Roosevelt as “a leading mouthpiece of contemporary Liberalism.” He then addresses whether Roosevelt would shake hands with Andei Vishinsky, who, at the time was head of the Soviet delegation to the United Nations. This era after the Second World War ended in 1945, led to the rise of the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union and tensions ran high between both countries through the 1950’s. Buckley had the luxury of letting his principles guide his behavior, he could avoid shaking Vishinsky’s hand, Roosevelt in the position of a public official did not have that luxury.

Firing Line and What Could Have Been

In Buckley’s first book, God & Man at Yale, he asks “is a high national debt desirable?” Then he expresses his concern that in order to finance debt, where the government spends more than it is taking in through taxes (so deficit spending), government has to borrow money from the public. Think in terms of your grandmother buying you a $50 U.S. Saving Bond, that money goes to help the government pay for bills caused by deficit spending. Buckley’s concern is that foreigners will buy government bonds so the government becomes beholden to foreigners. As Buckley writes, “the government can forswear or circumvent bona fide obligations to its own citizens but must deal honestly with foreigners.” 10

The reason for bringing this up is because this became an issue during the Ronald Reagan Presidency. Buckley and Reagan became close. Reagan is listed as one of the early subscribers to the National Review, the magazine Buckley founded. In June 1962, 18 years before being elected President, Reagan wrote a letter to Buckley, “I’d be lost without National Review.” 11 After Reagan was in the White House, he pushed and got a substantial tax cut, which led to a situation where revenue from taxes coming into the government fell and since government spending did not go down to compensate for the lost revenue this led to rising deficit spending. Japanese investors, among other foreigners, bought a great deal of those U.S. Savings Bonds your grandmother stuck in your birthday card (well actually called government securities). The concern expressed by Buckley in his book, had come to fruition.

Buckley and two of his favorite conservatives, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan

In going through a catalog of Firing Line shows where this issue that concerned Buckley in 1952 was now a reality in the first years of the Reagan Presidency, it is not addressed. The tax cuts, which become law in Reagan’s first year as President, were addressed two years before his election since Representative Jack Kemp (R, NY) and Senator William Kemp (R, DE) pushed them prior to his Presidency. As it became clear that the Federal deficit was growing because of the tax cuts and no reduction in government spending, various episodes addressed Reagan economic policies, deficit spending and even the topic of whether there should be a balanced budget amendment. But, Buckley’s 1952 concern of foreigners buying our government securities is not among them. 12 A lost opportunity to address a conservative policy that should have made any serious conservative feel uncomfortable was swept under the rug.

It is apparent that Buckley wanted conservative thinking to have some relationship to life around us. In Up From Liberalism he states, “No one is more tedious than the totally ideologized man, the man who forces every passing phenomenon into his ideological mold.” In discussing how he feels about Ayn Rand and her version of a form of conservative thought he refers to it as “ideological fabulism.” Individualism is of central concern to Rand but Buckley says “so many things grew out of that” as a way of questioning if anyone could clearly apply her thinking to anything real. 13 With that thought in mind, Firing Line could have gone a long way toward showing how sides come together. Leaving an episode and feeling that two sides were well presented and on and equal footing, so respectful of each other, is a nostalgic memory when contrasted with Sean Hannity or Jeanine Pirro reaching levels of self-righteous outrage the second the opening credits to their shows end.

It is interesting that views of Buckley and his contribution to American political debate vary greatly. For example, one commentator wrote:

[H]is reputation as a political thinker was ludicrously undeserved. A question for Buckley’s admirers: Can you point to a single example of his attempting to take an opponent’s arguments seriously, to respond to an opponent’s arguments in their strongest version? Perhaps there’s an example of his having done so, but I’ve been unable to find it. 14

Another commentator saw Donald Trump as “Buckley’s Rightful Heir.” 15 Still another praised Buckley for, “[his] great contributions…to conservatism was to move it toward the center. And one way he did that was to repudiate in a very forceful way what was then called the lunatic fringe.” 16 Buckley, it should be noted, did not have kind words about Donald Trump. In 2000 he wrote of him:

Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. 17

Abortion and What Could Have Been

Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential candidate in 1964 who Buckley idolized made a statement on abortion in 1993 when he was 84 which, certainly, Buckley must have cringed at if he heard it (not made on Firing Line):

I don’t think we should ever tamper with abortion. You’ll never stamp it out. It’s been in existence since the world began and it’s gonna be here when the world ends.  18

Buckley, for his part, made a rather odd statement about abortion in 1996. He said, “A lot of people think that abortion is a tactful way to limit the number of blacks who are born in the United States.” There is no indication that Buckley believed this but was expressing a view he believed was held by people he knew. As Buckley added, “I know a lot of WASPish people who won’t bring this up, but that’s what they’re thinking.” 19

A familiar image to many

Abortion was addressed on some 37 episodes of Firing Line, some of these shows focused in-depth on the topics (12), other just mentioned it is passing. In the first full show addressing abortion, Dr. Frank Ayd, a psychiatrist who Buckley refers to as “a prominent Catholic” who opposed abortion addressed Dr. Alan Guttmacher, an obstetrician who was President of the Planned Parenthood World Population Federation, “if you had any solid data which shows…that liberalization of…abortion laws…actually has in any way substantially reduced…illegal abortion…then you have a duty to present this.” 20 When the Guttmacher spends time addressing how legal abortion has, in fact, reduced illegal abortions, Ayd is not convinced. Years after this show, the Guttmacher Institute released reports continuing to support the position of legal abortions reducing illegal and unsafe abortions. 21 Guttmacher in his appearance on this episode of Firing Line cannot be easily classified as “pro-choice” in some absolute sense of the term. Guttmacher is careful to state he is opposed to abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy. The position of Ayd where no matter what information is presented by Guttmacher, he managed to rationalize it away, addresses a broader issue of how do opposing sides come together to try to reach some understanding or compromise.

It is common to use the term “identity politics” where people are willing to be considered as part of a social class, sexual orientation, religious, ethical, racial, Second Amendment defender, environmentalist, or educational group. This feeling of being inclusive does not encourage the politics of give-and-take, of compromise. Elements of identity politics could be seen on Firing Line. Pragmatism can be seen as an ugly word when identity matters. There is always conflict between trying to get something done versus focusing more on the end result of what we idealistically desire.

In the early 1990’s, a public affairs TV show (not Firing Line) addressed a series of contentious topics from gun regulation, to energy policy, to abortion. On one particular show, abortion was addressed where the participants did not talk in absolutes about their positions as “pro-life” or “pro -choice” but addressed more nuanced and complex position. Guttmacher in his appearance on Firing Line was for abortion but then not for it after a certain point during a pregnancy. In this particular public affairs show, Kate Michelman, Executive Director of the National Abortion Rights League and Dr. John Willke, President of the National Right to Life Committee, both expressed opinions about wanting to reduce abortions. From this coming together, emerged an effort called Common Ground, how do abortion supporters work with those opposed to abortion. Around the country in different cities, often unaware of what was occurring in other cities, Common Ground organizations were emerging. 22 One of the reasons for the end to this movement was the emergence of Identity Politics. Public opinion polls show that most Americans are caught in that vast middle ground where they favor abortion under some circumstances, but not so under others. 23 Unfortunately, the either/or or us versus them approach to political dialogue, if it can be called that, dominates cable TV news so little to no attention is focused on seeking a common ground.

William Buckley’s ardent Catholicism might have gotten in the way of allowing him to approach abortion in a way where he could have nudged guests on Firing Line to take uncomfortable positions. In another episode which addressed an Abortion Reform Act passed by the House of Parliament in England, attention was focused on a conscience clause in the act and the discussion is about whether a doctor who tells a patient they cannot in good conscience perform an abortion should refer that patient to a doctor who will. Interestingly, in this episode the issue of illegal abortions is brought up. In the episode with Dr. Alan Guttmacher, the number of illegal abortions was referred to as between 200,000-1 million in the United States. In this episode the number of illegal abortions is referred to as between 40,000-200,000 in England per year. One guest states, “Nobody knows precisely, but they generally accept the figure as about 100,000 a year.” 24

Precise numbers in public policy situations are always difficult to easily pin down, something that TV news rarely, if ever, addresses, but policymakers are confronted with regularly. This issue of the number of illegal abortions matters in the sense that legalizing abortion was not seen as causing an explosion of abortions, as much as shifting abortions from illegal to legal.
Both the episode with Ayd and Guttmacher and the one on the English law predate the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. It would have been interesting to have seen a show that addressed the issue of whether legalizing abortion increased the number of abortions above a rate which was more than shifting from illegal to legal abortions. Firing Line had episodes addressing abortion in the late 1980s and early 1990s and it is difficult to see these episodes as advancing beyond earlier episodes regarding how abortion was discussed.

Switzerland allowed for abortion on request in a law passed in 2002, during the first twelve weeks of pregnancies. By 2011, the Swiss abortion rate was 6.8 per every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. Contrast this is the United Kingdom at 17.5 per 1,000 women and the United States at 16. 25 The Swiss abortion rate is seen as the lowest in the Western world. Sex education, the use of the RU-486 pill approved for use in Switzerland in 2002 and a reduction in unwanted pregnancies have contributed to this low abortion rate. Goldwater’s statement that “You’ll never stamp it out” notwithstanding, Switzerland has done a remarkable job of significantly reducing abortion. This is obviously not acceptable to those that want to stamp it out entirely but it reflects what pragmatic political thinking can achieve.

Regarding RU-486 pill, Buckley devoted an episode to discussing it. In his opening remarks he stated:

[T]he French government declared, with great Gaulic swash, that the pill once invented had become the moral property of all women and ordered that it be produced. In the United States the situation is exactly the opposite. The drug companies are disinclined to sell any new product relating to reproduction because of regulatory delays and the treat of lawsuits. The abortion pill is effectively banned here. 26

In this episode, Buckley returns to a position which permeated many of his conversations addressing abortion: When does life begin? Does it begin at the moment of intercourse so fertilization occurs or when conception takes place? Buckley, it is apparent sees life beginning at the moment of intercourse with fertilization. When his guest (Harriet Pilpel) begins to talk technical about RU-486, Buckley interrupts to state, “I think it’s very important first to know whether we’re talking about an abortifacient or whether we’re talking about a prophylactic.” In other words, Buckley wants it understood that no matter when the pill is taken, it will end life, even if that life is seen as unborn no matter how early in the pregnancy. How is it possible to advance to a position where politics as pragmatism can be achieved when theological thinking matters more? This is the difficulty of struggling with politics where there is a search for some pragmatic solutions to difficult issues. 27

It is difficult to define when life begins. Dr. Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center stated:

Many scientists would say they don’t know when life begins. There are a series of landmark moments. The first is conception, the second is the development of the spine, the third the development of the brain, consciousness, and so on. 28

In Up From Liberalism, Buckley addresses what he called “the silent generation.” This refers to situations on college campuses where, ”most students, I think have become dull in their political aspect.” Buckley has a view of politics where you stand on principles. He concludes that the problem on college campuses is that, “the large majority of students, angled as they are toward Liberalism, are silent, reflecting the great emptiness of their faith.” Principle is fine but since politics recognizes that you are not going to get everything that you want, when does compromise enter the picture? Democracy is based on politics. Germany during the time of Adolf Hitler or the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin could eliminate opposition and so no need to deal with the unpleasantness of pesky opponents, with legitimate opposing positions. Democracy requires a degree of tolerance for the opposition and that can be uncomfortable. Balancing principle and pragmatic thinking are difficult, unsettling, and , unfortunately, not part of Firing Line.

Buckley in a setting removed from political debate

It is comforting to look back on Firing Line and have fond memories of a show which presented discussion in a way where complete thoughts and ideas could be developed. The show, however, did not provide an example of what is needed where opposing sides demonstrate how they come together to confront their own principles and modify them in ways to show politics as a hope for Democracy. The revival of Firing Line was not well received by all and indicates the climate of the times where politics is not seen in hopeful ways. One article that described the new version of the show, had a reader respond, “Fake conservative Margaret Hoover who strangely supports every liberal thing, will now try to deceive more people into thinking she is a conservative.” 29 Where do we go from here? Politics provides a hope that has been present for centuries. Aristotle’s statement that man is a “political animal” and that politics is the “master science” need to be resurrected and popularized as a way of taking politics from a level of ridicule to respect.

Works Cited

  1. William F. Buckley, Jr., Up From Liberalism, CT, Martino Publishing, 1959
  2. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/00/07/16/specials/buckley-aids.html
  3. Drew D. Hansen, The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation, New York, HarperCollins, 2003, p. 11
  4. Heather Hendershot, Open to Debate: How William Buckley Put Liberal America on The Firing Line, New York, Broadside Books, 2016
  5. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/06/01/can-firing-line-be-rebooted-for-the-trump-era-218582
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbmAROJMswU
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0xnUtqt_7Q
  8. https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/25/politics/maxine-waters-trump-officials/index.html Here it is discussed on a CNN news feed
  9. Elanor Clift and Tom Brazaitis, War Without Bloodshed: The Art of Politics, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 18. This is an excellent book on politics. It might seem outdated but it is not. A quote in this book on Newt Gingrich provides the setting for a good Chapter Four, “Gingrich’s rise to power is littered with the dashed dreams of family and friends who trusted and believed in him, only to be discarded when they no longer fit into his grand scheme.” p. 218
  10. William F. Buckley, Jr., God & Man at Yale, Washington, D.C., Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1952
  11. https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/12/paving-way-reagan/
  12. Register of the Firing Line (Television Program) broadcast records. I used this site to catalog episodes and then often could find episodes on YouTube. https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt6m3nc88c/dsc/
  13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KmPLkiqnO8. Painful is the best way to describe slugging one’s way through a Rand novel. It is does not matter which one.
  14. https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/thats-not-the-william-buckley-i-remember
  15. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/donald-trump-conservatives-national-review-nostalgia
  16. https://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/kyle-drennen/2009/08/14/msnbc-uses-william-f-buckley-bash-health-care-reform-opponents
  17. https://www.redstate.com/jaycaruso/2016/07/24/16-years-ago-william-f.-buckley-wrote-donald-trump-eerily-accurate
  18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-uIcAuqGBQ
  19. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-06-02-9606020164-story.html
  20. https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/images/Collections/80040/80040_173_trans.pdf
  21. https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/psrh/2003/01/public-health-impact-legal-abortion-30-years-later, and, https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2009/11/facts-and-consequences-legality-incidence-and-safety-abortion-worldwide
  22. The author of this article invited members of Common Ground to campus in the early and mid 1990’s to address the problems of working together. What stood out to this writer was that there was a lack of financial resources available to help all the pregnant girls who wanted to complete their pregnancies to term. “Girls” seems the appropriate word to use not necessarily “women,” although the dividing line is difficult to determine. As explained by the Common Ground members, young, unmarried, sometimes living at home could describe many that the organization tried to help.
  23. https://news.gallup.com/poll/148880/plenty-common-ground-found-abortion-debate.aspx
  24. https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/objects/6139
  25. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/fertility-matters_the-secret-of-switzerland-s-low-abortion-rate/33585760
  26. https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/images/Collections/80040/80040_s0803_trans.pdf
  27. In a somewhat non-technical way it is important to distinguish between RU-486 which is seen as anti-abortion pill and can be taken up to about seven weeks after becoming pregnant and the Morning After Pill, or Plan B, which is designed to prevent becoming pregnant after unprotected sex and can be taken up to about three days after sex. See:  https://ec.princeton.edu/questions/ecnotru.html andhttps://www.verywellhealth.com/the-morning-after-pill-vs-the-abortion-pill-906574, and, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/3914/6012/8466/Difference_Between_the_Morning-After_Pill_and_the_Abortion_Pill.pdf, and, https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-morning-after-pill-vs-the-abortion-pill-906574
  28. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2017/04/when_does_life_begin_outside_the_christian_right_the_answer_is_over_time.html
  29. https://deadline.com/2018/04/firing-line-revival-pbs-margaret-hoover-wnet-1202377099/

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  1. Renteria

    Mr Buckley’s Yale accent was appalling.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      I’m sure he worked hard to develop that accent–and wanted it to present a certain appearance about himself.

      • His brother officers Buckley served with in WWII which included many Ivy Leaguers found his Mid Atlantic accent very odd.

    • clementin

      English was his second language…

      • Third, apparently, after Spanish and French.

        • Joseph Cernik
          Joseph Cernik

          I always wondered how he would come across with a normal speaking voice. It must have taken lots of work to get that accent he wanted. I wonder if he assumed he would not be taken seriously without it.

        • Also, when he did learn English, he learned English pronunciation using the rules of the Oxford Dictionary, not Webster’s (or an American source), hence his RP.

  2. Ah, the days of the “intellectual” conservative. Why bother now a days. Just get to the point and start spewing the poop.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      There are conservatives who you can stop and listen to or read (David Brooks) and those that struggle to put together a good thought, assuming it is happened at least once (Sean Hannity).

    • Chloe Mckay

      Mr Buckley was “intellectual” compared to America’s gutter conservativism of today. But he held the same morally reprehensible positions. However, his were just dressed up posh tones.

    • Yes indeed, but those morally reprehensible positions were useful in an interesting way. We could always rely on him to make the best possible case for those positions. He clarified our thinking. If you understood his arguments and saw through them, you could be sure that you really saw through them. But what’s the point of seeing through the straw “arguments” that the contemporary right tosses out? They as much as admit that what they say doesn’t represent their real thinking – and their backers insist that it doesn’t.

  3. Didn’t Buckley once say he hated flying because he could not find a plane with two right wings?

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      I have not heard that but in some satire-filled way it might have happened.

      • I wouldn’t go as far as saying I liked him, but he was articulate. He knew how to speak the language, and he possessed an impressive vocabulary.

        That being said, he was a pompous azz and an annoying bore. His politics reflected the neo-conservative vanguard, with which I hold no truck. He was a bully and oxymoronically, a brooding, crybaby of a little snot.

  4. Banuelos

    Buckley was always out-of-touch, and I never agreed with him.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      He probably believed he was reaching many, I’m not sure that is so.

  5. freedude

    Buckley was smart but not an intellectual per se. A CIA propagandist more like.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      Buckley was a member of the CIA stationed in Mexico City. He tried to present conservative in a certain way and, I think, by leaving the messy activity of politics out of his presentations he failed to make it look pragmatic.

    • Yeah he was not an intellectual. He was moneyed and could sneer effectively but he was not a coherently intelligent man.

  6. There are a lot of things not to like about Buckley.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      I, hopefully, presented some things to certainly wonder about regarding Buckley.

  7. William Buckley’s ONLY claim to fame is his ability to sneer. He is an entertainer – NOTHING else.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      Yes, the sneer. He certainly understood how to make a presentation.

  8. Buckley had some impressive views, in my opinion, he, for example derided the American prison system and believed drugs should be legalised. He held other liberal views, which seem to get no press.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      That is true and should have used those positions to show how to blend some liberal and conservative ideas together.

  9. Willberner

    I hope the “tv hosts” who think themselves esteemed pundits recognize that they are woefully lacking.

    I remember when Vidal called Buckley a crypto-Nazi! Wasn’t it during the 68 Democratic Convention in Chicago? Buckley began to pump his face in out like a blowfish about to explode. The 68 convention was the last, great Democratic Convention. Democrats then were rowdy and in your face, ready to charge onto the stage and take an active part in political theatre. They looked like real working class people who drank too much beer.

    Unfortunately, all that changed with the Clintons. They threw the progressives out of the party and made everybody do “hair and makeup” for the cameras, forcing them to watch their Hollywood biopic called “The Man from Hope.” They just took the life out of the entire proceedings. They were embarrassed by boisterous union leaders and grass roots activists. Their strategy was to refashion Democrats into Republikrats. Ugh.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      The exchanges, unfortunately, helped to get us to the nonsense that passes for “debate” today. It should be a conversation so we see the development of well-grounded ideas, but that is not what we have. Buckley’s outburst at Vidal, “Now listen , you queer..” certainly did wonders for his standing.

    • Gretta Frye

      Actually, it changed long before the Clintons came on the scene. Following the chaotic ’68 convention, the Democratic party leaders were determined to have none of that at the ’72 convention. Which veered too far in the other direction, turning into a snooze-fest of procedural maneuvering and long boring speeches that resulted in McGovern not being able to give his acceptance speech until 2:48AM, long past the time when most viewers had since gone to bed.

      And each subsequent convention became more and more controlled and pre-planned so that all of the outcomes were known long before the actual conventions took place. Even the VP choice is no longer left up to the convention except as a formality, ever since Mondale announced Ferraro as his VP pick before the 1984 convention even began.

      • Joseph Cernik
        Joseph Cernik

        Television forced conventions to become very scripted.

  10. Bill Buckley..it is debatable if he lead the modern conservative movement. His foreign policy views (at least for the cold war) were a departure from traditional conservative views and he really wasn’t that into economics more into the social engineering aspect of the 60s.

    • I think it’s a question of just what “the modern conservative movement” means. Buckley certainly was a leading figure among conservatives of his day. But his day was back in the 1950’s and 60’s. Born in 1925, he founded the National Review magazine in 1955 when he was 30, and later found the tv show Firing line in 1966 when he was 41. He continued to be a leading voice through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, peaking during the Reagan era. But after that his influence began to decline as he found himself increasingly at odds with the new conservatives whom he felt were moving away from the kind of traditional conservative thinking he had endorsed, towards ideologies that he found not only extreme but also reflected an unwillingness to deal with the world as it really was.

      So yes, Buckley was a leader in conservative thinking as it emerged in the post-WWII era, starting with the McCarthy-era and Goldwater and peaking with Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the advent of Reagan. But he would have little in common with current-day conservatives.

      • Joseph Cernik
        Joseph Cernik

        That term “modern” associated with “conservative movement” confuses me. He seemed to confront isolationism, which was associated with earlier views of conservative thinking, but that thinking never totally goes away. I think people who think of themselves as conservative like to believe there has always been a consistent way of thinking about what it means to be a conservative from time immortal and, I doubt, that is true.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      His name is associated with a popularizing of conservative thinking, I think because of his duration on TV. If it were just for the National Review, I doubt he would be remembered so widely.

  11. Buckley was an intellectual, an awesome debater.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      I would agree but that does not address the issue of how he failed to show ways to reach out to help create solutions for issues.

  12. Thank you so much for this article. It led me to a documentary of the debates which are fascinating. The comments are also giving me some real pause for thought so thanks to all who have commented as well.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Buckley’s presentation style of both himself and how he wanted conservative thought presented, I tend to believe that matter today. Just watch so many people, particularly on Fox News, present themselves in a self-righteous way. None of that helps to lead to any solution solving, just more posturing.

  13. He possessed an above-average vocabulary, and was more intelligent than the average conservative, but his was an intellect without the requisite wisdom and insight that characterizes a great mind.

    • Ila Parris

      … and he lacked the ability to think abstractly, lacked the ability to empathize with others, and put his mind to the defense of his privileged class in ways that were ultimately facile and pedestrian.

  14. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    He certainly seemed to think highly of himself.

  15. But that Christopher Hitchens though.

  16. This type of intelligence rarely exists nowadays on TV.

  17. Buckley was a snake and a vile rhetorician. For too long he had a national platform to spread his jingoist bullshit. May history be forever unkind to Buckley; let us remember him for the morally repugnant man he was.

  18. Excellent article. How would he fare in today’s social media world? Cannot think of anyone who would take up his baton of conservatism today. Hitchens has passed. A loss in today’s world.

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      Buckley was good at TV presentation and that helped him. He could come across as entertaining. Someone like David Brooks is a good conservative writer and presents himself well on TV, but maybe not the same flair as Buckley.

  19. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    Wow, not something I really knew a lot about. Thank you for sharing.

  20. This is a very interesting article. But I disagree with the focus on pragmatism. From what limited knowledge I have of US politics it seems that Buckley was more of the ideologue rather than the politician. Besides, at least in my view, theology has to politicise itself it is to relevant.nic
    A wide-ranging survey, nonetheless

    • Joseph Cernik
      Joseph Cernik

      First, thanks for reading my article. Yes, Buckley was an ideologue–which is part of the problem. It’s easy to talk in abstractions, addressing policy complicates matters. What he needed to show was that ideology was limited in its ability to help address issues. Once those limitations are understood then it might be possible to approach working together, not continue functioning in separated political orbits. Buckley chose the easy path-he only wanted to be an ideologue.

  21. Mike wrasman

    Margaret Hoover should be more like her grandfather, Herbert Hoover, and less of a, liberal.

  22. Following in Herbert Hoover’s footsteps would be interesting, and, unfortunately, show her to be really out of touch with the world around her.

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